How to Approach an Awkward Conversation about Hearing Loss

May 24, 2017

Since hearing loss affects 15% of the adult population, there is a good chance that you know somebody who exhibits symptom of untreated hearing loss. While some people readily acknowledge that they have hearing loss, others may be in denial.  Be prepared for the latter.  After all, hearing loss usually occurs gradually over many years, therefore making it less obvious to the sufferer. Many of us have experienced the awkward situation where you know a co-worker or loved one has a hearing problem, but you’re in a quandary on how to approach the subject tactfully.

You might see the consequence his hearing loss is having on his job, his marriage, and social interactions, but he appears to be blissfully unaware of the truth.

While you may feel inclined to report your observations and bring attention to the problem, beware.  This conversation requires sensitivity.  Some people interpret comments about their hearing, or lack of hearing, as an insult and can quickly become offended.  What is the best way to address this topic with a family member or friend?

Stick to the Facts

You start with the facts, and depending on how the conversation is going, you end with the facts. Facts are undeniable. They have no judgment or attitude attached to them. For example, when confronting a friend about her hearing difficulties simply list a few things that she couldn’t deny: 1) I notice that you struggle to hear in background noise and ask for others to repeat a lot 2)  the television volume is too loud for the rest of the family 3) your phone rang three times in church before you realized it was ringing 4) It’s hard to raise my voice to a level that you can hear me without sounding angry 5) I drove to your house to check on you because you didn’t hear the phone ringing when I called to check on you 6)  Charlie thought you were ignoring him when you didn’t answer his question  7) others have said they notice it too.

Choose your words carefully, and express concern when mentioning your observations.  It is important to remember that they didn’t choose to have hearing loss.

Be sincere

Speak from your heart with compassion.  What is done in love isn’t always interpreted as love, but you can live in peace knowing that you spoke the truth and you acted in love.

Replace “You” with “I.”

If you begin a sentence with “You,” you are usually making some unfair, or maybe even incorrect assumptions. But if you stay with “I,” you have a much better case because you and you alone control your feelings. Therefore, try saying, “I feel sad when I see you missing out on conversations” instead of “You’re missing out on conversations.” Even though all you’ve done is stuck in “I” in the sentence, you may come across as less judgmental and somewhat more empathetic.

Ask questions

By asking questions you allow the person to arrive at her own conclusion on her own schedule. Planting the seed with some gentle inquiries like, “Did you enjoy the sermon in church today as much as I did?” is often more powerful than a statement like “I think you missed a great sermon today,” because you have left her with a question that she can answer in her own time.  “Wouldn’t it be nice if you could easily participate in the conversations at family get-togethers like before?”  By asking her a few questions you are planting the seeds for whenever she is ready to deal with it.

Don’t be confrontational 

Nobody wants to be bullied into doing something against their will.  Recently a patient reported a disturbing conversation he had while visiting his daughter and son-in-law.  Annoyed with dad’s hearing struggles, the son-in-law announced that unless dad obtains hearing aids he cannot come back to visit.  Threats like this can sometimes backfire.  These are the patients who are most likely to purchase hearing aids and then not wear them.  They may have purchased them to appease a family member, but then generate several excuses for why they don’t wear them.

The best thing you can do if your friend or family member has hearing loss is be a strong support for them, be patient, and encourage them to seek help.  If the intention of your confrontation is to make your friend get help for her hearing loss, you may come away disappointed. However, if we voice our concern simply as an act of love, we will be at peace knowing we have spoken the truth and tried, even if they continue to deny the problem.

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Portage Valley Hearing