Man with hearing loss laughing with his wife in the kitchen

How to Communicate With Someone Who Has Hearing Difficulty

Published: March 15, 2021

Updated: March 23, 2022

Successful communication is a two-way street, both parties need to be fully invested. The quality of conversation for a person who has a hearing difficulty can be significantly different from that of a person with normal hearing. Although hearing aids can improve a person’s hearing, it doesn’t completely solve the challenge of communicating well. If you communicate with someone who has a hearing difficulty there are a couple of strategies you can also apply to make it easier.

Communication Strategies

Take note of your environment

The lighting, background noise, position you’re sitting or standing in within the room, and your placement in a restaurant all have a big effect on a person’s ability to follow a conversation. Here’s what you can do in your shared environment to overcome conversational barriers when communicating with people who have a hearing difficulty:

  • Stand as close as possible, do not speak from a different room.
  • Make sure your face is well lit. Do not sit with the light behind you, it will cast a shadow on your face and make it harder to read your lips and watch your facial cues.
  • Try to reduce any background noise as much as possible. Most individuals with hearing loss struggle to actively participate in conversations when there’s background noise.
  • Be aware of environmental noises, this includes air conditioners, radios, the television, street noise, or other outside noises. For example, if you are seated in the family room, turn the television down before you start your conversation.
  • Minimize visual distractors in your environment, such as curtains blowing or flapping in the wind.
  • If your friend, family member, or colleague tends to hear better in one ear, make a point of standing or sitting on the “better” side.
  • When you choose to go to a restaurant, it’s important to determine whether the restaurant has adequate lighting and to choose a table in a suitable location. Keep the following in mind:
    • The table should be positioned away from the kitchen doors, the bar entrance, play areas, and speakers.
    • Make sure the table is positioned next to the wall. Tables situated in the middle of the restaurant are often exposed to noises coming from all directions. A corner table, or a table next to the wall, will eliminate some of the noise. Make a reservation for a table in advance and avoid going to a restaurant during peak hours.

Conversing with someone who has hearing difficulty

During our everyday conversations, we take access to sound for granted. However, when you’re communicating with people who have hearing difficulty you need to be mindful of how to overcome any listening difficulties. Here are a few strategies you can try:

  • Look directly at the person you’re talking to. Most people with hearing difficulties read lips, sometimes without even realizing it, to help them follow conversations so by looking at them directly, you can communicate with someone who has hearing difficulty with more ease.
  • Keep your hands away from your mouth and avoid covering your face while you are talking as it makes it harder to follow cues and can distort your words.
  • Before initiating a conversation make sure you have their full attention, for example, can say the person’s name before you start talking. By doing so you allow them to focus their attention on you and also prevent them from missing the start of the conversation.
  • Try to take turns whilst speaking to one another and make sure that they are aware when a topic change occurs. Encourage all conversation partners to not interrupt each other.
  • Don’t speak louder, speak clearly in a normal voice. Speaking clearly does not imply speaking very slowly and exaggerating your lip movements, maintain a moderate speech rate, and allow your mouth to move normally.
  • Don’t say, “Never mind, it doesn’t matter”. If they did not hear you the first or second time you should try to rephrase the sentence instead of just repeating it the same way. Rephrasing is when you find a different way of saying the same sentence.

If you communicate with someone who has hearing difficulty, pay attention to their demeanor. A person who has difficulty hearing will often become quiet when challenged by a lot of auditory information. It can become very difficult and exhausting to process information if they need to do so at a very fast pace.

Tips for voice calls

When making a call using any type of phone, use the following communication strategies to ensure successful communication.

  • Speak clearly on the phone. Speak directly into the mouthpiece of the phone and be mindful of the distance between your mouth and mouthpiece. If you hold the phone too close it may hinder the overall clarity of the sound and cause distortion of your voice.
  • Be mindful of how loudly and how fast you speak. As mentioned before, you do not need to shout when you are having a normal one-on-one conversation and you do not need to shout into the phone. Shouting over the phone tends to change the words and muffle the sounds. It is important to not speak too softly or mumble either.
  • Always speak at a normal and moderate speed. You can use pauses to slow down your rate of speech and provide your communication partner with time to process everything that was said. Be mindful not to speak too slowly. Speaking too slow might make your friend, loved one or colleague feel self-conscious, or belittled.
  • Select a quiet location to make the call. It is incredibly challenging to follow a conversation over the phone when there is a lot of background noise because the noise becomes distracting.

Tips for video Calls

When you’re making video calls using either FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp, Microsoft Teams, etc. keep in mind that the same strategies you adopted regarding the environment (above) can be used to make your video call. Ensure good lighting and that there is not strong light coming from behind you and casting a shadow on your face, and be aware of visual distractions in the background.

The success of a video call depends on other factors as well:

Sound quality: The quality of the auditory signal could have a significant impact a person’s ability to follow the conversation.  Some laptops and smartphone speakers do not have good sound quality. Even good speakers still provide a somewhat “degraded” signal when compared to live voice. Speak at a normal level, at a moderate speed, and clearly, during your video calls.

Availability of Captioning: Captioning is the process where the spoken words from the conversation are converted into text on the screen, very similar to subtitles.  Many online platforms (Zoom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, etc.) provide facilities to add captioning. Make sure you speak clearly for the captions to be accurate.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions about what kind of hearing challenges people with hearing difficulty face, and ask how you can help make communication easier. Allow them to guide you and help you so that together you can facilitate and repair conversations if and when a breakdown in communications takes place. It’s so important to be sensitive about how you can best communicate with someone who has hearing difficulty.

Image of post writer Jastelle Hugo.

Written by Jastelle Hugo

B. Speech and Language Therapy; BSc Audiology


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