Communicating with someone who is hard of hearing – tips for better connection

Communication is central to feeling understood and connected to those around us. But for people experiencing hearing loss, even everyday conversations can feel challenging and lead to feelings of isolation.

Simple interactions, such as going out shopping or heading to a café for a catch up, can seem daunting when background noise intrudes on simple conversations, making it difficult to hear what is being said. People experiencing hearing loss can feel awkward about continually asking someone to repeat themselves or fear that they may be misunderstanding the conversation completely. This can cause them to retreat from social outings to avoid feeling uncomfortable.

Whether you are interacting with a family member, friend or co-worker, the strategies outlined below can make a difference in fostering better understanding and connection.

Please note that these tips are most helpful for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. People experiencing profound hearing loss or those who are Deaf have very different needs – please contact your local Deaf awareness society for more details.

Choose the right environment – lighting can make a big difference

People with hearing loss often rely on visual cues, such as lip reading, facial expressions and gestures to assist with understanding what you are saying. So, it’s best to avoid dimly lit rooms or areas with heavy shadows to make it easy to see everyone’s faces.

Another important consideration is to choose a setting without excessive background noise. Crowded restaurants, cafes and venues with loud music will make it hard for the person experiencing hearing loss to focus on the conversation at hand due to sound distortion issues. If you are at home, consider turning off the television or radio to limit background noise.

Adjust your speaking style – make sure you face the person

Before starting the conversation, make sure you have the person’s attention – say their name or consider waving towards them to indicate you want to tell them something.

Remember to position yourself so that your face is visible to the person with hearing loss. Avoid speaking when your back is turned and remember not to cover your mouth. Some people with hearing loss may hear better in one ear than the other, so adjust your position and speak more towards their preferred ear.

Speak clearly and slowly to help with comprehension. If you are in a group, avoid speaking over the top of other people, as it can be hard for someone experiencing hearing difficulties to follow the conversation.

Conversation etiquette – remain patient and flexible in your style

Avoid speaking too loudly or shouting at the person – for some people experiencing hearing loss, this can distort the words and lead to even more trouble understanding what is being said.

Consider rephrasing your words or even write down important details, for example, appointment times and locations, so that they are not misunderstood.

Don’t give up and say things like ‘it’s not important’ and walk away. This can add to feelings of isolation for those experiencing hearing loss.

Provide choice – offer to meet someone at their preferred location

If you want to go out for social reasons, consider asking the person with hearing loss where they would prefer to meet you. This empowers them to suggest a familiar location with low background noise that can help them hear you much better.

In summary, if we can all make some gentle adjustments to the way we communicate with someone who is hard of hearing and try to follow these simple tips, we can help create a more inclusive and understanding environment for people with all levels of hearing.