Five Tips to Better Communication with Those Who Cannot Hear

By Heather Jensen / Guest Blogger

One of the best ways someone can help a person in their life who is deaf or hard of hearing is to take measures to improve everyday communication. For some people who don’t speak much (or any) sign language, the fear of offending, confusing, or generally failing to connect is very real, but it doesn’t need to be.  Here are five tips to help with communication.

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Take Things as Slowly as Needed
Take things as slowly as you and your conversation partner require. There is nothing wrong with taking a little extra time to say something, especially if it means giving your partner a chance to better understand you.

You may have to repeat yourself at times. Don’t let yourself get frustrated when this happens; having to make multiple attempts to convey something is not necessarily a reflection of your ability or inability to clearly communicate. Some topics and ideas are simply harder to communicate than others. As the saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

Make Adjustments for Optimal Lipreading Conditions
Lipreading seems like a very straightforward process: you speak, and your communication partner watches. Though this is the basic concept of lipreading, there are many other factors that should be considered to make it more effective.

To begin, face your partner so that they have a clear view of your face. A good rule of thumb is to make sure you can see your partner at all times. If you are attentively watching them, odds are they will be able to attentively watch you. Along with this, choose a place and angle that will provide good lighting on your face. Don’t, for example, stand in front of a window where you will be silhouetted.

Finally, lipreading will be best for your partner when you speak normally. If you typically mumble, you may want to make an effort to speak more clearly; but in general, your normal lip movements will be the easiest to read.

Get Creative
If you are struggling to communicate through lipreading or your limited sign language, try something new. Be flexible. There is nothing wrong with using gestures, writing notes, or pointing at the objects you are talking about. Regardless of how you choose to get your message across, be natural and accurate in the way your emotions come through in your facial expressions and body language. This will not only help to clarify what you are saying, but make you a more engaging communication partner as well.

Guide Group Conversations to Be Stress-Free for All Participants
Remember that the more people who are involved in a conversation, the more difficult it may become for a deaf person to participate. Do everything that you can to create an environment where every member of the group can be comfortable and take part in the discussion. A good start is to make sure that the deaf group member is positioned in a way that they can see as many of the other people as possible.

In the event of a meeting or class, it may be best for person who cannot hear to sit as close to the front of the room and the primary speaker as possible. If no interpreter is present, ask the speaker to repeat questions and comments from other members of the group.

Be Honest
If you don’t understand something, let your communication partner know. It’s much better to take the extra time to get the clarification you need than to try to make assumptions and guesses. Confusion causes a conversation to deteriorate into frustration. If you are honest about your own uncertainties, your communication partner will feel that they can stop and address their own points of confusion.

If you are patient, persistent, and genuine in your communications, you will not only be able to say what you need to say, but also develop good relationships built on a mutual desire to understand each other.

About the Author 

imageHeather Jensen is an Audiologist and Clinical Assistant Professor for Utah State University. She received her Doctorate of Audiology from Arizona School of Health Sciences in 2004. She has been an adviser for the student academy of audiology organization at USU for 11 years. Before coming to USU, she owned her own private practice, but decided she wanted to give back to the field of audiology by teaching students. When she’s not working she spends time with her four children, she also enjoys doing hearing related humanitarian missions. Learn more about deaf education programs offered at Utah State University.


2 thoughts on “Five Tips to Better Communication with Those Who Cannot Hear

  1. My grandmother just got her new hearing aids, and I have found that I need to do more to get her attention. I’ll take your advice and take things slow or however she needs them. I know that after a while we’ll both get used to it. I’ll also make sure to not get frustrated because I know it’ll take time.

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