“It’s noisy in here.”
“The wind is really strong.”
“Your phone keeps breaking up and dropping your voice.”
“Can you stop mumbling please?”
We’ve all used these excuses before, and we've all learned that down the line, they really don’t do us any good. Admitting you have a hearing loss shouldn’t be embarrassing, but for many it is, and telling others that you can’t hear well can be difficult. And just like you would speak differently to your boss than you would to your significant other, telling a person you have a hearing loss can vary based on what that the person means to you.
Here are some tips for telling the people in your life that you have hearing loss and how you can work together to make the most out of your relationships.
Family and friends
The people that you are closest to can be the most difficult to admit a problem to, but they are also going to be the ones who will notice it before anyone else. In fact, your friends and family will probably be the ones who identify your hearing loss before you do. The problem with this group is that they may be acting as advocates, pushing you to the doctor’s office or to try hearing aids before you are ready. Maybe you need hearing aids, maybe you don’t. The point is that you are the one who has to wear them and you have to live with them. So in the end, all that matters is that you have to be the one who is ready.
Calmly explain to them that yes, you have difficulty hearing but that you need to be the one to ask for help. If you are not ready for hearing aids, suggest ways they can help make it easier for you to hear and understand them. If you are ready to consider hearing aids, then ask someone to accompany you when you go to your hearing care professional’s office. That person will be a great pillar of support and will actually help you and your provider get the best overall picture of how your hearing loss affects your lifestyle.
When you are in a relationship with someone, whether the relationship is brand new or going on thirty years, hearing loss can significantly impact how you communicate, express feelings, deal with difficult situations and even affect romance. Being open and honest with your significant other is key to keeping the peace in your relationship. If your partner also suffers from a hearing loss, it may be easier to explain your own loss and you may even bond over your shared difficulties. If your partner has normal hearing, it is best to tell him or her as soon as possible.
Go to a quiet restaurant, have a movie night at home or just take a walk in a quiet park and explain to your partner what sounds are hard to hear, what environments are difficult to hear in, what sounds or noises make understanding speech difficult and what he or she can do to help make it easier. While you may be initially embarrassed to tell your partner of your hearing loss, doing so will make him or her more conscious of your hearing and feelings, and you will be less likely to encounter conflict resulting from you missing a word or phrase.
You probably spend more time at work than you do at home, so making sure your coworkers and boss are aware of your hearing loss is key to your job performance and at-work interactions. Pull your boss aside for 10-20 minutes or schedule a coffee together one morning. Make sure you have his or her full attention and explain how your hearing loss affects your job and what you do and others can do to help.
- Suggest that you are always facing the main speaker during a meeting or that someone is always in charge of sending post-meeting summary notes.
- Ask if your office number could be your cell if you have hearing aids that stream calls directly to your phone.
Taking the time to sit down and tell your boss the difficulties you could face and making suggestions to overcome them will make your job easier and will prevent you from accidentally getting in trouble because you may have missed an important point in a meeting.
Your coworkers quickly become your friends, so it is often best to tell them once you begin to work with them. You will interact on a daily basis and will need to rely on and trust in each other to accomplish key tasks and assignments. Explain to them what sounds and words are hard for you to understand and what environments are difficult to hear in.
- Ask them to email or speak with you in person before calling.
- If they forget you have a hearing loss, politely remind them that you have an easier time understanding them when they are facing you directly.
This group can be the easiest or hardest to explain your hearing loss to.
If the individual is a “work” stranger, it’s best to tell them of your hearing loss immediately, especially if this is the only time you will be speaking face to face. If you are not comfortable doing so, consider asking your boss before meeting this person to explain to him or her that you have trouble hearing and to suggest ways to accommodate you best. Work-related strangers could be clients or executives, and while they are typically people you don’t see often, their words are often the most important to hear. It is better to be upfront about your hearing loss so that you can have the best chance at understanding what they say and not feel like you’re on a different page or struggling to keep up with everyone else.
If the stranger is someone you meet at a bar, party, at school or in an otherwise non-office situation, it is really up to you whether or not you tell him or her of your hearing loss. You may not feel comfortable around the stranger and not want to share, and that’s OK. If a friend or family member you trust is with you, ask them to help mediate the conversation between you and the stranger. This way you don’t miss anything and you don’t have to explain your hearing loss yet. If you feel comfortable telling the stranger, simply explain to them that you have hearing loss and may have to ask them to repeat things every so often. They will be understanding of your situation and respect you for your honesty.
Ultimately, hearing aids can help you interact better with each of the above groups. They are not perfect, and it is still a good idea to be openly honest about your hearing loss, but hearing aids can help you hear better in both quiet and noisy environments, pick up on sounds you might otherwise miss and give you a much more enjoyable social experience where you aren’t struggling to understand important speech or sound.