What? Pardon? Sorry?

Three Times, You’re Out!


In a Hearing Strategies class recently, I gave the class some homework. I asked people to observe why and when they wing it (pretend to understand).

A week later, when the class re-convened, one of the class members said, “I had no choice. What else could I do? I said ‘Pardon?’ three times, and I still couldn’t hear. It was getting pretty embarrassing. So I bluffed my way through it.”

He’s right. It gets pretty embarrassing when you have to ask three times and you still don’t understand.

Chances are, the person doing the repeating isn’t too happy, either.

The problem with asking for a simple repetition, such as “What did you say?” is that you’ll get simple repetition. The person will repeat exactly the same way they spoke the first time!

After saying “Pardon?” twice, don’t ask a third time.

Adopt the “three times, you’re out” rule.

The third time, what can you do differently? Other than winging it?

Quite a bit, as it turns out.

It all boils down to one thing: be more specific.

“What?” does not give the other person much information.

Susan Binzer, an audiologist, had some great suggestions:

  1. Change environments. Move away from the noise. For example, say “I’d love to hear what you have to say, but I’m having trouble here—would you mind if we moved to the corner of the room?
  2. Guess. People with hearing loss are often reluctant to guess for fear of getting it wrong and looking silly. However, they are more often correct than they would think. Don’t be afraid to guess, but remember to repeat the guess so that the person can confirm it as correct or incorrect.
  3. Check/Confirm what you have heard. Check what you have heard, by saying, “Did you say..?” Use this strategy even if you got very little and even if you think it seems silly. When you use this confirmation strategy, the speaker will feel as if you are really trying to understand them and will be more likely to continue the conversation.
  4. Ask the person to slow down. This is the single most effective strategy. When people slow down, they are more likely to say each word in the sentence.
  5. Ask for the topic or key word. In my Hearing Strategies classes, I have seen this work in a magical way. As soon as people know the topic, all of the vocabulary associated with that topic comes to mind and the conversation makes sense. It really works!
  6. Ask the speaker to rephrase. This is an effective (and underused) strategy. Many times when a person is asked to rephrase, she automatically chooses words that are easier to hear. Ask, “Can you say that a different way?”

Next time you can’t understand, try one of these instead of bluffing. Remember the “three times, you’re out” rule—the third time you ask for clarification, be more specific. Then you’ll be “out”—as in, out of a rut.


Related posts:

Can’t hear when people mumble? Get help from the chameleon effect!

Are you Winging it?

How to ask for help so that others will ‘hear’ you

  • 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.

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