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Communication at Work – May is Better Hearing and Speech Month!

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Dr. Timothy Teague, AuD

Hearing loss is a common condition that millions of people experience. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, nearly one in eight people have some degree of hearing loss in one or both ears; making hearing loss a public health epidemic. This can drastically impact how a person navigates their personal and professional life on a daily basis. Impaired hearing reduces one’s ability to hear which makes communication, essential to how we live our lives, difficult. Strained communication can be eased by addressing hearing loss and practicing a few helpful tips!

Impact on Hearing

Hearing loss restricts the speech and sound a person can absorb, hear, and process. This results in various challenges to communication and engaging in conversations. People with hearing loss often experience:

– Difficulty hearing distinct words and following entire conversation as sounds seem muffled

– Frequently asking others to speak loudly and/or slowly

– Moving to quieter areas to have conversation

– Reading mouths to make out individual words

– Needing others to repeat what they have said

These symptoms of hearing loss require extra effort and energy to hear and participate in conversations. In addition to miscommunication or misinformation, this can cause stress and exhaustion. Conversations can feel like too much work and be an unpleasant experience for everyone involved.

To alleviate these symptoms and to improve communication, it is critical to address hearing loss! Fortunately, there are effective ways to treat impaired hearing which begins by having your hearing assessed. This involves a simple, non-invasive process with a hearing healthcare professional that determines the degree and type of impairment. Hearing loss is most commonly treated with hearing aids which are small electronic devices that help collect, amplify, and process sound. Hearing aids increase one’s ability to hear which can be life changing!

Tips 

In addition to wearing hearing aids, there are several useful tips that can help enhance communication at work including the following:

Learn About Your Hearing Loss 

Using the vast resources and information that are widely available to educate yourself about your hearing loss can help guide you through the process of acclimating to life with impaired hearing. It is important to learn the specifics of your hearing loss, this includes knowing what your hearing needs are, what types of sounds are more difficult to hear, the types of environments that overwork your hearing etc. This information allows you to know what is both helpful and harmful for your hearing health.

Communicate Hearing Loss

Sharing your hearing loss with the people you work with can really help with facilitating more effective communication. Being upfront and letting others know how they can best support you by discussing specific communication strategies (facing you while speaking, being at a comfortable distance, rephrasing rather than rewording when you are struggling etc.) can make communication smoother and prevent miscommunication and frustration.

Identify Workplace Accommodations  

In addition to sharing your hearing loss with coworkers, notifying your employer(s) (supervisor, human resources) can be useful as well. Having a discussion about the accommodations your employer can provide is extremely important. Take some time beforehand to research and learn about the types of accommodations that are possible in the workplace so you know what to advocate for! This includes physical adjustments (moving your work area, creating barriers between you and sources of loud noise etc.), phones that are compatible with your hearing aid, assistive listening devices etc.

Plan for Hearing Needs

Being mindful and planning for your hearing needs in the various work contexts you find yourself in can help you navigate the workplace effectively. This could mean asking for the agenda prior to meetings, keeping extra batteries for hearing aids at work, asking for any accommodations for training in advance etc.

There are countless ways people experience hearing loss and the impact it has on one’s life is unique to that individual. Taking the time to learn all that you can about your hearing loss and advocating for your needs is so beneficial. It can lead to effective communication, your overall success in the workplace, in addition to maintaining your hearing health!