Communication is reliably reported as one of the most—if not the most—crucial factors to strengthening and maintaining healthy relationships. According to 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 equally important at work: one 2014 survey of nearly 600 employers discovered that communication skills are the most in-demand set of skills among recruiters. In fact, of five leading skill sets employers consider most important when making a hiring decision, communications skills top the list.
From maintaining healthy relationships to getting hired to getting promoted, communication influences almost every aspect of our lives. Working to improve our communication skills, then, is not a bad place to start if we want to make some positive changes.
How to become a highly effective communicator
Coming to be an effective communicator is not terribly complicated, but it will require some elementary skills and the disposition to practice.
The first step is to understand that the goal of any communication situation is an honest, open-ended exchange of information where all parties can be heard and understood. This demands assertive and articulate speaking skills, but, just as importantly, requires strong listening skills.
As a matter of fact, listening skills may be the most important part of communication. The reason is simple: if you fail to understand what is being said, you won’t have the ability to articulate a relevant and meaningful response. This lack of ability to understand is the underlying cause of many misunderstandings, arguments, and bad feelings.
Improving listening skills, then, is the single most significant thing you can do to become a more effective communicator. And while active listening is often difficult in its own right, hearing loss makes things even trickier.
Hearing loss and the barriers to active listening
Active listening demands dedicating all attention to the speaker. Only by thoroughly comprehending the communication can you create a relevant and substantial reply, and that’s why inadequate speakers are nearly always preoccupied listeners.
But what causes the distraction?
Here are four common sources of distraction and how hearing loss has a tendency to make things even worse:
Distraction # 1: Stress
If you’ve ever been overly stressed or anxious, you understand how difficult it can be to pay attention. You’re more likely to be concentrated on your own thoughts and emotions rather than on the speaker’s, and you’re likely to lose out on critical non-verbal signals and to misinterpret what other people are saying.
With respect to stress, hearing loss by itself is a major source. You may become anxious about missing out on important ideas or coming up with awkward responses. And, the struggle to hear speech in the existence of hearing loss is a source of anxiety 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, and prepare what you’re going to say next. Remaining within the present moment and concentrating on the speaker is the only method to pick up on the subtle points of the speaker’s communication.
Hearing loss creates a lack of focus because it removes you from the present moment. If you’re attempting to understand what the speaker just said, you’re also missing out on what they’re saying right now. The persistent catch-up virtually guarantees that you’ll never fully understand the message.
Distraction # 3: Misunderstanding
Stress and lack of focus can both cause you to misunderstand the message. This introduces the possibility of you becoming upset or irritated with a message that the other person never actually meant to send.
This at minimum wastes time and in the worst case manufactures bad feelings. Not to mention the irritation of the person who is persistently misunderstood.
Distraction # 4: Lack of confidence
If you lack self-confidence, you’ll find it 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 much worse, of course, because your misinterpretations could be perceived as a sign that you just don’t comprehend the message. If you’re consistently asking for clarification on simple points, it makes it hard to feel sufficiently confident to be assertive.
How hearing aids can help
Coming to be a better communicator requires becoming a better listener, but how can you come to be a better listener if you have hearing loss? You have several choices, but because hearing aids have come so far in terms of recognizing and amplifying speech, they actually are the ideal solution.
Modern digital hearing aids have a host of wonderful features made exclusively for speech recognition. Many hearing aid models come with background noise suppression, directional microphones, and advanced digital processing so that speech comes through loud and clear.
Without having to strain to hear speech, you can focus all of your efforts on understanding the message. Then, as you become a more effective active-listener, your confidence, assertiveness, and speaking skills will all take care of themselves.
If you have hearing loss and you’re prepared to start strengthening your distraction-free listening skills, schedule your hearing test today.