Social Bluffing by Katie L.

Becoming hard-of-hearing a few years ago really turned my world upside down.  Before the hearing loss, I was a real outgoing person in social settings.  Now, I find myself being left out (unintentionally) of some great conversations.  The reason I’m left out is because I cannot hear the conversation. In a group of people, instead of asking the speaker to face me during the conversation or ask them to repeat what they said, I nod and smile and play along as if I can keep up with the conversation.  When the group laughs, that’s my cue to laugh as well (even though I have no idea what is so funny).   If I am having a one-on-one conversation with someone – say the cashier at the grocery store or the waitress at the coffee shop, I will ask them to repeat what is said.  If I cannot understand them after two tries, I give up.  The reason I give up is because for some unknown reason, I worry too much about whether I’ll irritate them and/or frustrate them in their needing to repeat, repeat, repeat.  My hearing loss, if you were to look at me, is “invisible”. You see, looking at me, you cannot see my hearing aid.  I look like a person with no medical issues or problems, so why would I need you to keep repeating yourself?

This being said, I have decided to be more honest with myself and with people I don’t know re: my hearing impairment.  I’ve decided that it is perfectly OK to tell the cashier, the waitress or whomever I’m speaking to that I have a hearing impairment, and could they please talk slower and speak up for me?  I have tried this new-found approach just this week.  I met a girlfriend for lunch, and I arrived first.  I went up to the hostess and requested a table that was not located in the center of the restaurant (booths work well for me as far as blocking out noise in restaurants).  I said “I have a hearing impairment, and it is better for me to sit at a table or a booth that is not in the open, but against a wall.”  The hostess then took me to the quietest area of the restaurant and sat me in a corner booth (perfect!) as I waited for my friend.   When I went to the grocery store later that day, the cashier asked me a question.  I asked her to repeat it, but still no comprehension on my part.  I then just said to her “I have a hearing impairment, and it’s very hard for me to understand what you are saying.”  She then talked a little louder and slower and just asked “Coupons?”  I got it that time!  In my experience, I’ve also discovered that when you are honest with people and tell them why they need to repeat what they said or word it differently for you, they are more than accommodating in the request.  I am learning to give people more credit than I did in the past, which has allowed me a more positive view of the world.

0 thoughts on “Social Bluffing by Katie L.

  1. I have encountered the same challenges, and agree that an honest response when you can’t understand what is being said to you is most often quite effective. But what do you do when you simply can not understand the speaker, even with repeated repeats? I must use the phone at my job, and often, without the visual ques, I am just hopelessly left with nothing else to say except, “I am so sorry, but I am unable to understand what you are saying.” I can’t help but feel it is my own failure, even though I know it is not.

  2. Nice post. I particularly like the last couple of sentences. It’s good you are up-front about your hearing loss. And you are taking charge of the situation now, which will make you feel better and others understand why sometimes you are just not hearing them.

  3. I got A-Levels in social bluffing, I can do it with deaf people too lol, just nod sagely, you don’t HAVE to understand deaf sign if you can master the expressions they use, it’s the same as following someone speaking in Mandarin or something…. I read a book on body language and it works a treat, if they pull an angry face and you don’t understand the sign, just adopt the face of assent and sympathy and nod agreement,(The ‘NOD’ is universal all deaf use it)…. ditto with hearing, they love someone who appears to listen to them and agree ! Use the up time to learn the lip-reading or sign, but don’t opt OUT. Bluff it out… You will NEVER lip-read everything, you will NEVER understand all sign language, don’t knock yourself out… Many hearing never LISTEN that’s our edge…. think about it….

  4. You said it very well, Katie! The phone is where I struggle the most. I use the speaker phone, hence my calls are not private! When I make calls to a person I don’t know, I give myself a chance to hear/understand. If I can’t, I then explain that I am hearing impaired and ask them to speak slowly or more clearly. What is the MOST difficult is if there are other sounds in their background, such as in a busy office/warehouse/cubicle. That is when I give them MY email address and have them email me, or in a pinch, I’ll grab another hearing member of my household and ask them to step in for me.

  5. Good blog,

    I have a somewhat bit different experience in a situation similar as yours. I’m going to discuss about people with hearing impaired that cannot speak (as spoken) English fluently.

    When I was growing up, I’ve always declared that I cannot hear during first time meetings. For example, when I go out for clothing shopping, a sales representative would approach me. I’d tell her that I’m deaf or I cannot hear.

    Using this model of approach to anyone whom I encounter for the first time generally sends off negative responses. For example, when I informed this person I’m deaf would make this person respond like “Oh, I’m sorry.” (as in pity) or “Umm, let me find someone who can help you.” And runs off almost immediately before I had a chance to explain that I won’t bite, and an extra effort will make it a seamless process, so forth.

    Many years later, I’ve developed a thick skin from these people who almost immediately looks down (as if there’s something wrong about me) at me right after I declared myself that I cannot hear.

    Until a friend of mine made this an epiphany experience for me based on how I approach people in various situations. Try to speak in the language you are most comfortable with. For example, how would you think these salespeople react to people who immediately declared they cannot hear? They come with a mission to help consumers in finding goods in order to make sale. They spent countless hours thinking how they can gracefully win their customers’ interest and to secure a sale or two. Try to imagine in their point of view – when they saw you browsing in the store, they probably would think this way. “Okay, this person seems he need some help in finding an item. Hmm, ok I am supposed to sell this expensive item. That’s my quota which I need to meet, Et cetera.”

    When this salesperson starts to approach me, armed with several plans to establish some kind of connection and try to secure a way to make sale. I would immediately begin to said “Hello, I cannot hear (or am deaf).” This would probably throw salesperson off guard, and become confused with why I began off in saying I couldn’t hear, etc. Hence, the struggle between both of us has begun. Frustration follows. Confusion continues.

    In order to avoid this unpleasant experience, I decided to give signing (ASL) right off the bat to begin the conversation instead of declaring myself deaf. I immediately signed, said “Hello. Yes, please. I am looking for blue shirt.” (Et cetera)

    To my surprise, nearly over 80% of time, most sales representative reacted in positive way and immediately realized that I spoke in different language (ASL) and accommodate my needs lot quicker & easier.

    As many people have mentioned and proven the statistics about ASL as a language. ASL is known as 3rd most used language in country as opposed to English and Spanish. I would suggest all hearing loss people try to learn some sign language since it has become more accepted language and quite respectful one. It will reduce the confusion between both parties when dealing any type of confrontation in public establishment. Most people seem to be giving more respect to people when they speak in different language (for example, my case, ASL) rather than being victimized by other person’s inability to do. I start to understand how difficult for others to try and accommodate my disability while they have no knowledge about my disability.

    Good blog, really. I’m glad you brought this up.



  6. I hear you there (no pun intended!) I was forced to take FMLA leave when I lost the rest of my (already moderately-severe loss) hearing in my left ear, which was my ‘phone ear’ (right ear is severe-to-profound, thus almost useless on phone). I struggled mightily before all this happened (early February) and very often had to ask people to repeat themselves on the phone and really struggled when I had to ask them to spell their names. Luckily when I explained my problem, most people were understanding but I could almost see them asking themselves ‘then why is she on the phone?’

    Yeah, why was I?

  7. Oh, yes, I’ve had the same thoughts, JoAnn. Kind of funny really to go through my routine sometimes. Most people are usually cooperative and understanding though, as you say.

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