Communicating When a Friend or Loved One Has a Hearing Loss

If you have a friend, colleague, or family member with hearing loss, you may be nervous about how it will impact your communication with them. Will they be able to understand you? Will you offend them if you speak more loudly or slowly? Can you still have meaningful conversations?

Our advice to you: by following a few helpful tips and being understanding of their condition, you can keep up your communication and still enjoy each other's company.

Set yourself up for success

To communicate effectively with someone with hearing loss, make sure you're in the best position to be understood. Get their attention (by waving or tap them on the shoulder) before you start speaking. Make sure they can see your face and that there's proper lighting. Use facial expressions and gestures as needed, but not in an exaggerated way.

Ask them what they need

Hearing loss can take a variety of forms. Someone with sudden, severe hearing loss will have different needs than a friend with a more gradual, age-related hearing loss. For some people, certain pitches will become more difficult to hear; others will struggle in a crowded room but hear relatively well when speaking one to one. Ask your friend or family member about what's difficult for them and make adjustments when you can.

If your friend has hearing aids or a cochlear implant, don't assume that they can automatically hear you. They may be getting used to their new device or may need to adjust the settings depending on your vocal qualities and the environment you're in.

Make plans with their hearing loss in mind

Nothing will be more frustrating (for both of you) than trying to have a conversation in the wrong setting. In general, crowded restaurants or parties are challenging for a person with a hearing loss, as the background noise will make it hard for them to understand you. Try finding quieter places to eat and drink, or have them over for dinner rather than going out. If you're at a party, see if you can find a quiet room for your conversation.

They have hearing loss, not a lack of intelligence

Even people with the best intentions can find themselves repeating words loudly or slowly, which can be embarrassing for the person with hearing loss. Instead, if they're having trouble understanding a word or phrase, try rephrasing your idea. There may be individual syllables that they can't make out, and expressing your thought with new words might be successful.

That said, speaking clearly and enunciating carefully can help-- make sure you're not doing it to the point of patronizing them. If it helps them to understand you better, they may not mind you speaking loudly. Just be sure to check in and gauge their reaction.

When all else fails, write it down

If you're trying to express something important and your friend is really struggling to understand, it might make sense to write your thoughts in an email or letter. Don't rely too much on this strategy; your friend with hearing loss still wants to talk to you face to face. They certainly don't want to feel like you're "giving up" on communicating with them. But an occasional thoughtful note can ensure that they get the full emotional impact of what you're trying to say, and can help keep your relationship healthy.