Communication Practices Hard of Hearing Hearing Loss Misconceptions Personal advocacy Self Advocacy

Incidental Hearing

Incidental hearing is our take on “incidental learning” for those with hearing loss. Incidental learning is often applied to kids but it affects adults too. What is it? Per Effectiviology: “Incidental learning is learning that occurs unintentionally from activities where learning is not a conscious goal.” In this article, they list language acquisition as an incidental learning situation. Think about it, kids pick up all kinds of words, phrases and ideas from adults all the time! 

Children with hearing loss are at a disadvantage when it comes to incidental learning. Julia found this article from Hearing Health and Technology Matters which says: “…children learn more than 80% of what they know through incidental learning. That means they learn by overhearing things around them.” If there’s a hearing loss, the child misses a huge chunk of incidental learning.

Does the learning ever stop?

There’s a lot of information about incidental learning for kids with hearing loss but we, at Hearing Loss LIVE!, believe it still affects as as adults. We don’t stop learning from each other, ever. People with hearing loss miss side conversation all the time because we lack incidental hearing. That means we miss ‘incidental information’ all the time!

Green background. 
Text: People learn a lot from overhearing conversations. 
Picture: Outline of half a head with a hand to the ear, then 3 bent lines signifying audio coming toward the hand.
Text: People with hearing loss don't have that ability.

Here are a few examples for a better idea of what we are talking about from a hearing loss perspective:

  • At work. We can’t overhear the conversation in the hallway about possible upcoming changes at work. We might miss a scary situation that happened at the front desk which required security to come and then not know about it until a staff meeting. 
  • At home: We don’t hear the phone ring and we can’t hear the caller’s voice. All we know is someone in the house is talking and assume they are talking to us. We go up to them and start asking questions only to find out we interrupted a phone call. 
  • In public: At the restaurant, with a table full of people. We might be lucky enough to catch what the people near us say but might miss a whole conversation from the other end of the table with information about the upcoming weekend activity. When we don’t know what’s going on, everyone acts surprised.  
Incidental Hearing

Basically, we’ve lost the ability to eavesdrop in our environment. Because our communication is focused we miss all the side stuff. It’s something hearing people take advantage of. Hearing people often assume we got the info. We lose out all the time. This leaves us feeling left out, confused and sometimes angry!  

Julia’s Hearing Partner Perspective

It is important for our hearing partners to understand that NOT hearing side conversation or situational cues affects our HoHs. Making sure they connect with the necessary information should be part of the relationship. Communication is vital in any relationship. It seems like we don’t know why it bothers them. 

At times, I think we may be jealous as the world is a noisy place! What would it be like to cut out extraneous noise around us, to be present and not affected by all the noise? It’s not easy to do with Vulcan hearing. I often find myself bothered or annoyed by the side conversations in my own home. We lack empathy and tend to think, “What’s the big deal?” 

Stop that.

Green background, white hearing loss live logo of three leaves.
Picture: Outlined people. Two people talking behind someone.  (3 people shapes in a triangle.)
Text: If people are talking in the background, it all blurs together for someone with hearing loss. Nothing distinct stands out.

How would you feel if you could NEVER hear that gossip around the water cooler at work? What if you could NEVER grasp what was being talked about at the restaurant? How about missing that group conversation because your back was turned? Basically, ALL side conversations are out of grasp, especially in noisy restaurants. When others don’t fill you in on the incidental hearing missed, there’s no inclusion. There’s more collateral damage to deal with.

Though I believe most hearing people are not intentionally trying to leave the HoH out, the bottom line is we do. In some cases, this causes more grief, sadness and isolation. Whether the conversation is important or only gossip, take that extra minute to fill in your HoH. Take out the eyeroll and make time to include them. If we do that, we take some of the sting out of the loss. Is it going to be perfect? No. Will we forget? Yes. But it’s a simple habit change that creates inclusion.

Chelle’s Hearing Loss Perspective

When am I most likely to miss incidental information? First thing in the morning without hearing aids and especially before coffee! Or when I’m given a specific task during an event and I’m focused on that task. In the car with more than two people. Cars are already a challenge so a lot can be said in the car without me knowing.  “Are you hungry?” I didn’t hear that above the music playing while barreling down the highway at 80 mph. Because I didn’t answer, it might have been a good idea to check in again.  

Hard of Hearing (HoH) people can only focus on one thing at a time. This is a good thing when I’m focused on you while you’re talking. I’m not listening to the conversation behind us or thinking about anything else while you are talking. I’m listening with intention. 

Most of the time, I lose incidental information in group settings. If conversation is flying back and forth between people and I’m not looking at you, chances are I missed all the plans made for that birthday party. Could I have stopped you for more information? Yes, if I knew you were including me in the plans, then I would have stopped you. But, did you get my attention before talking to me? Nah, you were talking ‘at’ me assuming I picked it up with incidental hearing.  

One on One versus Group Situations

For the most part, I do well one on one. There’s less noise and it’s easy to find out who’s talking. Because I do so well one on one, I think some of the hearies in my life forget how hard group situations are for me. A shift happens with a large group. For each person added to the group, the harder it gets to follow. Dynamics change, conversation becomes more spontaneous and it’s more difficult to spot who’s speaking. Voices start to blend.

No, I didn’t hear them talking about the group plans for next week or who’s doing what. Was I looking at you all? No? That’s where it went wrong then.

Green background, white hearing loss live logo of 3 leaves.
Text: To make sure we are included...
Picture: Outline of two people filled in black, facing each other with hands reaching out toward each other. One dialog bubble says "See you Tuesdays at 6:00."
Text: Get our attention, face us and be within 6 feet.

Don’t forget…was it 7 AM when I haven’t put my hearing aids in yet? Did I get a chance to drink at least one cup of coffee? I think most people don’t do well until they’ve had a cup of coffee so that’s just human kindness.

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Learn more with Hearing Loss LIVE!

Join us March 5, 2024 online via Zoom at 6:00 PM Mountain/AZ time. Up for discussion that night, Incidental Hearing. Let’s Talk about it, with captions! Are you already on our newsletter? You’ll get the link to join there. If you have already signed up for one of our workshops, you will get an email a few days before we have it.  What?! You haven’t signed up yet? Do that HERE, on our main website page. Scroll down a bit to find the link.

Communication Access Communication Practices Communication with Family Connections Hard of Hearing Hearing Aids Hearing Loss Personal advocacy

3 Golden Rules

The 3 Golden Rules provide better communication outcomes for everyone with hearing loss. They improve communication if you have hearing aids, cochlear implants or no hearing devices. By following these simple rules, communication breakdowns would happen less often, hearing loss or no hearing loss. They make the difference between hearing and understanding.

A purple meme with a ring of gold that has leaves coming off it. White font. The 3 Golden Rules when talking to someone with hearing loss. Get their attention before speaking. Face them while talking. Be within 6 feet.

All 3 rules were considered a social grace but they have fallen by the wayside. We are distracted and multitasking. We are tired, hangry and have a lot on our plate these days. We could all learn to slow down and connect again, properly. The 3 Golden Rules require everyone to be present. With more intention, perhaps we will have less communication breakdowns in general.

For people who have hearing loss, these 3 rules are especially important. Let’s break them down from a hearing loss perspective.

Accessibility Cochlear Implants Communication Practices Hard of Hearing Hearing Aids Hearing Loss Misconceptions

Did you hear me? Hearing VS Understanding

There’s a difference between hearing and understanding. Just because we hear someone doesn’t mean we understand them. As an example, hearing people can have a hard time understanding each other in noisy situations. Also while on phones, there can be too much background noise or weird acoustics (acoustics affect mechanical hearing) for them to understand what’s being said. Hearing people understand this but can forget that it especially applies to anyone with hearing loss. Even though technology has improved with hearing devices, these situations remain a BIG challenge for people with hearing loss.

Speaking of challenges, have you seen our post on Sensorineural Visuals? Sensorineural hearing loss (also called nerve damage) distorts hearing in varying degrees from person to person. That post gives visuals of how hearing loss affects speech. We hear certain frequencies very well and at the same time, aren’t able to hear other frequencies. It’s confusing! In the early stages we might question if we have hearing loss because we hear plenty of noise. It’s just not always what we want to “hear.” We know you’re talking so that’s hearing. We just can’t understand what you’re saying.

Accommodations Communication Access Communication Practices Hard of Hearing Hearing Loss Self Advocacy Workplace

How do we build confidence at work with hearing loss?

Building confidence at work with hearing loss can seem like a far fetched dream, especially after a sudden change in hearing. It pulls the rug right out from under our feet. Typically, we handle in a few ways:

  • We take the denial route.  This looks like smiling and nodding, laughing off mis-hears and pretending nothing is wrong. 
  • Maybe we let people know we have hearing loss but we don’t know how to handle it. When we don’t know how to manage our hearing loss, how can we tell others? So we’re all guessing and frustrated.  (Many of us don’t know what we need at first.)

Neither way builds confidence.

How do we gain confidence with hearing loss at work? 

If we have a mild to moderate loss, we might think we’re skating by so we don’t address it directly. Is it still affecting us? You bet! Because of hearing loss, we are not aware of everything that’s happening around us. Coworkers may try to talk to us in the halls and we walk by. We didn’t hear them! Maybe we heard them talking but it was in the background so we thought they were talking to someone else. It didn’t fully register.  There’s also the times we misunderstand a thing or two at the staff meetings and have to backtrack. How about when we get the name wrong or didn’t hear a number right when taking a message from a phone call? It can feel like a minefield. With today’s technology, a little self advocacy and by learning a few new strategies, we can repair that confidence.  

Own Your Hearing Loss

Minor instances, like those above, begin to stack up. We begin to look bad and possibly incompetent. (Ugh, we cringe saying that! We are competent!) If we haven’t owned our hearing loss, or been upfront about it, we come across odd or rude. Coworkers make assumptions and it’s not the best ones. It also leads to missed opportunities. The more often these things happen, the worse we appear and we might feel it. Eventually, it affects our confidence. This is why it’s important to own your hearing loss.

A green square within a green square. A cutting of a branch with leaves on each side. A black outline of a person behind a steering wheel.
Get out of the Passenger seat, Get in the Driver’s Seat

It takes a little time to build confidence so don’t wait. Start right now. Be professional with your hearing loss at work. In 2012, Chelle attended a workshop called “Landing That Job” (or something close to that) by Malik El-Amin at the HLAA convention. The gist of the workshop was that we had to be confident enough to show that we manage our hearing loss. At that point in life, that was far-fetched to Chelle. With a little practice and effort, she totally gets it now!  

Acknowledge Your Strengths
a green square within a green square. There are 5 leaves at the bottom. There's a black shape of a person stretching with one leg up in the air and one arm out in front.

First of all, we aren’t without our strengths. We all have several things we are good at. Take a moment and make a list of the things you can do well at work? Here’s some examples from Chelle:

I couldn’t focus on my strengths at first. All I saw were the things I couldn’t do. As I got used to my new drop in hearing, I started to see where I was better than others:

  • Maybe I’m not the best person to answer phones. (I can with caption phones now, still not my fav mode of communication.) However, I’m on top of email like few other people are. I’m also a fast responder when it comes to texting. With 48 million people with some form of hearing loss, we need to make sure we’re available through those channels with today’s businesses.
  • I might not be the best one to take notes for the meeting, be the secretary so to speak. I can help manage the information leading up to the meeting because one of my strengths is being organized. I’m very good at planning ahead. I can create an agenda, arrange for speakers and send out reminders. This also helps me anticipate what will happen at the meeting and be able to follow along easier.
Know Your Accommodations

Accepting, and using, accommodations is another key to confidence. Instead of floundering around and hoping we are doing well enough, we have an accommodation that smooths out the process and gives us the confidence to do our job.  

Before you go to the HR department (Human Resources), know what’s available. Do your research. Get into one of the many hearing loss groups on social media and ask questions to find out what others use. Ask them how they approached management? Use their support to make your own request.

When you’re ready to talk accommodations with your management team, be up front about your research. Talk to them about what you found. Have a list on how the accommodation will help you perform high quality work. Talk through what you need, or would like to try. It may take a couple different trials to get it right. Maybe have JAN available as a resource for your management team so they better understand hearing loss and job accommodations.  Be prepared to try one accommodation at a time.  Remember, it costs a lot more money for an employer to terminate and fill your position than it does to retain you with your needed accommodation. We are valuable employees with contributions that outweigh the use of accommodations.

Be Proactive

Plan ahead. Identify potential challenges  in the workplace and mitigate them. What will you need to be successful at the meeting? List 3 possible solutions around the obstacle. Some examples are below.

Will you use a strategy? (Can we talk one at a time while at staff meetings? Surely I’m not the only one who gets lost with multiple people talking.) Maybe there needs to be a few minor environmental changes. (Lights turned up, picking your best seat, getting rid of obstacles on the table, sitting in a circle instead of a long table.) Or do you need an accommodation like CART/live captioning? Not only does CART provide equal access for participation, the notes also make great minutes for the meeting. Is the meeting online? Can they enable the ASR (automatic speech recognition) captions? Can you use an ASR app from your phone? Or can you dial into the conference call with InnoCaption? Some states also have RCC (Relay Conference Captioning, example is Colorado ) services available.

Learning how to use accommodations and get around the obstacles will help boost confidence. We come across as competent in spite of hearing loss. 

Practice Effective Communication
A white square within a green square. Several branch cuttings on the right. In black, general outlines, two people meeting face to face with dialog boxes above their heads.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) talks about effective communication. Effective communication can mean American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters, CART, assistive listening and more. Remember, one size does not fit all. Find what works best for you. 

In searching the internet for “confidence at work”, they also talk about using effective communication. (We found this article on Forbes.) Effective communication is a shared responsibility. We have a part too. Step up your game by being honest about your hearing loss and communication needs. Here’s what we suggest:

Be open with your coworkers about what works for you. Hearing people have a lot of misconceptions. When we are proactive, we clear up misconceptions. Here are a few ideas:

  • Speak up about hearing loss communication needs at a staff meeting. If you have a hard time talking about it all, ask to have a short training provided by someone else. (Hearing Loss LIVE! is available for ADA style trainings on hearing loss.) 
  • If that doesn’t work, circulate an email with information on it. We have a “Dear Family” letter that can be adjusted for coworkers. (Contact us for this letter.)
  • Talk to one person at a time. Set a meeting, one person at a time and talk about the obstacles and what works better for you.
Set Goals

This comes up again when researching confidence. Reaching goals builds confidence. Take any idea above and make it a goal, or make one of your own. Break it down into steps. Give yourself a deadline and do it! Get your HoH community involved with your goal. It’s good to have cheerleaders.

Practice makes perfect. Keep forging ahead. If you fall down (we all do, it’s called learning experiences), get up and dust yourself off. Place one foot in front of the other and continue on. Most people are going to be okay working with us. 

Learn More with Hearing Loss LIVE!
  • We’ve talked about Hearing Loss at Work in the past. Read it HERE and click on the link for the captioned podcast.  
  • Learn more about the benefits of CART/live captioning HERE and how to request it.
  • Here is a 2005 article by Hearing Review about the impact of hearing loss on income.
Accommodations ASR (Automatic Speech Recognition) Communication Practices Community Members Connections Hard of Hearing Hearing Loss

Toastmasters with Harry Wolfe

Audible Talkers is a hearing loss friendly Toastmasters group started by Harry Wolfe.  It’s based in Arizona but because meetings are online via Zoom, anyone from anywhere can join. (Several members have been from different countries.) Chelle was invited to attend an online meeting during the pandemic by a mutual friend who also has hearing loss. By joining this group, Chelle improved her speaking skills and made a valuable connection with the hearing loss community in Arizona. She appreciates Harry’s efforts to make the club accessible to those of us with hearing loss. He also advocates to help Toastmaster clubs to become more hearing loss aware. Today, we introduce you to Harry Wolfe.

Zoom gallery view with 14 Audible Talkers Toastmasters members present. everyone is smiling. Several members have hearing loss in this Toastmasters group.
Audible Talkers Toastmasters first meeting online.