May is Better Hearing & Speech Month (BHSM), and this year’s theme is “Communication at Work,” highlighting the impact of hearing loss in the workplace.In a special Better Hearing & Speech Month edition of our ‘Ask the Expert’ series, Amplifon’s Chief of Audiology, Thomas Tedeschi, Au.D., FNAP answers two questions about hearing loss in the workplace.
John: “I have hearing loss and it’s a real challenge for me at work. I have trouble catching everything people are saying in meetings and people often think I’m ignoring them when I don’t respond. But really, I just can’t hear them! How can I manage my hearing loss while I’m at work?”
Mary: “My coworker John always tells me I’m mumbling and ignores me when I say hi to him in the lunchroom. At first, I thought he was mad at me, but he recently told me that he has hearing loss and couldn’t hear me. How can I better communicate with John and other coworkers that have hearing loss at my work?”
Dr. Tedeschi’s Answer:
Both great questions! John, you’re not alone. 60% of people with hearing loss are either in the workplace or a learning environment.1 Managing your hearing loss while you’re at work can be a challenge, but thankfully there are a few things that you can do to help navigate throughout your day.
Tips for managing your hearing loss while at work
- Treat your hearing loss
Seeking professional help for your hearing loss and treating it with hearing aids, if necessary, will be the biggest help for you at work. A hearing care provider can fit you with hearing aids that are a match for your specific type of hearing loss and your work environment, whether it’s an office or a construction site.
- Speak up!
Though you’re not required to disclose your hearing loss to your employer, telling them about your hearing loss can work to your benefit. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, your employer must provide you with resources that help you manage your hearing loss such as a front row seat in large meetings, or an interpreter if needed.
It also allows you to be honest and open with your employer and colleagues to work together so you can be successful at your work.
- Advocate for yourself
Tell your coworkers what your communication needs are when you’re meeting with them. For example, “I’m really interested in what you’re saying, could you face me and speak a little slower so that I can better understand you.” You’d be surprised at how accommodating people can be when you clearly communicate you needs.
- Ask for things in writing
Whether it’s a pre-meeting agenda or post-meeting minutes, having written notes can help you understand the conversation and make sure you didn’t miss anything.
- Use technology to your advantage
There are a multitude of devices out there, many of which can be helpful if you’re struggling to hear. If you’re in a pinch and can’t find a quiet meeting space, suggest communicating via email. Workplaces can also be equipped with Hearing Assistive Technology to help those with hearing loss.
Mary, your willingness and desire to communicate better with your coworker John is admirable. Here are a few tips that you can use to improve communication with John.
Tips for communicating with coworkers with hearing loss
- Speak to them face to face, slowly, and clearly.
Mumbling, talking too fast or with your head turned can be hard for anyone to understand (remember the teacher from the Peanuts series), but even more so for those with hearing loss. Paying careful attention to your body language and tone will make it easier everyone for to hear!
- Get their attention with a tap or wave.
Don’t shout or clap to get their attention – this isn’t a football game after all – a gentle tap or friendly wave will do just fine.
- If they misheard you, rephrase what you said in a different way.
Hearing loss doesn’t just affect the volume level at which you hear, but also the pitch and types of sound you hear. Meaning, it’s not particularly helpful to repeat yourself only in a louder voice. By saying it in a different way, someone with hearing loss may be able to catch more than they could before.
- Avoid meeting in noisy environments.
As much as you may love to have a latte while you chat about business, maybe avoid the coffee shop if you’re meeting with a colleague with hearing loss. From whizzing espresso machines to background music and the conversation at the table next you, competing sounds make it even more difficult for someone with hearing loss to catch everything. Instead, try meeting in a quieter environment like a library, or small conference room. Bonus points if you pick up coffee and bring it with you!
- Be patient.
Put yourself in their shoes. As much as it may be frustrating for you when dealing with communication challenges, imagine experiencing that all day, every day. Try your best to follow the tips above and get creative when challenges arise.
What else can you do?
During Better Hearing & Speech Month, I urge you to make a strong commitment to your hearing health.
This commitment can take a number of forms, such as protecting your hearing when exposed to high levels of noise, getting your hearing checked on a regular basis, seeking professional care for hearing concerns, and being an advocate for those around you with hearing loss.
3Marke Trak VIII study