What my mom's hearing-loss reminds me about speaking.
Updated: Nov 25, 2020
Before the pandemic, I regularly took my eighty-year-old mom out for coffee to spend time with her and chat. She would step to the counter to order her vanilla latte. Often, the cashier would respond with a semi-incoherent torrent of words that I, with my full hearing, found difficult to understand. For my mom? Hopeless. Leaning forward, she would say, "Excuse me?" Even then, the cashier might reply in just a slightly more coherent manner, one that my mom still could not decode.
In moments like those, I sense my mom's frustration and embarrassment.
Unaware and lacking intention
As far as clear speaking is concerned, it's not good out there (by out there I mean in coffee shops and corporate settings alike). I observe a lot of:
mumbling caused by a lack of movement in the lips, tongue and/or jaw
rambling omission of periods and overuse of conjunctions and, but and so
fast word rate rambling gets confused with this less common behavior
targetless speaking speaking in directions other than that of your listener
volume issues speaking louder or quieter than is appropriate for the distance
We all do at least some of this stuff some of the time. We're just not aware of it. And therein lies part the problem. Lacking awareness of both our listener and our outward selves when we speak, we often get words out without communicating.
The purpose of talking is not to get words out, but instead for the listener to receive and process the thoughts we are trying to transfer to them.
For those with hearing-loss, the unintentional and murky speaking of a cashier can turn something as simple as ordering a coffee into a soul-draining struggle. But you don't have to be hard of hearing to suffer a similar pain. Just think of the last time a loved-one spoke to you while looking at their phone.
When I see my mom's challenges in receiving the thoughts of others, in trying to listen in a noisy world where others often speak just to get words out, I am reminded: