Talking to a Hard of Hearing Person

by Chelle Wyatt

Talking to a hard of hearing person is easy!  Follow these communication guidelines to improve conversations and cut back on repeats.

  • Always get the person’s attention first.  Say their name, wave until the person looks at you or tap their shoulder.
  • Face them when talking.  Be within 6 feet for the best listening/seeing advantage.
  • Make sure your face is in the light and not in the shadows.  Hard of hearing people use lipreading to some degree.
  • Take care to enunciate.  Speak at a moderate pace and make sure nothing is in your mouth or in front of it.
  • Use gestures and facial expression as every little bit helps.
  • Do not shout.  Shouting distorts words and faces making it hard to understand.

Rephrasing is a key element.

Sometimes hard of hearing people get stuck on a word or phrase.  Instead of repeating the same thing, try rephrasing.   Use a synonym if possible.  Include more facts in the sentence.  If it’s a long list break it up into smaller sentences.


-Their new sofa was so comfortable.


-Their new couch was very comfortable.


-We’re all going to watch a movie on 33rd this afternoon, do you want to come?


-Rhonda, Brenda and I are going the movie theater on 3300 south this afternoon.  Do you want to come?


-Hello my name is John.  Welcome to our café. Here’s our specials for the day: Stout braised bratwurst, chipotle barbeque pork sandwich and citrus marinated chicken tacos.  Would you like to try any of those?


-Our specials are bratwurst, spicy pork sandwich and chicken tacos.

As a hard of hearing person, instead of saying “what” or “say that again” try making these a habit instead:

Can you say that again but in a different way please?

I heard this part (repeat what you heard) but I missed the last part. Can you say that in another way?

Can you slow down and break it into shorter sentences for me?

Tell me more about the chicken tacos.

With a little practice rephrasing becomes second nature.  

rephrase 1

Patience and Hearing Loss

When hearing loss is a factor, patience promotes successful communication. In a relaxed atmosphere a hard of hearing person has a better chance of understanding more of the conversation. When emotion piles up behind spoken words, lips move faster and raised voices distort word discrimination. I don’t know about anyone else but during intense situations, what little hearing I have instantly declines and the harder I try, the worse it gets. Patience is the key to better relationships.

Who needs patience? Both parties. Oh, yes. I’ve been impatient with others about my hearing loss. Not long ago at the grocery store, I put some beer up on the conveyor belt. I live in Utah and even though I’m 45 years old, they card me about 75% of the time. I had my 18 year old son behind me, who also happens to be hard of hearing. As I looked down at my purse to get my wallet out, the clerk said something and all I heard was, “Ow…U?”

I hesitated, puzzling out the missing pieces. Did she say ‘how are you’ or ‘how old are you?” I thought I’d go with the former since I live in Utah with funky liquor laws.

“Did you ask how old I was,” I asked uncertainly because maybe she did want to know how I am which is normal chit chat from clerks.

Her hand went on her hip and she replied in a raised voice, “That’s what I said.”

I leaned over the counter to give her what for without thinking twice.

“Excuse me. I lost over half my hearing and since I wasn’t looking at you, I couldn’t tell if you said ‘how are you’ or ‘how old are you.’ Don’t automatically assume everyone can hear.”

Right after those heated words were out of my mouth, I gave myself a mental slap to the forehead. Two wrongs don’t make a right. I provoked a scene which could turn into a confrontation. I took a deep breath and handed her my drivers license. Luckily, she back peddled and apologized. We exchanged a few pleasantries before my son and I left.

“I didn’t hear what went on,” he said as soon as we were in the parking lot. “It looked like you were going to jump over the counter and kick her butt.”

Dang, I made a bad example all the way around. I told him what went on and let him know it wasn’t the best way to handle the situation. What I should have done was calmly explained I am half deaf and didn’t hear her. Patience would have accomplished just as much without the bad feelings. If I want people to be patient with me, I need to be patient with them. This goes for people who are closer to me too.

Even though my boyfriend and I have been together for 4 years you would think he’d remember my nuances. He gets hearing loss but he’s had 50 plus years of being around hearing people. I’m the first person he’s known with a hearing loss and hearing habits are hard to break. He still talks to windows in the car, from other rooms and talks away from me at night. Then there’s my sister who talks too fast and friends who trying to talk to me above their loud TV and oddly enough, one of them is hard of hearing.

When I hear my boyfriend’s voice (but not his words) from another room, I want to scream “You know I can’t hear you!” but those kind of words shut down communication. Instead, I wait for him to realize (again) I can’t understand him and come to me. Or I tie up whatever I’m doing and go into the other room to ask for a repeat resisting the urge to ask him, “Why do you do this to me?” Years and years of prior habit is why.

While on the phone with my sister instead of saying, “Why do I always have to tell you to slow down.” Playing the bossy older sister gets me nowhere with her and she’d stop calling me. Since we live so far apart, it would turn our relationship into nothing. Instead, when she talks too fast I tell her, “Whoa, whoa, what was that? I missed something.” A couple of minutes into the conversation she remembers exactly who she is talking to and slows down to my speed as we update each other about our lives which often involves laughter.

At my friend’s house, I stop the conversation and ask if it’s okay to turn down their TV. They turn it down right away and sometimes even turn it off. The TV is a part of their lives, their background noise. After six years of knowing them, they still forget about the volume on their TV when I arrive but they have learned to turn on captions if they want me to watch TV with them. Gentle reminders go a long way. If I behaved like I did to the grocery store clerk to everyone, I wouldn’t have any friends.

Those are some of the ways I practice patience with others. What do I want patience from you with?

Repeats. I gotta have them. If I’m giving you my full attention and trying my best to hear, please don’t roll your eyes or give me an exaggerated sigh before you say it ‘one more time.’ This little drama act isn’t going to help matters any. I promise you, I’m not trying to drive you nuts. If you don’t want to repeat the same thing over and over, try rephrasing, that helps get me over the hump.

If I stop the conversation, it’s because I’m lost. Sudden topic changes throw me for a loop. My brain is on the old track, puzzling out missing pieces when all of sudden the words I do hear, don’t fit in with the last known topic. Be a sweetie. Be patient. Fill me in. I don’t want everything repeated, but knowing the topic helps me get in flow again.

Those are the biggest issues. A few more I can throw in are:

  • Be patient with me wanting to be somewhere early. This is so I can pick the best seating. And don’t get angry when I ask to switch seats, sometimes I get it wrong. I look for the best place to read lips and cut down background noise.
  • Environmental noise and bad acoustics play havoc on my hearing and hearing instruments. Please help me hear or be willing to quit talking until the noise goes down.

Now I gotta cover being easy on myself. I get incredibly frustrated when I don’t understand the third repeat and need it repeated again…and then don’t ask for it. Take a breath and be brave enough to ask for a fourth repeat or rephrase.

I can’t expect to understand everything in large groups. It’s not going to happen so take another deep breath and let some conversation go. Trying to keep up and frying my brain isn’t going to help my frustration level so give myself permission to tune out the unimportant stuff. I need to be patient and ask questions later if needed. I deserve the same kind of respect for myself that I give to others.

Last year, my friend Kathy introduced me to walking my talk (like I should have with the grocery clerk). Kathy has a CI, wears a hearing aid and leads classes in hearing loss at our local Deaf and hard of hearing center. She recommended slowing down our own speech as an example for how we want others to talk to us. Pushing this further I can face others as I talk and get in their line of vision before I start talking. Don’t talk to car windows myself and no talking from other rooms even when I know the other person can hear. (What if he/she responds?) I can keep putting others on my good ear side until it becomes habit to do it on their own. Then I can be patient and honor their differences as well. We all have our lot in life to deal with.

If we don’t respect one another, we shut down. Without meaning to, we isolate someone. People with hearing loss already feel cheated out of communication without someone belittling us further. It all boils down to being kind to each other. We can do that, can’t we?