Effective Coping Attributes of Successful People with Hearing Loss
We were fortunate to have Edna Shipley-Conner as one of our presenters at the recent 2000 SayWhatClub Conference in San Diego. Her presentation on the Successful Coping Attributes of the Hearing Impaired created a lot of discussion at the time and considerably more on the SayWhatClub discussion lists for some time afterwards. I tried unsuccessfully to record all the wonderful information in her presentation, but here is what I was able to capture.
In the mid-1980s Dr. Laurel Glass and Holly Elliot researched the common attributes of a group of people who did well coping with their hearing loss. The subjects were nominated by various hearing loss groups, who may be in the best position to know who really does a good job of coping on a day-to-day basis. They found that successful people had three things in common: forthrightness, expediency, and dominance.
The word “forthrightness” means unpretentiousness, open, direct, or straightforward, as opposed to diplomatic, polished, calculating, or shrewd. The most important expression of this trait is to share your hearing loss with others. Don’t make them read your mind or try to second-guess you. Tell them upfront about your hearing loss and what they can do to facilitate communications.
If you are not comfortable telling people about your hearing loss, you need to try various ways of describing yourself until you find one that you are comfortable with. Edna doesn’t like the term “hard of hearing” or the term “hearing impaired”; to her, these terms seem vague, and they fail to describe how to communicate with her. She prefers to tell people, “I’m almost deaf. Please look at me when you speak.” She believes that phrase works for her, and she is comfortable using it. She also thinks that phrase may be particularly appropriate for people who, like her, are able to communicate in sign language.
You may or may not be comfortable with that phrase. If you are, great! If not, keep looking until you find a description that fits you. Edna mentioned that a friend of hers likes the phrase, “I use a hearing aid.” An audience member offered the following phrase, which works for her. “I have blurry hearing. I need you to look at me and speak clearly. Don’t shout.”
Once you have found YOUR phrase, you need to practice until you can say that phrase openly and directly.
It’s also important to tell people what they can do to facilitate communications. Note that both Edna and the person from the audience told the hearing person how to help them communicate.
A second trait of people who cope well is expediency, which often looks like “breaking the rules”. Expediency means using something when it is necessary to achieve a specific goal. This is in contrast to traits like conforming, moralistic, staid, and rule-bound. Expediency is a difficult trait for people, because it tends to go against the behavior that we are often taught from a very early age.
Edna gave an example of staying in line and waiting your turn. That’s something that most of us learn in kindergarten, and we would never think of butting in line ahead of our place. But in some cases, it’s the appropriate thing to do.
Suppose you’re in a long line at your gate at the airport, and you hear an announcement; you have no idea what the announcement said. You’ve been standing in that line for twenty minutes, and it’s now twenty minutes before your flight is due to depart. What do you do?
In that situation, it is perfectly reasonable to go to the front of the line, get the attention of the clerk, and tell them your situation. Explain that you have a hearing loss (or however you like to explain) and couldn’t understand the announcement, but your plane leaves in twenty minutes, and you’d like to know what you should do. The clerk might very well have been asking for people on that flight to come to the front of the line and get checked in.
That’s just one simple example of how it may be necessary for you to “break the rules” because your needs are different that those of the hearing majority. It may be painful the first few times you do it. But it won’t be nearly as painful as staying in line while your plane takes off without you!
The third trait of people who cope well is dominance. That’s another one that you may have trouble with. People have learned to think of dominance as a bad trait that should be avoided. Maybe that’s not always true!
Dominance includes traits like assertive, aggressive, stubborn, competitive, and bossy, as opposed to submissive, passive, humble, mild, and accommodating. Edna pointed out that it’s important to walk the fine line that includes both taking care of yourself and respecting others.
She emphasized the need for assertive behavior as defined by Robert Albetti and Michael L. Emmons in their book “Your Perfect Right”. “Assertive behavior promotes equality in human relationships, enabling us to act on our own best interests, to stand up for ourselves without undue anxiety, to express feelings honestly and comfortably, and to exercise personal rights without denying the rights of others.”
Note that the difference between assertive behavior and aggressive behavior is in the phrase “without denying the rights of others”. Aggressive behavior results when one is thinking only of himself, thus ignoring other people. While people will respect and admire you for assertive behavior, they will dislike and avoid you for aggressive behavior.
Remember these three words as keys to successful coping: forthrightness, expediency, and dominance. And next time you’re in a difficult situation, see how you can use those behaviors to help yourself out.