Hearing Loss and Relationships: What is Being Said? What is Being Heard?
By Larry Sivertson
Editor: Relationships are never easy, and hearing loss adds an additional difficulty. This workshop focuses on techniques that can improve communications. The presenters are Joann Dobrowolski and Mitch Shapiro.
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Joann and Mitch provided a plethora of tips for designed to improve communications for everyone, and especially for people with hearing loss. One of their main focuses was the idea that people with hearing loss must be very specific about what they need from the other person. Saying, “What?” or “Huh? doesn’t do much to improve communications. It’s much better to tell someone to slow down a bit and enunciate.
It’s also important to be aware of body language, and to avoid behaviors that limit communications. Folding your arms, for example, is a signal to your communications partner that you aren’t going to listen to what they say.
Suppose you’re in a discussion and the other person responds in an unexpected way. The first thing you want to do is be sure you heard what the person actually said, and that they heard what you actually said. It may be necessary to backtrack a bit, because a misunderstanding may have occurred earlier in the conversation and not become apparent until later. A very powerful technique is to simply repeat what you think was said.
Another idea is to keep in mind your goal for the conversation. If it’s an important one, you probably want to ensure that you hear everything that is said. That may mean that you have to ask often for repetition. So be it.
Listening is the skill of being fully present during a conversation. If your mind is wandering, or you’re thinking about what you’ll say next when the other person is speaking, you’re not really listening. If this is carried to the extreme, you’ve created a roadblock that will prevent communication, and that’s not what you want to do.
Humor and laughter are important tools to keep communication open. Becoming too serious, engaging in a “pity party”, or constantly expressing frustration are not good communications techniques, and may shut down conversation. If you can laugh at yourself a bit and demonstrate that you’re comfortable with who you are, you’re much more likely to have effective conversations.
Harmony is the ability to integrate or blend with other members of a group, and it requires your active involvement. Lack of interest or a refusal to participate are obvious showstoppers.
You may sometimes find it worthwhile to have a mental rehearsal before an important conversation. None of us would ever think about making a presentation before a group without doing some rehearsing, yet many of us never consider a rehearsal before beginning what may be a much more significant conversation with a friend or family member.
Sometimes we tend to focus on things that make the situation worse, rather than the things we can do to make it better. Instead of trying to get back at the other person or taking other action that will escalate the situation, we should do what we can to seek resolution. If that’s not possible right now, how about taking a time out, and resuming the conversation when you can be more constructive?
Also, remember that you need to communicate on the other person’s level and in their style, if you want to be understood.
Q. Sometimes my 13-year-old just shuts down and refuses to talk at all. What can I do about that?
A. Teenagers are really a special consideration, and can provide really difficult challenges. It’s important to treat them with respect and to recognize and acknowledge their growing maturity. But also be aware that they can be on an emotional roller coaster, and you may have to just give them some space.
Q. My spouse always talks to me from another room, and I have to get up and go where he is to continue the conversation. Any suggestions?
A. I think the two of you have to reach an agreement about how you will communicate. One solution that works well for many people is that the person who initiates the conversation has to go to the other person to start the conversation. People will forget, and you have to gently remind them.
C. I’ve had similar issues, so one day I got the whole family together and we had a good discussion about my hearing loss and what that means for conversations. I do have to remind people often, but at least the education is done, and I don’t have to go through the whole explanation every time.
C. I think tone of voice can be a problem for those of us with hearing loss. Sometimes my hearing spouse asks what’s with my tone of voice, and I’m not even aware that it’s different.