There are a variety of strategies and ways of communicating that are especially important for people with hearing loss. Over 48 million people, nearly 1 in 6, live with some degree of impaired hearing. With an estimated 60% of the workforce experiencing some hearing loss, effective communication strategies are also critical in the workplace. One of these strategies is nonverbal communication which describes nonlinguistic (or nonverbal) communication that contributes to understanding as well as following conversations. 

Research suggests that up to 55% of what we communicate comes from body language which includes facial expressions, movements, tone of voice, touch, proximity etc. Nonverbal communication is key to picking up on the nuances of what others are saying and this is particularly important and useful for people with hearing loss who can experience challenges with hearing verbal communication. 

Helpful Nonverbal Cues

As work environments continue to change with the integration of remote and virtual work, nonverbal communication can really help people understand what is being said during meetings as well as trainiggs, conferences, webinars etc. There are three tips you can look out for to help catch nonverbal cues during meetings. Recommended by Laurie Achin (American Sign Language faculty member at Northeastern University), Katie Fitzpatrick and Miriam Horowitz, both sign language interpreters, these tips are: 

  • I understand. What experts refer to as backchanneling is really important for people with hearing challenges. Backchanneling is a way that people communicate so that they understand what is being said. This includes phrases like “uh-huh”,“hmm”, “I see” as well as nonverbal cues like head nodding. People without hearing challenges can often overlook the importance of these signals, assuming that what is being heard is automatically being followed and understood. Communication can become more difficult on virtual platforms where there can also be technical difficulties. It is useful to take the time to observe that others are nodding along and providing other backchannel cues. 
  • I want to speak now. There are cues that people often use to indicate that they want to speak – changes in body movements, leaning forward, sitting up, becoming restless etc. But observing these shifts in larger meetings or on the computer can be tough. So a useful way to help with this is by establishing group communication norms for meetings. This can include the facilitator taking time after each agenda item to ask for any questions or feedback, creating an opportunity to discuss things throughout the meeting. Another strategy could be to utilize the chat function on virtual platforms which allows people to provide questions or feedback at any time rather than interrupting the speaker. 
  • I need to interrupt you. Interrupting during meetings to ask questions and provide feedback is becoming more common and normalized. Noticing when others are trying to speak by guiding the speaker to that person trying to interject is more useful than you may think. This collaborative effort to share space makes meetings more accessible and helps people with hearing challenges. 

Practicing these strategies can help facilitate effective communication during meetings. These strategies can increase accessibility for people who experience hearing challenges  

Additional Tips to Support Hearing in the Workplace

In addition to paying attention to and integrating nonverbal cues, there are additional strategies that can be used in the workplace to support effective communication. This includes: 

  • Sharing communication strategies: there are numerous strategies that can support people with hearing challenges, this includes: reducing background noise as much as possible, avoiding multitasking during conversations, grabbing the person’s attention before speaking, rephrasing rather than repeating, and being visible. 
  • Accessing workplace accommodations: employers are required to provide workplace accommodations for people with diagnosed hearing loss. This can include physical changes to one’s workspace, hearing protection, and investment in hearing technologies like amplified phones and caption services. 
  • Maximizing hearing technologies: be sure to maximize use of your hearing aids and the various features they offer as well as assistive listening devices. This includes amplified phones, hearing loop systems, FM systems and much more which can support your hearing needs in a variety of work related environments. 

Integrating these tips can provide comprehensive support for hearing health needs. Contact us today to learn more about the technologies you can use to create optimal hearing experiences.