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Confrontation and Hearing Loss

Posted Nov 27 2012 11:02am

Acting out a conversation gone WRONG…

I hate debate. Perhaps it is because it is too much like arguing. When my now, 21-year-old son was still in high school, he wanted to take debate. We thought it was an excellent idea as he could argue the paint off a wall. We figured, “Why not channel that?” I was dismayed to discover it made his default to arguing even stronger! I’m just not a big fan of arguing. Now don’t get me wrong… it’s not because I do NOT argue. Heavens! My family will tell you that is not the case! What I do not care for is having to confront someone, or argue a point now that I have hearing loss.

I’ve had a hearing loss longer than I lived my life without hearing loss. Frankly? I can’t remember if I was loud prior to eventually losing my hearing. Trust me. I recall arguing growing up. I have two brothers and one sister. We argued.

Since becoming deaf, however, I was oblivious to the fact that my family would wince as I proceeded to give my point of view in the midst of an argument. I’m ashamed to admit that the first thing that clued me in to the fact that I was WAY TOO LOUD, was that I often had a sore throat after an argument! Perhaps my family members didn’t say anything to me because they figured… “She’s deaf. Of course she’s loud…”

We can learn (with practice) to lower the volume in our voices when having to confront someone, or when arguing a point. What I have found to be an occasional problem with doing this, is that the other person may lower their voice too! People often vocally mirror what they are hearing. When I’ve deliberately lowered my voice in an effort to be aware of my volume, the other person often lowers their voice as well!

I have a friend here in Maryland that I met at a hearing loss support group. She is bilaterally implanted and hears very well with her two Nucleus Freedoms . However, she was very loud when she communicated with others. I took her aside once and asked her if she realized her voice was raised. I was surprised by her answer!

“Of course I know I’m loud! It’s the only way I can get people to consistently speak up enough for ME to hear. If I talk loud, they do too!”

I secretly set out to prove her wrong, hoping to garner a little more ammunition to argue my own point of view about her volume. But do you know something? She was right! As I eavesdropped and observed some of her interactions, people would increase their volume when turning to talk to her because she was very exuberant and loud. They may have been talking to someone else right before addressing her and would be speaking in a normal tone and volume. After they turned to speak to her, their volume would dramatically increase. I had to go to her and tell her that she was right!

To offset this unfortunate conundrum, she and I set about trying to educate others around us that volume wasn’t as helpful as enunciating properly and making sure they were facing us when speaking to us. Eventually, she (and I) did learn to communicate without quite so much… VOLUME.

I have young adult kids living at home. As long as they work, go to school, and do their fair share around the house, they actually live here free of charge. However, living with two independent thinking young adults also means that I occasionally have to confront them about something – usually about keeping up with their end of our “bargain”.

My kids have only known me as a person with hearing loss as they are only 11 months apart, and my hearing loss began after the birth of my youngest – my son. So they are very accustomed to my “getting up in their grill” when we argue about something because they know proximity helps me hear better and see better. A secondary benefit is that I’m close enough to grab, kiss, or hug them when needed to dispel some of the tension.

Other people do not really appreciate close encounters with the “deaf” kind. I’ve had confrontations with students about fulfilling their responsibilities about an assignment. I have to be careful about following my first inclination to step closer to get my point across. Professors are to maintain a professional distance for obvious reasons.

If those of us with hearing loss get into the bad habit of stepping closer to someone in an argument, things can really “heat up”. It is a natural reaction to feel defensive if someone gets up in your personal space. What was only a verbal confrontation could quickly escalate into a physical altercation. It is a natural reaction to want to “push off” someone who is WAY to close for comfort! Even if people understand you are closer because of hearing loss, they may not be able to control their feelings of unease, need to protect, or urge to step away. We should be careful about how close we get to others even when arguing.

I rarely have to confront anyone who is not an immediate family member. If I have to confront a student, friend, colleague, or acquaintance, it is done through email. This has added benefits:

1. I can think about what I want to say and edit at leisure.

2. I have a written record of what was said.

3. It allows them to respond in kind, allowing me equal access in the conversation as I can read their own response.

My family members do see the “confrontational Denise” at times. I’m mom, wife, and FEMALE. I’m a crier though! If I’m happy, I may cry. If I’m sad, I most certainly will cry. If I’m mad – yup, you guessed it. I’m prone to crying.

I have been arguing with my husband about “this or that” before and had to wave my hands and say, “Wait. WAIT! I can’t hear you anymore!”

It’s rather difficult to hear when I’m hiccuping, sniffling, blowing my nose, and flat out WAILING. Sometimes I reach up and even disconnect my cochlear implant! I sound raucous and noisy even to myself! I take a few, deep, steadying breaths, reconnect “my ears”, and continue the conversation.

If confrontation causes you to burst into tears, I definitely recommend taking a break and “getting a grip” before trying to continue the conversation. You will only miss 1/2 of what you are hearing anyway! Better to calm down and try again after you are able to communicate effectively again.

Let’s face it… when we are arguing or are having to confront someone, chances are we are not communicating well. Tensions are high, everyone is on edge, and misunderstandings are bound to happen. I’ve noticed when my husband and I are fussing (usually about those young adult kids I mentioned), I’ve noticed I have to ask for repeats much more often. He has noticed this as well. “Repeat that please?” or “Say again?” are much more frequently said when we are discussing something rather heatedly.

If nothing else provides incentive to CALM YOURSELF… do so because you will actually understand what is being said much better.

Early on in my hearing loss, I learned to repeat what I THOUGHT I heard if it sounded strange or if I realized there is NO WAY that is what the other person actually said. My husband has CRACKED UP before – mid argument – because I repeated what I thought I heard when communication broke down.

SIX TIMES, Denise… not SEXY SHINE” he’d carefully explain with a huge smile on his face.

Hey. At least the ridiculous misunderstandings serve to diffuse some of that tension!

Denise Portis

© 2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal


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