As most of us know, there is more than one way to “read” a person, to understand what they’re saying beyond just the words they use. Understanding nonverbal cues such as facial expressions or body language help us understand whether someone’s joking or serious, relaxed or tense. For those of us who experience hearing loss, nonverbal cues are even more important, as they help us understand what is being said when we struggle with speech recognition.
Today, we take a look at nonverbal cues that could help us with communication in business meetings.
Nonverbal Cues & How They Help with Communication
As a member of the Deaf community and a professor at Northeastern University, nonverbal cues such as facial expressions, gestures, and body language are extremely important to Laurie Achin. According to Achin, she notices “the little behaviors, small movements, the small changes in people’s expressions, body language, and even how the person is saying something” more than people who have normal hearing. Her skills extend even to gauging their movements as they walk, drink, talk, or sit to understand how they feel or what they’re thinking.
Achin and two sign language interpreters, Katie Fitzpatrick and Miriam Horwitz, tell us that nonverbal cues “are volumes louder than what’s actually being said aloud.” In the United States, 60% of the workforce experiences some degree of hearing loss. Meetings can be particularly difficult for people with hearing loss, especially if there are multiple people speaking at once. Here are some tips from Achin, Fitzpatrick, and Horwitz to help you read nonverbal cues in meetings.
Cues to Show “I Understand”
According to the specialists, there is a concept in linguistics called “backchannel.” Fitzpatrick believes that Deaf and hard of hearing people are better at understanding “backchannel” cues compared to hearing people. Backchannel cues include vocalizations such as “uh huh” or “mmhmm” that people say while they listen to other people talking. These cues do not always mean that people agree with you, but they do indicate that people are understanding and acknowledging what you are saying. So, if you’re in the middle of giving a presentation, take note to see if people are giving you backchannel cues that they’re following along.
Cues to Show “I Want to Speak Now”
We’re always told that interrupting someone is rude, and most people try to avoid it. In doing so, there is obvious body language that indicates when people have something to say. According to Achin, you can tell when someone has something to interject or say when they “become restless in their chair…they may push forward in their body movements and sit up higher in order to get the attention of the current speaker.” If you are running a meeting face-to-face, take a moment to glance around and check to see if anyone appears as though they have something to say.
If you are in a virtual meeting, Fitzpatrick gives some advice on ensuring smoother communication: “Communicate ahead of time that the speaker will pause for five seconds at the end of each section for feedback and questions…or consider having a chat feature so participants can send their messages during the meeting without interrupting the speaker.”
Treating Hearing Loss Supports You in the Workplace
Hearing loss is the third most common medical condition in the US, and it affects people of all ages. While it is more prevalent in people at retirement age or beyond, hearing loss has begun to appear in younger people as well.
Untreated hearing loss interferes with your ability to communicate, particularly with speech recognition. The common complaint among people with hearing loss is that while they can hear, they find it difficult to understand. Treating hearing loss is as simple as taking a hearing test. If a hearing loss is detected, then hearing aids are the most popular solution.
Studies have shown that treating hearing loss actually improves your earning power. People who do seek treatment for hearing loss earn on par with colleagues that have normal hearing; conversely, people with untreated hearing loss tend to have lower earning power. Relying on nonverbal cues certainly go a long way in a meeting, but the most important thing you can do for yourself on the job is to get your hearing loss treated.
Seek Treatment for Hearing Loss with Gulf Gate Hearing Aid Center
At Gulf Gate Hearing Aid Center, we provide comprehensive hearing tests and hearing aid fittings. If you are struggling with hearing – in the workplace and at home – contact us today for a consultation.