Chronicle of a deaf audiologist

Are You Bluffing?

I had to laugh when I saw the “Puffy Shirt” episode of Seinfeld when Kramer’s girlfriend, who talked very quietly, asked Jerry to wear a feminine, puffy shirt that she had designed. He didn’t hear her, so he asked her to repeat. She repeated herself, but he still didn’t hear. He asked her to repeat so many times that it was embarrassing, so he said yes without knowing what she had asked. So he was stuck with wearing a feminine, puffy shirt for his appearance on The Today Show.


Photo credit: © Martinmark


That’s what it is like to have a hearing loss. It’s not that we wear puffy shirts, but that we are sometimes forced to do things that aren’t comfortable. It is not comfortable to ask for repetition more than once. Not for us, or for the person who has to repeat.

Because of that discomfort, sometimes we smile and nod and pretend to understand. We wing it. I’ve never met a hard of hearing person who didn’t admit to winging it. We all do it.

Sometimes winging it is okay. Sometimes it is dysfunctional. Even some people with normal hearing wing it sometimes—like Jerry. The difference is that this is a permanent condition for us. If we do it too often, the world will pass us by.

The small stuff is important. Small talk, jokes, quick asides are all important. That’s how we learn about the world. But the reality is, sometimes the flow of information is disrupted while we are trying to figure out what is going on. So we wing it.

By doing this, how are we helping other people to understand hearing loss? When we wing it, we are misleading them. We need to take some responsibility here. The flow of conversation will be altered by our presence. We need to accept that. The alternative is to have the conversation flow around us, without our input.

If they think we understand, when we haven’t, communication has stopped. Communication is a two way street.

If it comes down to having to write it on a piece of paper, in the sand, in the air, it doesn’t matter. Communication is still happening. It is also happening on another level that we might forget about—when we take pains to understand, we communicate to other people about hearing loss. We show them how frustrating it is to us. We show them a little piece of our world. And we make it easier for next time.

  • 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!"

4 thoughts on “Are You Bluffing?”

  1. You bet, I have often bluffed

    You bet, I have often bluffed because the tinnitus in my left ear can be screaming in noisy environments, and I find it a bit embarrasing to keep asking someone to repeat what they’re saying, lest they find it irritating, so I endeavour to use the bits and pieces I do hear to assimilate its complete meaning. Sometimes it works but sometimes it backfires on me.

    1. Sandra Vandenhoff

      Bluffing Club

      Thanks for your comment, R.Watt. Welcome to the bluffing club. Everyone with hearing loss does it. We just have to make sure we don’t do it too often. ~Sandra

  2. Fake it til you make it …

    I can totally relate to what you are saying, I have hearing loss in both ears, and while i can get by well in one on one situations, things can rapidly spiral when there is background noise, or the person has an accent and is soft spoken.  Recently I conducted a workshop and forgot to put in my hearing aids that morning, it was totally embarrasing, I was missing questions, trying to fake it and pull it off.  I came across as an idiot.  I finally let everyone in on my little secret and they were very accomodating.  We had a lot of laughs over the situation, people in the front were relaying questions to me in the front and it worked out in the end.  Made for some great team work, but I do not want to relive the experience.  It makes me realize the importance of two way communication, and the effort I have to put in to uphold my end of the bargain, Thanks for the timely article….. Now, if i can just remember where i put those damn hearing aids. embarrased in Clearwater BC.  

    1. Sandra Vandenhoff

      Dear Embarassed,

      At least you came clean and admitted your hearing loss, eventually.  Good for you. That took guts, in front of a room full of people.  Hope you find your hearing aids! ~Sandra 

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