HLAA Convention: Effective Workplace Communication Strategies for People with Hearing Loss

HLAA Convention: Effective Workplace Communication Strategies for People with Hearing Loss

By Marla Dougherty

July 2011

This session was packed with so much information it was hard to take notes fast enough. Although I have been practicing some of the strategies for years, I came away with half a dozen new techniques to try.

Scott Bally, Ph.D. and Bonnie O’Leary, certified hearing loss support specialist and Director of Community Outreach Programs at NVRC led the program. To begin, Scott pointed out it is not only important to maximize our hearing with good hearing aids, but we also need to maximize our visual input. If you use eye glasses, be sure to wear them because they will help with speech reading and visual clues.

Scott went on to say that communication situations can be complex so we need to be open to trying new approaches. Hearing loss can be compounded by other factors and we need to learn what to change but not get frustrated over things we cannot change.

The workplace was the focus of the program, and Scott and Bonnie put together straightforward strategies and solutions that can work in any job scenario. The techniques are sensible and easy to put into practice.

As the person with a hearing loss, we need to decide whose problem it is when communication breaks down. We may experience feelings such as frustration, anger, self-pity and withdrawal, and our co-workers may experience the same reactions. By sharing our feelings and trying to take the other person’s perspective, we can develop solutions together.

Bonnie gave excellent examples of key phrases to use to open the communication door. She suggested letting people know what makes you feel excluded or left out and what they can do to help. Also let them know you appreciate it when they speak slowly and face you while speaking.

Scott shared these strategies for success in meetings:


Plan ahead by asking in advance for the meeting agenda, which provides the opportunity to review what will be discussed. It is easier to follow along if you know the topic.

Decide what your communication needs will be in each situation. Will you need to arrive early to sit in the space with the best visual advantage?


What language will be used in the meeting? Who will be doing the talking? Are you familiar with the speakers’ communication habits? Will you be receiving instructions or information? Try to anticipate what will happen so you can be mentally prepared.

Ask excellent questions

Consider a closed set question such as “Where are we meeting today? In John’s office?” It will be easier to understand a short answer. Try to be very specific with questions. Think about using questions that will get a yes or no answer.

Change your environment or change environments

Take inventory of your work environment. How is the office or desk placement? Can you create a better listening environment? If you can’t change your environment, think about changing environments. Suggest to your co-worker that you move into a quieter space such as a hallway, unused office or empty conference room for a conversation.

Develop repair strategies

Avoid saying “huh?” when you don’t understand the speaker. If they have to repeat EVERYTHING it makes them do all the work. Instead, try phrasing the question, “I know the shipment goes out next week but who is checking the final list?” This lets them know you were paying attention and only missed a little.

If there is a lot of tension and a co-worker is avoiding you, having a one-on-one meeting could be beneficial. Let your colleague know how you feel when you are left out, and that you understand it isn’t easy to always repeat what was said. Communication is a two-way street so invite them to be proactive and together come up with solutions. Massage people into realizing how they can help you. Some key phrases would be “I really appreciate when you get my attention before talking” or “I feel left out when you exclude me so let’s try…..”

Another good suggestion is finding Communication Partners at work and set up non-verbal messages you can use with each other. If they are speaking too fast, give them the agreed upon sign for “slow down” or “rephrase”.

Be more (or less) assertive

We were asked to view assertiveness on a continuum and determine where we are and where we want to be; passive, assertive, or aggressive. Then we were asked to set realistic goals.

In a short skit, Bonnie demonstrated an aggressive approach to her employer. She was clearly frustrated he forgot to bring the microphone system to the meeting. She angrily accused him of trying to keep her out the loop because he knew she had a hearing loss but was intentionally making the meeting inaccessible to her.

The second time an assertive approach was adopted. Bonnie pulled her boss aside and asked how she could best remind him to bring the microphone system so she can understand the meeting. This approach doesn’t put blame or responsibility completely on one person but gives them direction. It strikes a balance and the take-away-message is to stay in control without being controlling.

Let a smile be your umbrella

Wrapping up, Scott and Bonnie reminded us to maintain a sense of humor. Own up to your mistakes and give yourselves a break, they said. Don’t personalize it because everyone says “huh” at times. Laugh with them and never give up.


(c) Copyright 2011 by Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons (NVRC), 3951 Pender Drive, Suite 130, Fairfax, VA 22030; www.nvrc.org; 703-352-9055 V, 703-352-9056 TTY, 703-352-9058 Fax. You do not need permission to share this information, but please be sure to credit NVRC.