Editor’s note: The following information is taken from the author’s book, Hearing to the Max.
Renowned vulnerability researcher Dr. Brené Brown recently wrote that “integration is the greatest barrier to belonging”. Research has shown that humans adjust their actions to be more aligned with those of their peers in an ongoing effort not to stand out from the group, not to be perceived as different.
When people with hearing loss strive to improve their hearing beyond the limits of what technology (eg, hearing aids) can provide, they find that they have to set themselves apart. They must draw attention to their difference. They need to discuss their hearing loss. They must tell others what they want them to do. They need to come out of the comfort of conformity; and by our very nature we find it difficult.
Imagine the following conversation between a patient and their audiologist:
Mr Andrews confides to his audiologist that as his hearing has deteriorated, he finds his once-a-month lunches with a small group of retired friends more frustrating than enjoyable and he is considering quitting the group. His audiologist makes the following suggestion:
“Perhaps you could start lunch by saying, ‘You all know I have trouble hearing sometimes. What you may not know is that I have missed many of our conversations for some time. So that I don’t have to interrupt all the time asking for repeats when I miss something, I want to show you two signs. This means slowing down for me (pump an open hand, palm down) and it means speaking just a little louder (palm up and slightly moved up and down). I know you probably know I need these things, but I’m sure if I were you I wouldn’t always remember them. Is it okay if I use these panels when I need them? »
The audiologist concluded, “What do you think, Mr. Andrews. Is it something you would be comfortable doing? »
Mr. Andrews smiled warmly and chuckled softly. “No, I don’t think I could do that in a restaurant. It’s a bit too much. »
“Well, maybe,” the audiologist said. “But are you ready to stop going to your lunches without trying?” What do you think the band would say if you said all that? »
“I don’t know,” he mused softly.
“Well, I guess none of us really know until you try it. But I suspect they’ll look at you a little weird, shrug their shoulders, and say, ‘Sure, why not? ‘ I think they’ll see the benefit of the suggestion. Besides, what’s the worst thing they could do? Ask you to stop coming to the group? Then you’d be where you are now, so you don’t wouldn’t have lost anything. And you think they would do that? Would you do that to any of them?
Using communication suggestions becomes easier when we practice a little soul-searching and consider how things might realistically turn out and how others are likely to react. The good news is that we can move past our instinctual conformity. We can make our needs known so that our conversational exchanges (or lunch outings with friends) are more fruitful. And the additional good news is that others accept our requests much more easily than we think.
Don’t get overwhelmed by a long list of suggestions.
- On a list of strategies, place a check mark next to a strategy you would like to try. Or write the strategy down on a sticky note and put it somewhere you’ll see it, like the fridge or the bathroom mirror.
- For the next week, each evening, read this strategy and ask yourself if you did it during the day. If you’re like most people, you’ll probably realize that’s not the case. It’s normal. It takes time to form new habits. Just tell yourself that you will try again tomorrow.
- The next evening, do the same. Have you considered using the suggestion? Most likely not. Every evening, do this exercise of reading the strategy you have chosen and ask yourself if you have done it during the day. By the end of a week, this chosen strategy will likely be part of your communication habit.
- Once you’ve successfully placed one of these strategies into your communication habits, put a checkmark next to another and start the process over. It won’t take long for you and your partner to communicate more easily.
- Will doing this and using all technologies for hearing loss solve all your communication problems in all situations? Probably not. But it will definitely be better.