Sorry? Wait a minute! No I’m NOT!

Words matter. As I have aged (and hopefully matured) the discovery of what we say and how we say it has evolved as I have learned to communicate with focused intent.

As a person with hearing loss, a typical response for me after you first say something ranges from:

Sorry? (or I’m sorry)

Pardon?

HUH?

My mama raised me to be polite I suppose. However, I have lived with acquired disability nearly twice as long as I did with “normal” hearing and “normal” balance. Even people with a normal range of hearing for their age may respond with an “I’m sorry? What was that?” if they miss something in an overly noisy room. Because I am more likely to miss what was said or miss the context and fully understand what was said, I am more likely to use these phrases.

After some length of time living with these ingrained habitual responses, I realized how it was actually making me FEEL. I’m all about good manners. I noticed that I was having to say, “I’m sorry?” so much that I was a really, REALLY sorry individual. I also realized that I had nothing to apologize for when I said it. More importantly, it served no purpose. Heck, I give workshops on how to convey to someone you didn’t hear what they were saying.

It is best to educate and advocate. Don’t complain or apologize. I am best served by responding in one of the following ways:

“I did not hear most of that because of the background noise in here. Would you repeat that please?” (Maybe even suggest a quieter location)

“I heard you say, “ya-da yada”, but missed the last part”. (Obviously we can fill in the yada with what you actually heard).

Beware of your volume. Be careful not to “guess”. After all, you are trying to educate folks that pieces of their sentence was lost but not EVERYTHING they said was.

My husband once said to me in a crowded room, “I will see you later. Plan on dinner at six?”

I heard, “… see… later. Dinner and sex?”

YES PLEASE.

When you become more proactive about what you heard and did not hear, you can also suggest synonyms. When my kids were in elementary school, they would joke that they knew more synonyms than anyone else. Having been to all of those hearing loss conferences (thanks HLAA) they learned that if your loved one was having trouble understanding all you said, throw out some different key words. It may end up being a consonant blend they have no trouble hearing at all!

“Grandma called this morning and asked you to call back when you can”.

“What?”

“I spoke to Grandma this morning. Be sure to call her back tonight!”

I hope you do not misunderstand the purpose of this post. There is nothing wrong with being polite. There is everything right about letting someone know you did not hear them.

– – – – – – – – –

Let me quickly chase a rabbit here and insert that faking that you can hear is much different than faking you are listening. The latter may result in hurt feelings or a punch in the arm. To fake that you heard someone has heftier consequences. 

– – – – – – – – – –

What matters is letting them know you did not hear them in the right way. Our age-old habits of apologizing do not fix the problem. You are more likely to encounter people who are tired of repeating something, or start to do so LOUDLY. This only distorts the words making it even harder to understand.

By suggesting a quieter place to go, explaining you may do better with a different choice of words that can be understood in context better, or repeating the part you DID hear so that they don’t have to repeat everything can go a long way to better communication.

Depending on the environment, some other great options to take the place of constantly apologizing are:

  1. If in the car, suggest turning the radio and/or music off so that your ears do not have to compete with their voice.
  2. Ask to step into a building so the acoustics assist you in catching more of what they said to you. Outside, voices can D   r…      i  f…    t…   a way…
  3. If you know them well enough, ask them to ditch the gum 🙂
  4. Make sure by word and deed that the problem is not something you should apologize for as no one did anything wrong. They didn’t either – so work on making sure they do not think you are criticizing them.
  5. Do not let others say, I will tell you later. They won’t. If you hear this, let them know you will be following up by email to discover what they said because it is important to you.
  6. If you see a conversation going sideways and frustration is evident on the face on the person you are speaking to, ask for an email. Explain you simply cannot hear them in this environment and that you ask they follow-up with a text or an email. Assure them you want to respond as needed.

L. Denise Portis, Ph.D.

©2020 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

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