© 2006

How to improve your listening
by Rich Diedrichsen, MS, RCD

Have you ever noticed how tired you can get when you have a hearing loss? I know a lot of people have days that just wear them out, and that many people who experience hearing loss are at an age where days can be tiring, but I noticed that I seemed tired more often than many of my peers.

First, I want to let you all know that I am in very good health. I exercise regularly and enjoy hiking, camping, backpacking and golf on a regular basis. I am not on any medications that cause fatigue. So why am I tired so often?

One day I noticed my wife having a chat with some friends. It seemed the more they talked, the more relaxed they were. How does that work, I thought? When I am in a conversation, I become more tired the longer I listen. I do not "chat to unwind!" For me, listening is hard work. It requires a lot of concentration and effort. My brain works overtime to take what I hear and try to match it to something that makes sense within the content of the discussion. I also need to make a quick check of other words, phases or comments that might sound like what I just heard, to make sure I did not misunderstand what was said.

This type of active listening requires a lot of energy and usually after about an hour of so, I am tired. If I spend the good part of a day in a listening situation, I come home very tired. Listening is hard work, even though I have a state-of-the-art cochlear implant properly mapped and I regularly use a wide variety of assistive-listening technology to make sure that I have the best possible ability to hear in any given situation. Of course no technology can give me 20/20 hearing, so there is always the need to "work at it" if I want to hear.

Since I know hearing will always be an effort for me, I started to look at some strategies that will allow me to budget my energy. Here are some of the things that work for me:

1. I am never afraid to ask for a break; even if I am in an important meeting. The truth is, if I do not have the energy to listen, I will be ineffective in the meeting.

2. When returning to my office after a meeting that required a lot of listening, I need to take a short break, even if that break is working at my desk, as long as I am not required to listen to a conversation. If someone stops me and wants to talk, I will tell them, "I am really tired right now. If you can give me about 15 minutes to rest a little, I will have more energy to listen to you and I will miss less of what you say. Now if this is an emergency, we can talk now, but I may miss things and you will have to repeat them." I often use this strategy when I come home from work and family members want to talk to me as well.

3. I try to be honest with people when I am tired, sick, on medication, worried or distracted. I don't tell them everything in my health history, but I will tell them I am really struggling to hear because my energy level is low. If what they need to tell me is really urgent, I may ask them to write it down. A note: If you must put people off because you do not have the energy to listen at that moment, make sure you get back to them as soon as you are feeling better. This way they will not feel as though you are brushing them off.

4. I try to control my schedule. I have more energy at certain times of the day and tend to set up "talk times" or meetings to match my internal bio-rhythm. If I know I have a longer or intense meeting from 2:00 to 3:00, I try not to schedule anything requiring listening from 3:00 to 3:30.

5. Finally, I try to maintain good health. Not just eating right, getting exercise and plenty of sleep, but good mental health too. Worry, anxiety or stress can sap your energy as much, or more, than hard work of intense listening.

Listening will always take an effort for those of us with a hearing loss. The less energy we have to concentrate, the less we will likely be able to succeed in communication. It may seem impolite to not be willing to talk when someone asks us to do so, but it is equally impolite to waste their time, frustrate their efforts to communicate or miss information and pretend we heard it. It can also do great damage to relationships. Good communication requires wise use of our energy. Poor communication is a waste of your energy and the energy of the person trying to communicate with you.

Rich Diedrichsen MS, RCD
St. Cloud, MN

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