Communication Access Communication Practices Communication with Family Connections Hard of Hearing Hearing Loss Personal advocacy Self Advocacy Setting limits

Communication & Boundaries

Communication is a chore in general. Add hearing loss and it’s 10 times more challenging. At Hearing Loss LIVE!, we say this all the time in regards to communication: We cannot do our part, if others don’t do their part. The following 3 guidelines are for our hearing communication partners – this is their part of the communication equation:

  1. Get the hard of hearing person’s attention first, before talking.
  2. Face that person while talking the whole time. The minute you turn away, sound starts to fade a bit. We need sound coming right to us. Also, seeing is hearing. We use facial expressions, body language and minor lipreading to help interpret the spoken language. 
  3. Be within 6 feet because the closer you are the better the sound quality. Again, seeing is hearing. 

Most of us hear enough to know people are talking, which makes hearing loss so darn confusing. We hear your voice but every conversation is a puzzle for us. Many of us are missing certain frequencies in speech, as in we don’t hear some  consonants. Part of the puzzle is filling in the consonant gaps with what we know of the topic. When you face us, the sound comes straight to us and we can use facial expressions and body language to fill more pieces of the puzzle. Number 1 and 2 are easier when you’re within 6 feet. 

Those 3 rules should be boundaries for all hard of hearing people. It doesn’t matter if we’re wearing hearing aids, cochlear implants or nothing. Those 3 rules are how we hear/understand.   The general population does not understand hearing loss so it’s up to us to let others know what works best for us. Be proactive. The 3 golden rules set your stage for better communication.

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“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.” Brene Brown

Making Your Boundaries Count

Julia: When we say we need to set boundaries, everyone squirms in their seats. They roll their eyes. There’s a few big sighs. Boundaries feel like a difficult thing but it’s okay to respect yourself. 

Actually, we use boundaries everyday, we just don’t realize it.

  • Do you use boundaries with co-workers?
  • How about your boundaries with your children?
  • What are your boundaries with your spouse?
  • Think about your extended family, what boundaries do you have with them?
  • Do these boundaries involve communication?
  • Have you changed boundaries based on the situation, the person, the event or in general, over time?

Sit down with these questions, with pen and paper, and think about it. 

Boundaries are a part of our everyday life. We don’t have the same boundaries for our five-year-old as we do when they hit their teenage years. Boundaries for your coworker, Jan, may look different than your coworker Jill.

How many times have you adapted, changed, and/or discussed communication boundaries that worked best for all parties? The hearing person and the one with hearing loss?

Talk to Your Hearing Partner About Communication

Why would you not want to sit down and figure out the role hearing loss plays in communication? To me, it only makes sense that hard of hearing communication boundaries need to be talked about, possibly changed and worked on. At home, with friends and at your place of work.

Work together. Having clear boundaries helps every member know what’s expected. In the future, you may need to change some communication boundaries because circumstances change. Other boundaries will stay the same. Don’t squirm in your seat and say you can’t do it because hearing loss has entered the equation. Y’all got this! Hearing partners join in, encourage growth and change. 

Personal Bill of Rights

Chelle: Edmund J Bourne created the Personal Bill of Rights in his Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. During a tough period in my life, I read this list of rights to myself often. It reminded me that I’m a valuable person and deserve some respect and happiness too.

Then I started thinking there should be a personal bill of rights for those with hearing loss too. ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) has something similar on their website which was a good start, yet it needed some tweaking from the consumer perspective.  Here’s a few of the things we came up with…

  • I have the right to express my communication needs. 
  • I have the right to change my accommodations as needed.
  • I have the right to take hearing breaks.

(You can receive the full list by buying us one cup of coffee on our Buy Me a Coffee site.)

What Communication Boundaries Look Like

We often don’t want to be a bother to other people so we keep quiet on our communication needs. (I think we have our fair share of anxiety with communication.) Using the Personal Bill of Rights and our Personal Communication Bill of Rights might look like this:

  • If I’m at a friend’s house and they want me to watch a movie, or show, with them: “I need captions on. It’s the only way I can enjoy the movie also.” Then I show them how to turn them on and off. 
  • Assistive listening devices worked great for several years. However, when my hearing took another dive so my communication needs changed. I now need captions to enjoy events like live theater/the lecture/the class, so I can participate fully. Both accommodations are needed. I like to hear what I can and read captions too. 
  • When my husband wants to go out in the evening: “I am too tired to go out tonight. All my energy is spent. I need a hearing break so I’m going to stay home tonight. It’s ok with me if you go out tonight without me.”

Drawing my communication boundaries helps me at work, at home and while out in public. It’s not always easy and sometimes it takes a few tries to find what works best for me. Then I need to let others know. If I don’t let people know how best to talk to me, they are going to make assumptions. (See our blog on Collateral Damage.) With all the misconceptions out there, the assumptions are bound to be wrong. 

Green lawn in the foreground, a wood fence with blue sky. There ae green and yellow leaves hanging down from the top. Quote says: Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously, by Prentiss Hemphill
Communication is a Basic Human Need

Gloria: Communication is a basic human need to connect.  We connect through our communication whether that be voice, text, captions, sign language, social media or email. We are establishing our identity, communicating our needs and sometimes wants.

Material Boundaries

When we are little,  playing with our toys, and when your sibling takes your toy you might say, “No!”  That is our start of knowing when to set boundaries.  It begins early in our lives.  I never told my children they had to share.  I asked them if they wanted to share.  Sometimes the answer was yes, sometimes it was no.  

Emotional Boundaries

Knowing ourselves and our needs first helps us to clearly communicate our choices. Respecting ourselves is essential for us to know what we need at any given time. Sometimes we have to set limits for many reasons and those limits can change due to fatigue, time, relationships, physical, and emotional needs. It is a way to  protect our energy, to survive in the turmoil of our everyday lives.  

When I was in China, my interpreter told me I was too nice and people would take advantage of me. I told her that wouldn’t happen because I knew myself, what I wanted to give and what I don’t want to give. I could be polite but recognize my own needs and respect them. No one can take from you what you don’t want to give. That was easy to do in a foreign environment. It’s not so easy to do within relationships of importance to us.

More Examples of Communication Boundaries

Communication boundaries in the HOH world look different but in reality it is the same concept. It is so easy to violate someone’s boundaries when you don’t understand their needs. First we have to know ourselves well enough to communicate that to others. Examples:

  • “I would love to have you come over today but I am exhausted from working late last night.  I would welcome lunch in a couple of days.” 
  • “It’s not funny when you make fun of me with the hand behind the ear gesture indicating hearing loss.” 
  • “ Be aware that I will take a little longer to communicate with you because I am determining if I heard you correctly and deciding how to respond.” 
  • “Yes, I communicate with sign language, CART and lipreading. I really want to understand.” 
  • In a large meeting: “Sir, I would appreciate it if you clip my microphone on your shirt so I can hear you.  I really want to understand your presentation.”  

These statements are an affirmation of our needs set as an expectation that they will be met. We require some accommodating on your part so I can understand what you are communicating. I respect you enough to find ways to communicate in a different manner that allows us to have a conversation. 

Different Strategies for Communication

In this manner we can set boundaries. In this way, communication can happen to establish relationships that will enrich us. The expectation is that our needs will be met because they are reasonable and not capricious. I am not making this up just to make you uncomfortable. They are valid requests. Just as you have needs and expectations that I will become aware of, we develop a relationship of kindness, caring and respect.  It’s always a give and take. I do not require more for my communication needs because I have hearing loss, I need “different” strategies in order to give my full attention to you. 

At times, I will be able to assess an individual’s personality by how accommodating they are to my communication needs. If a person is not able to adjust, I realize that he/she may have some difficulty with communication. I will communicate through email or text. I don’t judge their ability, I accommodate them. Just as I need some adjustments, so do they.  I respect them and myself at the same time.

Communication strategies and boundaries can be fun and exciting to everyone when applied with compassion and caring. Difference is not a negative, it is an opportunity to learn new skills and enrich your life.  Let’s have fun together.

Finding Your Own Boundaries

Communication boundaries will look a little different for everyone as we all have our preferences. We are all similar but also a little different. Explore. Experiment. Talk to others who have hearing loss. Then use what works for you and go with it…until your needs change or you find something else that works better. It’s up to us to figure out what works. If we don’t manage our hearing loss, someone else will. 

“Boundary setting helps you prioritize your needs over other people’s wants.” Lauren Kenson, health coach

Join our Let’s Talk Tuesday workshop.

We’re online and live March 7th at 6:00 PM Mountain time (adjust for your time zone). Join Julia, Gloria and Chelle to discuss Communication & Boundaries, we all learn from each other!

It’s online via Zoom with CART/live captions. There is no charge for the workshop. Register on our Events page.

Did you like this blog? See our other posts with Gloria:

Advocacy Hard of Hearing Hearing Loss Misconceptions Setting limits

Get Out of Your Own Way

Written by Michele Linder

It is tempting to frame disability in the context of limitations. Certainly, Hard of Hearing (HoH) people face a communication barrier. That means they either find workarounds in situations where communication is a challenge, or give up and accept less out of life.

Getting hung up on what we can’t do is a natural tendency when we are going through the stages of emotional trauma that hearing loss forces upon us. However, we can choose to come out the other side a better person.

Fear is the vehicle for unnecessary limitations, and can rob anyone of a life well-lived. Having a barrier makes it easy to justify I can’t.

When others tell you that you CAN’T do something because of your hearing loss, it is your decision to accept or reject that limit. You determine what limits are acceptable, and those that are not. 

One thing I really love about Rachel Kolb’s TEDxStanford Talk, Navigating deafness in a hearing world is that she makes the point above so clearly.

Early in the talk, Rachel speaks about the limits that others tried to set for her when she was a child. Luckily, she had parents who taught her to believe in herself, and that challenges are not outright limitations, which led to her becoming a young woman who knew she had choices.

Rachel talks about can’t around minute 13:26: “…when I came to Stanford, I was shell-shocked by this college social environment… it was very easy to think, “I can’t.” I can’t have a normal social life like another young person. But over time I’ve learned one very important thing: I have a choice. I might not be able to choose what is easy for me or what is difficult. But I can choose how to use the abilities that I do have… And by embracing the choices that work for me, I’ve experienced many rewarding things as a result.” I took Rachel’s way of looking at life with hearing loss and made it my own, and it was life-changing for me.

My list of how I got out of my own way:

    When the information or conversation is important to you, you can no longer pretend that you heard what was said when you didn’t. If you continue to fake it when it matters, you are limiting yourself by letting learning opportunities pass you by.

    There will always be times when you resort to fake hearing, but it is NOT a productive skill in most cases and it doesn’t teach you anything.
  2. Do NOT accept the limitations that others try to impose upon you.
    As Rachel Kolb says in the video linked above (10:33), “I think back to that first experience, and I realize that I wasn’t the one who was limited, this other person was.”
  3. Teach yourself what you don’t know.
    If you have no clue how to tell others about your hearing loss or how to ask for what you need, experiment. Try out different things and find what works for you. And, remember, what works for you might not be the same thing that works for me.
  4. Say what is true.
    People with hearing loss share about the things that cause them anxiety—getting a haircut, ordering in a restaurant, etc.—and that’s a good thing. I often tell them, “Now tell the person you encounter in the situation exactly what you told me.”

    You can alleviate all of your anxiety by simply stating what is true about your hearing loss and communication needs upfront in every situation. Some might think, “Saying all of that is just too much,” but if it gets the results you want, what is the big deal?
  5. Be proactive and check your attitude.
    Stop waiting to react!

    When I became a better self advocate and started telling people what they need to know about my hearing loss and communication needs effectively, I realized that a lot of the problems I was having were my own fault.

    : From a social media conversation about face masks in a medical setting: Commenter 1: I am totally done with the mask mandate garbage… I wear a button on my mask that says, “Please face me, I read lips” and the receptionist talks to me with a mask on. She hands me a pen and pad of paper, and when I ask her, “How is that supposed to help me hear you?,” she presses some buttons and brings up a sign language interpreter on a screen. I tell her I don’t sign… I cannot communicate anywhere! Commenter 2: That sounds just like me. I am having the very same issues. It has gotten to the point that I only go out when it is necessary. 

    That is not to say that communication difficulties are not frustrating. They are. But having an attitude isn’t productive, and masks are going to be with us for a long time. 

    Society, especially those who deal with patients, clients, and customers, could be more aware of diversity and could use some sensitivity training. However, you can’t expect people to read your mind or to know how to communicate with them, so tell them what they need to know about you and your communication needs, and direct them.

    Here is my truth: “Hi, I am a lipreader, but masks wreck my communication. I don’t use sign language, captioning is how I access communication. Do you have a live captioning option? If not, you will have to write to me for me to understand,” I also might bring up an ASR (automatic speech recognition) captioning app on my phone, but I would rather give the medical facility the opportunity to provide a live captioning option first, as ASR apps can be inaccurate.

    Limiting interaction with people is not a rational solution, so why not learn how to tell others exactly what they need to know about your hearing loss and communication needs.
  6. Realize that you have more control and options than you might think.

Having a communication barrier is a big enough obstacle. Don’t be the stumbling block in your own path. Learn to accept and embrace who you are with hearing loss and put into practice good self advocacy and communication skills. It helps to be creative and flexible where those two things are concerned, and the only way you will find what works for you is to experiment; then, practice, practice, practice. When you start to get good results, you won’t believe how empowered you feel!

If you liked this post, try Job Interviews, HoHs Go Shopping and Traveling by Plane.

(No companion podcast.)