One of the things I catch myself doing from time to time is the good ol’ “smile and nod”. You know what I mean… Those times you don’t really know how to respond to a rude comment; or maybe you have something to say, but you must bite your tongue. But, have you ever done this because you simply did not hear the other person?
I was at lunch with a friend in a lovely Italian restaurant. She was going through some changes in her life, and needed to air her thoughts. I was happy to be a set of ears for her. Slight problem, however… I was in between hearing aids at that moment. A loud and noisy restaurant was probably not the best choice, even if the tortellini there is scrumptious. Hearing aid technology is constantly evolving to resolve this issue, and all I had to do was press a few buttons on my smart phone, but you do not always think of that on the fly. My friend was talking through her thoughts, but from my perspective, her thoughts were only translating by the look of her face. My lip reading skills aren’t as great as they come, so for me, this conversation was back to “smile and nod”.
How do I approach this situation? One, keep smiling and keep nodding. Two, casually move closer to her on the same side of the table. (Not… awkward at all.) Three: tell her I can’t hear her and make adjustments. Of course, smiling and nodding would be the easiest. However, my dear friend needed my ears at this point, so I had to say something.
“I’m sorry, can I stop you for a second?” I asked. “I’m listening, I really am. It is just so, so loud in here.” I said this with the fear that she would get upset with me, or that she may not believe that I was truly making an effort to listen. I prepared for any backlash, or maybe even an eyeroll.
“Oh, that’s okay! Do you want to move to a quieter area? Or leave?”
My brain went straight to the food, as it does. My tortellini hadn’t arrived yet, so no, I did not want to leave! “No, no, I just need to make a really quick adjustment or two, and it should be fine,” I said, pulling out my phone. “Just give me a few seconds here.” I clicked away in my smartphone app to quiet the crowd around me.
Once I was satisfied with the background noise reduction, I asked her to continue. (hearing in background noise, FTW!)
That she responded with such patience was a relief. The fear that loved ones will be upset about not being heard is common, as I have found in working with our patients here at Wolfpack. All it took in my case was being straightforward about it. It was totally worth gathering the courage to speak up for myself, as difficult as it was.
So, my question to you is… are you being honest about your hearing?
Upcoming: I was fortunate in my case to have a friend that is patient and understanding. If you are a friend or family member of someone with hearing loss, understand that the way you have treated them in the past impacts their comfort in speaking up. I will be exploring this issue in more detail soon with Part II!