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The Problem of Getting People to Speak up When You Can't Hear Them

Ever just nodded, said "yes" or chuckled when you didn't hear what someone said? Yeah, me too. Trying to understand what someone is saying is a big problem for those with hearing loss and the number one reason why people get a hearing aid.  

Most people experience problems where there is background noise, e.g. in a pub, bar or restaurant - in these environments; the noise is masking the speaker's voice. But quiet places can also be a real problem because people tend to talk at a volume that they feel comfortable with at that time. In other words, if someone is in a loud restaurant, they will be talking/shouting to be heard over the din, but if someone is in a library or quiet office, they will be taking quietly to match the environment. 

Working in noisy situations

A quiet environment can be as equally challenging to hear in as a loud place. A while back I worked with a fairly shy person who talked very softly and was extra quiet in the office as they did not want to be heard or bring attention to themselves - a nightmare for me as it was almost impossible to hear him most of the time. It was actually easier to hear him in the pub where there was a crowd talking around us. 

People talk at a volume they feel comfortable with, and it is often very hard to get them to change that. I asked the quiet office guy to speak up many, many times but it did no good - I explained about my hearing loss but still no change. It got to the point where I would just have to say, "sorry mate, can't hear a word you are saying" and they conversation stopped right there.

So what can you do to get people to make themselves heard?

Tell them you can't hear

Tell them you can't hear them right away - don't leave it until five minutes into the conversation to mention it, tell
them as soon as there is a problem. And I think the key thing it to tell them specifically about your hearing loss:

"Sorry, I'm really struggling to hear you as I have a fairly bad hearing loss."

is much better than

"Say that again?"

If you just ask someone to speak up or to repeat they won't realise you have a hearing loss but will probably just think you missed that sentence. Give them the full info, be open about it.

Offer an alternative or some kind of help, let them know what they can do to help you:

"Sorry, I can't hear you, I have a severe hearing loss. Could you speak up?"
"My hearing is really bad, and I can't hear you, if you get my attention before speaking to me I will hear more."
"Can you write down the address? My hearing is awful, and I can't understand what you are saying"

Some people will speak up and speak clearly, and the problem is solved, others will not as they have their comfort volume that they don't want to change. This can be very frustrating, but I don't think people are usually remaining quiet out of spite, maybe they are nervous to speak up, nervous of talking in the environment or have some other issue or reason to be quiet. 

Remind people you have already told

Don't assume that the person you told about your hearing loss last week will remember today, remind them if you need to, the chances are that dealing with hearing problems it not their day-to-day thing and they've been happily talking at their usual volume all week, you need to nudge them to speak up again.

Set your hearing aids up for the environment

Modern hearing aids usually come bundled with a smartphone App and quite a good set of customisation features, at the very least your hearing aid will have different programme settings for different environments. Use these different options to set up your hearing aid for where you are. You may find that you hear much better in the library by boosting higher pitch sounds a lot and reducing noise reduction, whereas in the pub/bar you would need a lot of noise reduction and probably a quieter volume setting. Experiment if you need to.

My hearing aids do a great job by themselves in noisy situations and are usually great for quiet places too but sometimes where I'm in a very quiet office, and people are trying to have private conversations I find that I need to boost the volume and the mid to higher pitched sounds to be able to hear comfortably. 

Don't be afraid to whip out your phone or reach behind your ear and make some adjustments whilst the person is speaking! "hang on, I'm just turning you up!" can be an ice-breaker to telling them about your hearing problem, many people are often surprised and impressed at how cool hearing aids and their Apps are these days and how many features they have.

Move closer

Maybe moving closer will help, but, as before, people will have a distance to stand at that they are comfortable with, if you move within an inch of their face they may not be too happy! Even without invading someone's personal space you could still move if it'll help: make sure you are facing the speaker directly, move away from any noise that is distracting and try and position yourself with your back to a wall or similar so that there is no noise behind you.

Don't settle for What?

Try and not take the easy option and just nod when you don't hear, keep reminding people about your hearing, keep asking them to speak up and repeat and keep tweaking your hearing aids until you get a sound you are comfortable with - it's worth it in the long run.

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Posted by

Steve Claridge

Steve Claridge

LinkedIn Twitter Facebook Co Founder [email protected]

I have been wearing hearing aids since I was five years old, when a mild hearing loss was first diagnosed - now aged 43, that mild loss has progressed to a severe one and I now rely on some pretty awesome hearing aid tech to be able to stay in the conversation. Total computer nerd. Addicted to running.

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