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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.