Have you ever heard someone saying something like “there was a breakdown in communication”? Communication involves the successful exchange of information between two or more individuals. A communication breakdown can lead to frustration, despite often simply being a result of different communication and listening styles.
If you are a hearing implant recipient, experiencing communication breakdowns may reduce your motivation to engage with others. Communication may be one of the most important reasons why you chose to have a hearing implant. The following ideas may help you to recognize why an interaction failed and help you to manage those occasional breakdowns:
A person’s communication style is usually a reflection of their personality. If you are a confident and outgoing person, this can result in louder and more enthusiastic communication interactions. A cautious or nervous person may use a quieter voice and softer communication. Recognizing the personalities of the people you are engaging with may help you to manage your interactions with them. For example, if you know you will be talking with someone who has a quiet voice, you will need to choose an environment with less background noise so you can hear them more easily. Additionally, a location with fewer visual distractions will ensure you can give that person your full attention to make it easier to talk with them.
Firstly, identify the style of communication you are using. You can get help from your hearing rehabilitation specialist, friends, and family members if you are unsure. There are three styles of conversation that we tend to use: passive, aggressive and assertive1.
- Passive conversationalists like to avoid interactions because they feel they cannot maintain the conversation and choose to avoid these breakdowns by avoiding discussions. If they can’t physically avoid the discussion, they remain passive throughout the entire conversation and contribute very little. Early listeners (someone who has just received a hearing implant), may be passive conversationalists as they learn to attend to spoken messages and take longer to process a question. Choose conversation partners that will be supportive of your early listening efforts and provide you with time to process questions, instructions and detailed stories to build your confidence.
- Aggressive conversationalists like to dominate the conversations so they can control the way information is exchanged. Conversation partners may feel that they are over-compensating to avoid communication breakdowns and it may feel like they are being aggressive when they are conversing. Many people with hearing implants find themselves using this form of communication. This is often because they may worry they will not hear or understand a question or story that is shared. It may feel easier to control a conversation rather than have your communication partner think you ignored their question or missed a key point of their story. If you are communicating with someone who uses this communication style, recognize why they may be dominating the conversation and support them by selecting a quieter listening environment. Having a one on one conversation may also help that person to feel that they can concentrate on the spoken messages and allow for more back and forth communication.
- Assertive conversationalists like to be completely involved in conversations so use a range of proactive and positive strategies to overcome communication breakdowns. Hearing rehabilitation should provide strategies to help you move towards being an assertive conversationalist with family members and the wider community.
Listening styles greatly depend on the reason for listening to a particular group or person. The three types of listening styles are: content-oriented, people-oriented, and action-oriented2,3.
- Content-oriented listening focuses on listening to the content of the conversation i.e. the ‘what’ or ‘why’ of the conversation. Most of your interactions will be general discussions that frequently change topics and communication partners. It can be difficult to track these topic changes in noisy environments and with more than a single communication partner. If you are an early listener, it may be helpful to have a partner or friend who will recognize when you miss a key question or topic change and can quickly help you to ‘catch up’ by repeating some details or a question if asked.
- People-oriented listening focuses on listening to people for the purpose of knowing a person better i.e. the ‘who’ of the conversation. We often use this listening style when meeting someone for the first time. You may like to use a set group of questions to learn more about someone such as finding out if they have children, where they live and what their job involves. Asking questions in this order may help you to attend to the answers as you will have an idea of the kind of information they are going to provide.
- Action-oriented listening focuses on listening to a plan of actions that is being arranged in the discussion. i.e. the ‘how to’ of the conversation. If you are engaging in this kind of communication, it may be helpful to ask the participants to list all the decisions that are made or to provide a record of the discussion. For example, if you are planning a picnic, ask for a list of what you need to bring.
Understanding your own communication style and knowing what listening style is needed in each interaction may help you select the appropriate strategies to use if there is a communication breakdown.
If you haven’t started looking at communication in your hearing rehabilitation, we encourage you to discuss strategies you can use as part of your program.
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1. Tye-Murray, N., & Witt, S. (1996). Conversational moves and conversational styles of adults cochlear implant users. Journal of the Academy of Rehabilitative
2. Audiology, 29, 11–25.Barker, L.L. (1971). Listening Behavior. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall
3. Watson, K.W. and Barker, L.L. (1995). Listening Styles Profile. Amsterdam: Pfeiffer & Company