Communication Strategies: Hearing in the Workplace

We have been focusing on communication strategies for months now, and we have covered a variety of settings, ranging from hearing in public events to effective listening at home. And while many of the settings we discussed could be a workplace, today we wanted to focus on hearing in the workplace in an office setting.

If the office setting isn’t useful to you, perhaps one of these different posts is:
Watching TV with hearing loss
Hearing while dining out
Hearing while on the phone
Communicating in the car

Even if you don’t work in an office, the following tips will help you in many situations such as volunteer activities, committees, and meetings. Let’s dive in!

Stand up for yourself!

Hearing in the workplace can be a real challenge for those with hearing loss. As the listener, it is your responsibility to make sure your co-workers understand your needs. Remember, saying “What?” several times a day, or missing an important sentence is far less effective than simply telling your co-workers that you have difficulty hearing. You’ve got the tools to have your needs met, and it starts with communication!

  • Tell your co-workers that you have trouble hearing
  • Educate them about the speaker strategies you’ve learned
  • In a meeting, ask someone to take notes for you so that you can watch each speaker’s face without interruption.
  • Tell them how much it helps you when they look at you while speaking
    • Explain that you need to see their lip movements and facial expressions.
    • Teach them that they need to get your attention before they begin speaking.

Design your environment

If you’re in a work situation with one speaker and several listeners, position yourself so you are close to the speaker and where you can clearly see the speaker’s face. If multiple people will be speaking, position yourself in the middle of the group if possible. Choose a meeting location with good lighting, and eliminate any background noise that you have control over (such as fans, space heaters, etc.). If you are in a meeting room, close the door in order to eliminate outside distractions.

The good news is, there are other factors you can control to improve your work environment. Take a good look around and ask yourself these questions:

  • Can the lighting be improved?
  • Can background noises be reduced?
  • Are you positioned to look directly at anyone who may need to speak to you?

Of course, some work environments can be modified more easily than others, but this is your opportunity to do whatever you can to make it more conducive to a successful communication exchange.

Stay away from multi-tasking

You probably already know this, but multi-tasking is never ideal, and in a work setting while interacting with someone experiencing hearing loss, it’s simply ill-advised. Hearing in the workplace is hard for those with hearing loss, so for the speaker, it is important to be aware of your co-worker’s hearing needs. You can help by looking your listener in the eye when speaking, and by positioning yourself within 2-4 feet of your listener. Don’t speak while looking at your computer screen, tablet, or smartphone because your listener will not be able to see your face. One way to do this is by putting your phone, tablet, and computer away if those aren’t needed for the communication exchange. Others will follow your lead and everyone will benefit from good old fashioned face-to-face communication.

How technology can help

It is important that you discuss your work environment and listening demands with your hearing care provider. Today’s hearing aids and wireless assistive devices can be programmed to help in nearly any situation. Workplace activities such as phone calls, conference calls, small group meetings, and even large group meetings can all be addressed by different technology options. Some options may not be related to your hearing aids. For example, a new office phone can do wonders for improving sound quality on phone calls. 

If you haven’t done so already, schedule an appointment with your hearing care provider to discuss your specific workplace environments and your communication challenges in each of those environments. By now you should have already applied your Listener, Speaker, and Environmental strategies to tackle those challenges. Your hearing care provider can now work with you to create the best hearing aid program for each of those environments. They can also make recommendations for other assistive listening devices that may be helpful.

Hearing Aid Tips

When dealing with a dead hearing aid, it is common to blame the problem on a dead battery. Replace the battery once. If the hearing aid still doesn’t work with a new battery, don’t keep trying new batteries because you are just wasting them. Most likely, the hearing aid is plugged with earwax or other debris, and a thorough cleaning will take care of the problem.

It is critical to wear your hearing aids in all situations, not just when you go to work. Wearing your hearing aids allows your brain to process all of the sounds in your environment. If you only put your hearing aids in for meetings, lunch dates, etc. your brain might feel overwhelmed because so many sounds are new. However, if you wear your hearing aids all day long, your brain will adapt to the new sounds and you’ll find that challenging listening situations aren’t as difficult.

Hearing aids often have directional microphones, that’s two microphones on the hearing aid that work together to pick up more sound from the front than from the back. Sometimes they work automatically and sometimes they are activated by pushing a button on the hearing aid, a remote control unit, or a smartphone app. When activated, face the person you want to hear.

Many office buildings have loud HVAC systems (heating and air conditioning). This can be annoying as the hearing aids might make that fan noise seem extra loud. The good news is that hearing aids have a special feature called “noise reduction” that is designed to reduce this type of noise. Your hearing care provider can create a special program that activates this feature at the maximum settings so that you don’t have to listen to that annoying fan noise.

Guess what! You’re now a pro at hearing in the workplace. You know what to ask for, what position is best for your hearing needs, and how to ensure your hearing aids are functioning at their best. We feel confident you’ve got it made, but if we can help with anything else, reach out! We’re here for all your hearing care needs.

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