Chronicle of a deaf audiologist

Can’t Hear When People Mumble?

Get help from the chameleon effect!


Is there a person in your life who talks way too fast? Or mumbles? Or becomes practically inaudible at the end of the sentence?

There is a way you can influence them to do otherwise.

It’s called the chameleon effect.

The chameleon effect is at play when you find yourself leaning forward because the other person is leaning forward. We unconsciously (and unintentionally) mimic the person we are interacting with.

We are also chameleons when it comes to rate of speech, accents, and just about any form of behaviour.

In Imitating Oprah, Dr. Lawrence Rosenblum notes that Oprah Winfrey has a reputation of imitating the dialect of the person she is interviewing. Dr. Rosenblum says that this happens because we are social animals. We’re wired to do things that encourage further interaction.

So, if someone is talking too fast, slow down your own speech. Crisp up your consonants. Say each word in the sentence (don’t let your words run together). Pause in between sentences. When the chameleon effect kicks in, they’ll also slow down and crisp up.

If your neighbour drops off in loudness at the end of the sentence, make sure you emphasize the ends of your own sentences. Finish strong. Chances are, your neighbour will do the same.

Let me know how it works out for you!

  • Photo credit:  © Alan Fortune

    Sandra Vandenhoff

    Dr. Sandra Vandenhoff is an audiologist with hearing loss, founder of HEARa, Hearing Rehabilitation teacher, and Canadian author, who does not remember saying on her first day of wearing hearing aids: "Mom, I can hear my shoelaces!"

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