Communication is a Two-Way Street

Have you ever thought about your hearing loss as “not your problem”? You are partly right, if so. Everyone you communicate with shares this problem. Communication is a two-way street.

Photo credit:  Jeff Whyte|

In a conversation, both people need to take responsibility. The fact that you have hearing loss doesn’t make it your fault when the conversation breaks down.

Your job is to teach other people how to communicate with you. Don’t just say “What?!” or “Sorry?!” or “Pardon me?!” when you can’t hear. Tell the other person what they need to do.


Firstly, admit to having hearing loss. It is obvious to us that we can’t hear. But we can’t expect other people to know if we don’t tell them. This takes practice. Sometimes people say, “Sorry, I have hearing loss”. Including me, sometimes! Avoid apologizing. “I am hard of hearing,” or, “I have a hearing loss” will suffice.

Then, be as specific as you can. What can they do to help you? Three sure fire ways to improve the situation are: look at me, slow down, and talk a bit louder. Pick one. I use the first two the most. The last one sometimes results in people yelling.

Then put it all together. “I am hearing impaired. I’d appreciate it if you could look at me when you speak.” “I have hearing loss. It helps when you slow down a little bit.”

Polite requests go a long way. If you act frustrated or irritated, other people become defensive. This is especially true with the people closest to us—our family members. Keep your tone of voice, and your body language, neutral or positive.

Dr. Samuel Trychin, a psychologist and educator, pointed out that people are focused on what they are saying, rather than how they say it. They have been talking in their usual way for their whole lives, and changing their communication habits is difficult. Their habitual way of communicating is usually fine for the normally hearing people that they communicate with all day. They have to remember to change their behaviour when they talk to you.

So, expect them to forget. You may have to tell them several times. They don’t forget because they don’t care, as Dr. Trychin said. They are human beings, and human beings forget. It’s in your best interest to accept that, and think about ways to remind them.

Practice makes all the difference. Try this out the next time you don’t hear the cashier at the check-out counter, or the customer service agent when you call your insurance company.

If things don’t go the way you thought they would, ask someone close to you for feedback. How do you come across when you are trying to clear the air? Are you apologetic? Irritated? Anyone with hearing loss will admit to coming across that way at times. Keep trying! It’s worth the effort.


Related Posts:

May the Wind be at Your Back

Reminding Others About Your Hearing Loss


  • Photo credit:  © Alan Fortune

    Sandra Vandenhoff

    Dr. Sandra Vandenhoff is an audiologist with hearing loss, founder of HEARa, Hearing Strategies coach, speaker, and Canadian author, who gave her GPS away long before realizing that it was a good brain-boosting move.

2 thoughts on “Communication is a Two-Way Street”

  1. I am at least average intelligence. I usually only need the key concept of a sentence in order to interpret the rest of the words of a sentence.

    Unfortunately, often my family fades out at the key concept. When I ask for clarification, I get the unimportant stuff repeated, and too often they STILL fade out at the key concept. This frustrates me as i do not need all the filler stuff.

    Example they say … I want to go to Gap at the mall today. I ask for repeat . If they only say the words Gap and mall, I am ok, I can figure the rest out.

    Way too often I get … I WANT TO GO to gap at the mall today.

    Any suggestions beyond quitting?

    1. Sandra Vandenhoff

      Hi Amarkc,

      My suggestion is to be more specific when you ask for repetition. Tell them which part you got. For example, “I heard ‘I want to go…” but I didn’t hear WHERE you want to go.”

      Other ideas in my blog post about specific hearing strategies.

      Thanks for asking, and no, don’t quit 🙂


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