Communication is consistently reported as one of the most—if not the most—important factors to building and sustaining healthy relationships. As reported by the PBS program The Emotional Life:
“How couples behave when solving problems together or arguing can predict the character and success of their relationship. A raised eyebrow, a hand on the arm, or a greeting all may seem like small things, but research shows that the quality of everyday interactions can make or break a relationship.”
Likewise, communication skills are just as important at work: one 2014 survey of about 600 employers found that communication skills are the most in-demand set of skills among employers. In fact, of five major skill sets employers consider most important when making a hiring decision, communications skills top the list.
From preserving healthy relationships to getting hired to getting promoted, communication has an affect on almost every aspect of our lives. Seeking to improve our communication skills, then, is not a bad place to begin if we want to make some positive changes.
How to become an effective communicator
Becoming an effective communicator is not complicated, but it will call for some elementary skills and the willingness to practice.
The initial step is to acknowledge that the goal of any communication situation is a genuine, open-ended exchange of information where all parties can be heard and understood. This requires assertive and articulate speaking abilities, but, just as importantly, requires robust listening skills.
In fact, listening skills may be the most important component of communication. The explanation is simple: if you fail to understand what is being said, you won’t have the capacity to formulate a relevant and significant response. This failure to understand is the underlying cause of many misunderstandings, quarrels, and bad feelings.
Developing listening skills, then, is the single most important thing you can do to become a better communicator. And while active listening can be challenging on its own, hearing loss will make things even trickier.
Hearing loss and the obstacles to active listening
Active listening demands investing all attention to the speaker. Only by thoroughly understanding the message can you create a relevant and substantive response, and that’s why inadequate speakers are nearly always preoccupied listeners.
But what produces the distraction?
Here are four common sources of distraction and how hearing loss tends to make things even worse:
Distraction # 1: Stress
If you’ve ever been overly stressed or anxious, you understand how challenging it can be to concentrate. You’re more inclined to be focused on your own thoughts and emotions rather than on the speaker’s, and you’re likely to miss out on critical non-verbal signals and to misinterpret what others are saying.
In terms of stress, hearing loss by itself is a considerable source. You may feel anxious about missing out on important information or coming up with awkward responses. And, the struggle to hear speech in the presence of hearing loss is a source of stress and strain itself.
Distraction # 2: Lack of focus
Active listening is challenging because our minds have the natural propensity to wander. You can’t both listen to the speaker and daydream, read your email, text message, and prepare what you’re going to say next. Keeping inside of the present moment and focusing on the speaker is the only way to pick up on the subtle points of the speaker’s message.
Hearing loss creates a lack of focus because it removes you from the present moment. If you’re trying to understand what the speaker just said, you’re also missing out on what they’re saying at the moment. The persistent catching-up almost ensures that you’ll never completely understand the message.
Distraction # 3: Misunderstanding
Stress and lack of focus can both force you to misunderstand the message. This presents the chance of you becoming upset or annoyed with a message that the other person never actually intended to send.
This at minimum wastes time and in the worst case produces bad feelings. Not to mention the aggravation of the individual who is persistently misunderstood.
Distraction # 4: Lack of confidence
If you lack self-confidence, you’ll find it very difficult to assert yourself while communicating. You’ll probably also be preoccupied with what the other person thinks rather than on the content of what they’re saying.
Hearing loss makes things worse, as you can imagine, because your misinterpretations could be thought of as a sign that you just don’t comprehend the message. If you’re constantly requesting clarification on simplistic points, it makes it difficult to feel confident enough to be assertive.
How hearing aids can help you
Becoming a better communicator requires becoming a better listener, but how can you become a better listener if you have hearing loss? You have a few options, but because hearing aids have come so far with respect to recognizing and amplifying speech, they actually are the ideal solution.
Contemporary digital hearing aids have a host of extraordinary features made exclusively for speech recognition. Many hearing aid models have background noise suppression, directional microphones, and advanced digital processing so that speech comes through loud and clear.
Without needing to struggle to hear speech, you can concentrate all of your efforts on comprehending the message. Then, as you become a more effective active-listener, your self-confidence, assertiveness, and speaking skills will all take care of themselves.
If you have hearing loss and you’re ready to start building distraction-free listening skills, schedule your hearing test today.