Q: I’m having a hard time hearing. Any tips for improving communication while masked?
A: We can’t ditch the masks but we can slow down our conversations, speak up, and add additional tools to improve communication.
Universal efforts to improve masked communication aim to keep everyone engaged, regardless of their hearing abilities.
Hearing difficulty in the age of masks and physical distancing are a minor annoyance for some and an incredible challenge for others. Masks cover up half your face and reduce the volume and clarity of your voice. Vocal clarity and body language are further strained by physical distancing. Hearing loss is quite common, especially among older people. Chances are, someone in your circle has trouble communicating when masks are worn. We can all take steps to make communication less challenging for those around us.
* Little efforts go a long way. Try to make eye contact when speaking to others so they can tune into the conversation. Avoid the urge to multitask and instead focus on the conversation. It is also helpful to speak slowly and a bit louder (but don’t go overboard). Do your best to eliminate the background noise by turning things off or seeking a quiet space for important conversations. Don’t forget your eyes and body do a whole lot of communicating too!
* Be ready to try additional tools to aid communication. Masks with a clear window enable lip reading. Voice to text software, available on most smartphones, translate spoken words to a readable format. Voice amplification devices can be used to extend the volume and distance of your voice. For people who use hearing aids and cochlear implants, reach out to your audiologist to see if any adjustments to your settings are possible. Have writing materials handy to share a quick note such as a pocket notepad or white boards. When the conversation is very important, include a hearing companion to take notes and provide support.
The best way to ensure someone understood what you said is to ask them. Be ready to repeat, rephrase, and use other strategies to improve communication. This will require universal investment and patience with ourselves and each other.