As we all start communicating together more it’s important to recognize and compensate for the difficulties masks and distance present when trying to listen. Regardless of whether or not someone has a hearing loss the significant decrease in volume and clarity can cause miscommunications.
Here are some tips to help you maintain clear understanding in your relationships.
For the listener:
Look at what you want to hear – Even though masks may be hindering ability to lipread you can still pick up on other visual cues and benefit from the boost the shape of ours ears gives to the sound coming from in front. For this same reason you want to keep any “back” ground noises behind your back where they belong.
Never say “huh” or “what” – Instead repeat what you did hear in the form of a question so that your communication partner knows you were listening and knows what part you missed.
Hearing aid adjustments may be necessary – If available with your devices you can try “mask mode” on your app or a special mask program created by your provider. Turning up the volume by one click will help over come distance issues. Increasing your treble/highs by one or two clicks will help improve clarity to compensate for mask mumble.
For the speaker:
Rephrase rather than repeating – They didn’t hear it correctly the first time, why would a second time exactly the same way be any different? Use synonyms and different word orders until you find what works to get your message across.
Do not shout – This distorts speech and makes it harder to hear. Instead, use clear speech techniques like speaking at a slower pace, using occasional pauses, and enunciating without over articulating.
Modify the communication environment – choose well-lit areas and keep face out of shadows, turn off noise or move further away from it.
Do not let important conversations go sideways – Ever notice how in places where people want you to be quiet/not talk (movie theaters, lecture halls, etc.) the seats are all side by side in rows, but dinner tables, conference rooms, living room chairs/sofas, etc. all tend to position everyone facing each other?
Ask for/provide written materials to avoid communication errors.
Consider clear face shields or masks with clear windows. They don’t just help with lipreading. They also let others see your smile!