Spring is here, and that means it’s time for Better Hearing and Speech Month. For more than 75 years each May, the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) devotes a whole month to raising awareness of communication problems such as hearing loss and works to improve care, supporting reducing the stigma around hearing loss.
This year’s theme is ‘Communication At Work.’ Hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical condition in the United States, after high blood pressure and arthritis. It is more common than asthma, vision problems, or cancer. No wonder hearing loss is one of the most common work-related diseases. More than one in ten of the working population has trouble hearing.
The importance of hearing health for work communication
Work performance can suffer when employees experience hearing loss due to miscommunication from poor hearing. Tasks can take longer to complete because instructions are misunderstood or need to be repeated. There is also a possibility of the employee appearing uninterested when he or she is struggling to hear.
This can also cause workers to feel isolated as they struggle to interact with colleagues. It can also harm teamwork and can cause physical and mental exhaustion and distress. Unaddressed hearing loss is connected to an increased risk of cognitive decline; this can be up to five times higher in severe hearing loss cases. Finally, individuals with hearing problems are twice as likely to be unemployed as people who hear well.
Tips for improving communication at work
Therefore, it is essential to do everything you can to improve communication with your coworkers and managers when dealing with hearing loss. There are three ways we recommend you do this.
1. Always be ready.
One of the biggest problems, when you suffer from hearing loss, is missing important details. During a meeting or phone call, you might miss something, in discussion with a customer, or even in a video or news story about training. Staying prepared and getting ready for challenging situations is the best way to cope with this problem. Here are some tips:
- Write formal notes or an agenda for phone calls.
- Find a quiet, pleasant space to work in, make phone calls, or hold small meetings.
- Confirm critical points by repeating them with a coworker or through a written follow-up during and after meetings or calls.
- If that fails, fall back on text-based communication platforms such as email or instant messaging.
2. Optimize success during verbal exchanges with coworkers.
Follow some tips to improve your conversations with your coworkers.
- Use context: Try not to worry about hearing every word when speaking with someone, but instead concentrating on the topic theme. When you understand the general meaning of the discussion, you will put together missing words.
- Reduce background noise: Seek to reduce the noise around you while having a conversation, such as moving to an empty meeting room, or away from noisy coworkers.
- Get a little closer. Make sure you see the face and mouth of the speaker-their movements, and facial expressions will help you understand what they mean.
- Use your best side: Ensure you are in the best place to optimize your ‘good ear’ if your hearing is not the same in both ears. In meetings, don’t hesitate to ask people to change places with you to hear better.
- Remain calm. If you are nervous or flustered, you will find it harder to understand what is being said.
- Ask for a repeat. If you don’t hear the first word anyone says, don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat it or phrase it differently.
- Don’t get too harsh on yourself. No-one understands the whole time correctly.
3. Get outside support.
Workers should also explore hearing aids as a way to improve their hearing and incorporate workplace communication. Hearing aids have helped many improve their working life by improving hearing. There are several options to suit various lifestyles and budgets. If you are worried about the cost of hearing aids, check with your employer’s health insurance to see if the program includes provisions for hearing devices.
If the work environment exacerbates your hearing loss, speak to your boss and coworkers about your needs. Effective changes, such as communicating in person rather than over the phone, or reducing noise in the office, can enhance communication and make the workplace more efficient for all. Employers may also give workers education and changes to make the workplace more inclusive, getting input from employees with hearing loss directly so the employer can create the most supportive workplace for that person.
Ultimately it is up to you to cope with your lack of hearing at work. With the tips mentioned above, you’ll be in the best position to communicate with your colleagues during this Better Speech and Hearing Month.