We often use proper communication strategies and techniques with others more than with our loved ones. When we are a guest for one-on-one conversations we tend to minimize distractions, sit down, and face each other for the interaction. At home we are usually multitasking, unloading laundry or dishes, walking out of rooms, talking through walls, and we have competing noises like dishwashers and television programs on when we catch up. This leads to breakdowns in communication, misunderstandings, and can sometimes cause us to avoid conversations completely.

Holiday gatherings can tend to have the same effect– we are still preparing dinner, playing festive holiday music, and the kids are running around playing the loudest game possible! It can be very isolating to be in a room of people and not able to hear to take part in the conversation. With some pre-planning and considerations, everyone can have a great time together.

These helpful tips apply with or without a hearing aid… for those with hearing loss and without!

Tips for the Environment

  • Have all of your entertainment areas well lit to provide access to facial cues, lip reading, and hand gestures.
  • Limit competing noise: 
    • Noise from fans, dishwashers, running water. 
    • If you have music playing, keep the level at a minimum so your guest can still have conversation easily. 
    • Half the group watching the big game or a holiday movie? Consider turning on the captions instead or moving it to a room further away or with  a door to close in the noise. 
    • Young kids coming? Prepare an area for them with quiet games like crafts or board games versus giving them that new loud toy at the event like a karaoke microphone or laser tag.
  • Consider having dinner prepared close to when guests arrive or at least the noisy preparations like using mixers and the microwave so you can limit kitchen noise and you can be part of the conversations yourself! 
  • Consider assigned seating at the dinner table, it not only looks thoughtful to have name cards, but you can place those loud talkers at the ends of the table and place those with more difficulty hearing in the middle where they are not too far away from any one person. Consider putting persons you know they’ll enjoy the most conversation with next to them so they don’t feel left out if they can’t hear everyone.
  • Keep the table decor low so everyone can see each other’s faces. Skip the big candelabras and tall flower arrangements.
  • Consider using disposable plates and cups to minimize the sound of water running to rinse everything after dinner or the need to have the dishwasher on while your guests are still there.
  • Unpopular option, consider having everyone silence and not use phones (at least for a period of time). Talking to others without eye contact and your head tilted down at a phone screen is not only poor communication but not all generations appreciate this.
  • Planning to watch a movie or a show with everyone together? Turn on the closed caption. The larger the group the more chit chat occurs and the more everyone tends to miss– No one likes to miss the punch line!

Tips for the Listener

  • Don’t be afraid to assess the environment and ask the host to turn on a light, reduce loud music or television volume, or close a door to a loud room so you can enjoy conversation better with everyone.
  • Select a seat where you can see most people’s faces, not a spot where people may be responding from behind you.
  • Limit the space between you and the person you are talking to. Don’t talk across a room or across a big table because the responses they say back might not make it to your ears through the distance and noise between.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask someone to repeat something, but keep these tips in mind:
    • Don’t say “what?” or “huh?” — this requires the person to start all over rather than fill in the word you missed and understand where the breakdown in communication occurred.
    • Instead say things like, “What was that about my coat, where do you want me to put it?” This allows the person repeating themselves to realize maybe they dropped their voice on that part or turned their head. Perhaps it’s one word that’s misunderstood and a different word can be used.

Tips for the Person Speaking

  • Get their attention first. Say their name and have eye contact before beginning to speak.
  • If the topic of conversation is changed, it can be helpful if someone doesn’t understand to reiterate the new topic so the parts that are heard make more sense and the brain can more easily fill in the blanks with the new topic in mind.
  • Watch people’s facial expressions to check for understanding to rephrase things or move closer.
  • Don’t talk across a group, long table, or a room. Move next to the person to start or continue a conversation.This is not only so they can see your lips and facial cues, but also so all of the sounds you say have the best chance of getting to their ears.
  • Save important conversation for when you don’t have food in your mouth or napkins in front of your face.
  • Avoid sitting right next to a TV or radio speaker for conversation. Ask someone to turn it down/off if it’s disrupting conversations.
  • Put the phone down, don’t talk with your head down and the phone in front of your face.
  • If someone asks you to repeat yourself:
    • Rephrase or put emphasis on different words. 
    • Enunciate, slow your rate of speech, but don’t yell or shout. Most people have more hearing loss hearing high frequency– yelling emphasizes the low frequencies louder, but enunciating will help make the high frequency sounds come through better.
    • Avoid saying “nevermind” no matter how unimportant it seems, this makes the person feel like a burden. They’ll stop asking to be included in the conversation and begin smiling and nodding and you won’t know they feel left out.

An example I like to use to explain how exhausting it is to have hearing loss—think of the game show “Wheel of Fortune”. You know the topic, and you know the vowels and hopefully a few consonants, but your brain has to fill in the gaps to figure out the phrase or word. The more letters missing the harder it is. Now imagine entire conversations playing “Wheel of Fortune” in your head with every sentence…for hours! It’s exhausting and can become more taxing as the brain fatigues throughout an event. The better you can make accommodations and considerations ahead of time, your guests can have more quality conversations and enjoy the gathering. Unless your family doesn’t get along– then forget everything I just said and crank up the music so no one can hear each other to start a fight!

Author

Dr. Amber Joye's past experience includes working in private practice, hospitals, and the VA fitting all styles of hearing aids from all the major manufacturers. Previous to working for Eargo, she also worked for one of the major manufacturers providing sales and support of the products for all hearing professionals in her 5 state territory. She’s been at Eargo for over three years now, combining her past experiences to continue to empower patients to understand their hearing loss and get the most from their hearing aids.

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