Is this scenario familiar?
You’ve just met someone, and you’re eager to get to know her. She’s got a great smile, warm eyes, and her mouth is moving. But you can’t really hear what she’s saying.
But she’s not asking questions, so you’re like: well, I’m gonna nod and smile and hope she won’t ask me anything…
Until the worst happens: she suddenly asks you a question!
You nervously give her your best indecisive head-nod, which could be a yes or a no. And you finish it off with the awkward palm gesture.
She stares at you a little confused. She’s waiting for an answer.
Turns out it wasn’t exactly a yes-or-no question.
I hate this stupid scenario.
When I was younger I did this a lot. I often guessed the wrong thing and embarrassed myself.
Nowadays—I have to admit—sometimes, when I’m speaking to someone new and having a hard time hearing, the old ambiguous-head-nod habit tries to get the best of me.
“This could only be one minute of nodding and smiling. It’ll soon be over. No need to bring up the hearing-loss story,” a weasly voice in my head tells me.
But now I know better. To nod and smile and pretend I can follow the conversation when I can’t isn’t fair to the other person. And it isn’t fair to me.
So now that the blinders are off, when I find I can’t hear, I gently interrupt the speaker by using a script I’ve prepared. (Pre-means before. I’ve prepared the script before I get into the situation.)
Why a script?
Without a script it’s harder to come up with something to say that is concise and clear. Especially when you’re under stress. If you share about your hearing loss very often, you may have already developed your own script. But if you still hesitate, you’ll find a script useful.
Here is how I do it.
First of all, you need an opening. Which is the first bit of your script. The shorter the better. This helps to bring up the topic even with strangers you may only speak with for no longer than a minute.
Let’s imagine I am in a loud venue and someone new starts speaking to me.[Opening]
“Hey, I’m really sorry, but I can’t hear you well. I am partially deaf and even if I use these (points at hearing aids), they don’t work so well in noisy places.”
Then you could think of what would make things better (with practice this becomes more natural) and add your suggestions for an adjustment.[Adjustment]
“But if we could just step away from the speaker…”
“But if you could just speak up and face me…”
“But if you just let me swap chairs with the person sitting next to you…”
“But if we could close that door…”
…Then I might be able to hear you better. Shall we give it a try?
What if no adjustments are available? What if it’s simply too loud in there and no time for trying anything? Like when you’re just crossing paths with someone real quick?
Then right after your opening, you can close your script with a smile. This is what I call a Plan B.[Plan B]
Script: “I can’t really hear you right now. What do you say if we catch up later?”
Sometimes you may just have to do that. Even if people around you are able to communicate. I have been in the situation where I can’t really talk to anyone for some time—like during the break of a show.
It sucks when everyone else can communicate and you can’t. But I now accept that. At least I am not getting stressed pretending that I hear when I don’t.
If there’s nothing I can do to improve the communication, I simply sit down and try to relax.
So that’s what I’d call a basic script. You got the opening, the adjustments and the Plan B.
You can even take your script to the next level and spice it up with some fun facts. Fun facts, especially if they contains a little humor, help keep a light mood and are a great way to educate.
Not many are aware of how hearing loss works, so if you teach them in a fun way, you may even impress them.
Here is another example.
I was once at a super-geek wearable conference. Here’s how I brought up the topic with two strangers:
“You know, everything that I hear is processed by microcomputers? Pretty sophisticated ones. The only bad news is that these computers don’t deal well with noise, that’s why I need you guys to speak clearly while facing me. I will still miss things sometimes, but no worries because I won’t forget to ask you again!”
They were like: “Whoa, that’s pretty cool.” And they asked more questions.
When people ask you more questions, you have the opportunity to go deeper into the issue and teach them even more. Here’s something I say at noisy/echoey dinners:
“If loud music at nightclub levels were being played in this room, you wouldn’t be able to have a group conversation, but you could probably have a one-on-one with the person sitting next to you—if you spoke loudly and clearly. That’s how it is for me right now. In this restaurant I have the speech intelligibility you would have in a nightclub.”
What works for me won’t necessarily work for you. All hearing losses are different, and we all have different lifestyles. Plus, you want to add your own personality to your script.
Why not start now? Go ahead, make your own script and use it asap.
Then share in the comments what worked and what didn’t, I would love to learn from you or help you if I can.