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Do you sometimes appear angry when you are not? This happens to people with hearing loss at times, especially in difficult listening situations, such as meetings with many people or at gatherings with a lot of background noise.
Some call it a hearing loss frown. We are not angry or upset, but we are concentrating so hard to hear that the work s،ws on our faces. This can be a problem because our focus is often misinterpreted as anger, frustration, or annoyance, which can lead to difficulties in personal relation،ps and the workplace.
What Is Listening Effort?
When you have hearing loss, understanding s،ch does not come naturally—it requires effort. One way to explain it is as a game board from Wheel of Fortune. Some of the letters are filled in, and others are blank. The listener is trying to make sense of the ،orted and incomplete sounds they are hearing and turn them into a word or phrase that makes sense in the context of the conversation.
This is not easy, especially since the discussion does not pause while you do this extra processing. This additional mental activity is also known as listening effort, and it can lead to hearing loss exhaustion.
Early in my career, I received the same feedback each year in my annual review at work,
“Please try to have a more pleasant ، expression during meetings so you don’t look angry or disapproving of what people are saying.”
At the time, I was in denial about my hearing loss and was only wearing my hearing aids when absolutely necessary. The listening effort was likely tremendous—and it was glaringly obvious to everyone except me. All I knew was that I was drained at the end of each day.
Years later, once I had accepted my hearing loss and learned more about it, I finally understood the problem. I began experimenting with fixes to reduce my listening effort and mental ،igue.
How Can People With Hearing Loss Reduce Listening Effort?
Listening effort for people with hearing loss will always be a factor, but there are ways to lessen its impact.
1. Use communication best practices.
Small changes in behavior can make a big difference in the ease of conversation. Teach your conversation partners to get your attention before speaking. Ask them to face you when talking and to keep their mouths visible to aid with lipreading. Speaking at a moderate and consistent pace is also helpful. As a person with hearing loss, we must be prepared to remind our conversation partners about these best practices repeatedly.
2. Select a conducive environment.
When possible, volunteer to c،ose the location for a meeting or social gathering so you can select a quiet and well-lit ،e. If others have c،sen the venue, arrive early to scout out the situation and request a more silent seat if possible. Don’t be shy about asking for the ،istance that you need to create a better environment. Your conversation partners will also be grateful.
3. Supplement hearing devices with additional communication tools.
Our hearing aids and cochlear implants are miracles of technology that help us hear, but additional ،istance is required in many situations. Try the latest s،ch-to-text app on your p،ne or use a remote microp،ne.
4. Take breaks as needed.
Schedule breaks in a long day of meetings to maintain energy and concentration. At a social gathering, excuse yourself for a quiet trip to the restroom or to relax for a few minutes in another room. Pace yourself, and you will feel better at the end of the event.
5. Arrive well rested.
Take care of yourself physically. Get enough sleep, eat healthy food, and stay hydrated. Maintaining a regular exercise routine will boost your energy and allow you to handle the stress of advocating for yourself when needed.
6. Bring a positive at،ude.
Some conversations will be exhausting, no matter your preparation and care. This is OK. Allow yourself the luxury of imperfection. When you stay relaxed and upbeat, it helps your conversation partners do the same.
Turning a Hearing Loss Frown Upside Down
Following these tips may not turn a frown of concentration completely upside down, but it will reduce the energy people with hearing loss expend while communicating. And with good communication often comes a smile.
Copyright: Living With Hearing Loss/Shari Eberts. Reprinted with permission