Communicating at work can be difficult when you have a hearing loss, especially if your colleagues aren’t aware of your hearing needs. It is not uncommon for people who are hard of hearing to misunderstand instructions from managers or become lost in meetings. Some workmates might even shy away from talking to a colleague with a hearing impairment for fear of causing offense or being misunderstood.
However, there are many things you can do to improve communication with your colleagues. Below we’ve listed some simple suggestions to help you deal with hearing loss in the workplace.
Tips for people with hearing loss
The first and most important step is to let your colleagues know about your hearing loss. You need to be direct and unashamed when you do this. Your work team will be appreciative of your honesty and will make the necessary adjustments to accommodate your communication needs.
Let them know if you wear a hearing aid or use a speech processor, as this will help them understand. Give your colleagues advice on how best to talk to you. For example, tell them if one ear is better than the other or if you struggle to hear over background noise.
Encourage your colleagues to learn more about hearing impairment. Government and community organisations offer training in deafness and hearing loss awareness for employees and give advice on how to adapt the workplace for hearing-impaired staff. Staff members should know that all hearing-impaired people have different levels of hearing and therefore have different needs.
Tips for colleagues
The responsibility for effective workplace communication doesn’t lie solely with the person who is hard of hearing. If you work with someone who has a hearing loss, it is important that you learn to accommodate him or her. Communication is a two way street after all! Tips for colleagues include:
- Make sure the person with hearing loss is aware of you, either by saying their name loudly, getting in their line of site, or tapping them on the shoulder.
- If you can see your colleague struggling to hear, you may need to move to a quieter location to talk.
- Speak clearly, but don’t over exaggerate your mouth movements as sometimes this can make lip-reading harder. Pausing will also help the person catch up with what you’re saying.
- Ask the person with hearing loss if you need to adjust your speech volume or speed.
- Be sure to use lots of body language and facial expressions when talking.
- If your colleague can’t understand what you are saying, don’t give up trying. You can offer to write it down or ask them what would make it easier for them to understand.
Meetings with hard of hearing colleagues
To make it comfortable for a colleague with hearing loss to understand what is being said during a meeting, hand out a written agenda beforehand, adjust your speed when speaking, and if possible share information in a visual presentation. It is also important that only one person speaks at a time to avoid confusion for the person with hearing loss.
For managers of hearing impaired staff
The right working environment can really make a difference to someone with hearing loss. If you have someone on your staff who is hard of hearing, allocate them a working space with minimal background noise. You should also install appropriate safety equipment, such as a flashing smoke alarm, to make the workplace a safe place for everyone.