On listening: let's have better conversations about hearing loss

Running used to be a big part of my life.

That is, until I got plantar fasciitis.

I tried to get rid of it. Massage, rest, taping, cortisone shots, an ankle-foot brace while sleeping, acupuncture, gait analysis, orthotics, motion-control shoes, strength training, and on and on.

At one point I was referred to a well known physiotherapist. I was so hoping he’d have an answer for me.

At my first appointment, I began listing what I had tried. He stopped me mid-stream. He literally put his hand up in the air, as a signal for me to stop talking. He proceeded to tape my feet. It was a great taping job, but I still couldn’t run (and I had already tried taping).  I didn’t return to explore other options, because simply put, he didn’t listen to me.

I recently took part in a listening exercise that made me think about listening and expectations.

In the exercise there was no expectation to respond. In fact, the expectation was I would not respond.

Free of the expectation to respond, I found I listened differently.

I was more relaxed. I paid closer attention. I put myself in their shoes.  I remembered more.

How does the expectation to respond change the way I listen?

I’ve worn three different hats while listening to people’s stories about hearing loss:  in my early years as an audiologist fitting hearing aids; in my present role as a Hearing Strategies teacher/coach; and as a peer with hearing loss myself.

When I listened as an audiologist in a hearing aid clinic, the very fact that I was “the professional” changed the way I listened.  I was solution-focused. The expectation was that I would make things better. Listening with the weight of expectations meant that I was required to respond “appropriately.”

Unfortunately, I was often half-listening because I was thinking hard. I was looking for patterns. I made assumptions, based on experience, about what people were telling me. When I had all the information I needed, I switched gears from listening to acting.

When pressed for time, I stopped listening and started acting perhaps sooner than my clients expected.

As a Hearing Strategies coach, my listening experience is different. I find listening in this role more enjoyable. Being supportive without time pressures, I feel more like who I really am. The best parts of me come out.

When coaching, others don’t expect me to provide immediate solutions. My listening is more whole-hearted, and I can focus my attention on helping people to help themselves. I ask more questions than I might in the other two roles: What have you tried? What did you do next? How did the other person respond? The expectation exists I will help others move forward, but my success – and theirs - is directly connected to how well I’ve understood the situation. So I listen first with all of my attention, and do my thinking afterwards.

As a peer with hearing loss in conversations, the expectation is I will understand in a way others cannot. I listen as I would like to be listened to. I am not explicitly being asked to help, support, or problem-solve.  Sometimes the help and support that is called for is simply to listen.

There’s no doubt how we listen is greatly influenced by the role we are playing and the expectations involved. Presuming professionals have all the answers and can solve all the problems is detrimental to being listened to. Unfortunately, this is how the current hearing healthcare model works. Change is possible, however, when we acknowledge that hearing aids are not enough, and that your efforts play a critical role in your own success. By using a few key strategies, you can be empowered to play your role in feeling heard and helping to help yourself.

5 Ways Listening Better Can Make Your Appointments Better

Explicitly say what you’re looking for. Be clear ahead of time what you want from your appointment. Are you looking for information, a solution to a problem, or support? Do you want to improve on the hearing aid technology you already have, or are you looking to try something new?

If you are not sure, you can start by saying what you don’t need. For example, “I am not looking for new hearing aids. Is there a way to improve on what I have right now, without buying new ones?”

Recognize time constraints. Show up on time for your appointment. Having less time to address your concerns will change how your hearing healthcare professional listens to you. If you get cut off before you are finished, say so. Some problems cannot be resolved in a single appointment. Be willing to come back if there is not enough time to address your issue.

Listen fully. Listen with your full attention. If your thoughts are drifting elsewhere, explain why your attention wandered. “My attention wandered just now because ...” or “I stopped listening when you said ... because ...”  Did you disagree with something? Do you want to discuss an earlier point? Are you thinking of something outside the appointment?

If you are not getting what you need, say so. Even when you’ve been clear about what you are looking for, the conversation can go in a different direction. When you recognize this happening, reaffirm what you are looking for and ask to focus your conversation back on that aspect. Sometimes in conversations with my husband, he looks for a solution, when I’m looking for support. But how is he supposed to know if I don’t tell him?

Be positive where you can. If you complain about everything, others will change how they listen to you. They will assume you’re complaining for the sake of complaining rather than listening for your real issues. A positive statement (or two) gives you both a place to work from and build on. I remember one client coming in for a follow up appointment, and despite the fact that she was hearing much better, everything she said about the hearing aids was negative.  I finally said, “Come on, throw me a bone, here!” I am not proud of showing my frustration, but I remember the feeling.

Thank others for listening when you feel truly heard — you’ve received a gift. And you’ll reinforce good listening skills for the next time.

 

Listening is a process that takes time, attention and effort. I am a better listener now than I was when I started practicing 21 years ago.  By listening better yourself, you help teach others how to listen better too.

 

 

Dr. Sandra Vandenhoff is an audiologist with hearing loss, founder of HEARa, Hearing Strategies coach, speaker, and Canadian author who had a paid running gig in a parade, as the Baskin-Robbins spoon chasing after a banana split.

Comments

Listening Skills

Thanks for reminding me.

Great points

Thank you for these very specific strategies to use to improve our communication in many areas,