How to Communicate Effectively with Someone Hard of Hearing

a pair of friends practice mindful communication


Did you know approximately 15%, or 37.5 million Americans, are hard of hearing? It is likely you know someone in your life with hearing loss, including family members or potential patients in your dental chair.

The good news is that this doesn’t have to be a communication barrier. In fact, you can have fruitful and productive conversations by being mindful of how you are communicating with those who are hard of hearing.

So today, we are sharing some important dos and don’ts for talking with those who are hearing impaired.

Do: Gently get their attention

Before the conversation starts, clearly say their name. If they still do not hear you, give them a light tap on the shoulder or a small wave.

Do: Make it easy for them to see you

Face your conversation partner directly and at eye level. Position yourself so your face is well-lit and no bright light will be in their eyes. This will help them read your facial cues and assist them with lip-reading.

Don’t: Raise your voice

It may be tempting to shout when someone can’t hear you, especially if they ask you to repeat yourself. But volume is rarely the answer. In fact, shouting distorts the sound of speech, making it harder to understand.

Do: Eliminate extra noise if possible

The clearer you can make your voice the better. This may mean moving to a different location to remove background noise.

Do: Speak clearly

Carry a conversation at a natural volume, but do so clearly. If you are a fast talker naturally, take a pause and slow down as you speak.

Don’t: Repeat the same thing over and over

If your conversation partner is having a hard time hearing a phrase and is asking you to repeat it several times, they may be having a hard time understanding the sequence. Instead of saying it again (and louder), try wording it a different way.

Don’t: Change the topic too quickly

This is especially important in a group setting. If the conversation of the group shifts, make sure you clue your partner in. For example, you could tell them, “Now, we are talking about our plans for the holidays.”

Do: Choose an off-time

If you are meeting in a public place, like a café or restaurant, try and choose a non-peak time to minimize the amount of noise around you. Choose a place where you are familiar with how the sound carries.

Do: Use virtual options with closed captions

If you are meeting with a friend for a virtual hangout, choose a platform that offers closed captioning. (Zoom recently integrated closed captions into their popular app.) Though real-time closed captions might not always be accurate, they can be helpful when paired with other visual cues.

Don’t: Give up

It takes patience and practice to effectively communicate with someone hearing impaired. Don’t get frustrated by saying things like, “It’s not important” or “Never mind” if you are not connecting during conversation. Take a pause and try rephrasing, moving to a quieter location or asking your partner how you can help.

The bottom line: With some practice and patience, the ability to hear does not have to be a barrier to having a great conversation. Don’t raise your voice, be mindful of your surroundings and make sure to pause and rephrase if needed.