Communication Studies

Sometimes I find interesting ideas related to hearing loss in the strangest of places. I’m reading the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. The inside cover says: “Blink is a book about how we think without thinking, about making choices that seem to be made in an instant-in the blink of eye-that actually aren’t as simple as they seem.” I didn’t expect to find any correlation with hearing loss in my reading but I did.

The book talks about Wendy Levinson’s study on doctors and malpractice suits. She discovered skill and knowledge didn’t have much to do with being sued so much as bedside manner. People tend to forgive the doctors they like; the ones who listened, who spent more time with them and took more time to explain procedures. Doctors who are short, showed little respect to the patient and were condescending were the ones who were sued.

Here’s where it perked my hard of hearing interest…A psychiatrist by the name of Nalini Ambady took the above study further by taking a series of conversations between surgeons and patients reducing the conversation to about 40 seconds. Then she “content-filtered the slices, which means she removed the high-frequency sounds from speech that enable us recognize individual words. What’s left after the content-filtering is a kind of garble that preserves intonation, pitch, and rhythm but erases content.” That’s a good description of my kind of hearing loss. It’s like listening to the adults talk on Charlie Brown cartoons, “waa-waa-wa-wa-waa.”

The study showed by intonation alone, blind judges were able to pick the doctors most likely to be sued in that 40 seconds of garbled conversation. “… if the surgeons voice was judged to sound dominant, the surgeon tended to be in the sued group. If the voice sounded less dominant and more concerned, the surgeon tended to be in the non-sued group.”

As I sit in large of groups of people, I’m guilty of judging conversation by tone. It’s how I decide whether or not to follow a conversation. I pick and chose because no one wants to repeat everything and following 100% of the time wears me out. I go off into my own little world until I hear something in voices that alerts me to something interesting (disbelief, extra somber, lightness of voice to indicate humor). Then I ask for a repeat.

mehrabian chart

The Mehrabian Study says 7% of communication is based on words, 38% is based on tonality and 55% on body language. (I learned about that last summer reading Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.) Blink says we all use these modes of communication and most people do it unconsciously. I think we, the hard of hearing and deaf, are more aware of it being more visually orientated. I read situations and people differently than say my hearing boyfriend does.

If 93% of communication isn’t about the words, why do I struggle so much? You’d think I would be fine but that 7% can be vital. My word discrimination is 50% with hearing aids and 30% so that narrows my words down to about 3% and that’s damn frustrating at times. Those are the days I want to lock myself in the basement, ranting and crying to myself. Luckily most of the time I’m amazed at how well I get along in spite of it all. Maybe that’s when the 93% goes in my favor.


2 responses to “Communication Studies

  1. As a member of the hearing impaired population (I have no clue why the term ‘hard of hearing’ bothers me-weird), I am really thrilled to have found your blog. I don’t know anyone else in my age group (40s) with hearing loss so it’s nice to see that I’m not alone. I found the Mehrabian Study interesting. I do know that over the years I have learned to be very perceptive in my communication as well as you. You learn to understand what the topic and tone of the conversation is by the body language and the sound of the voices and can figure out things by hearing only about 25% of the words. I always say that if a hearing person took a newspaper article and blacked out 75% of the words, read the article and then had to respond immediately to it, they would then understand what a hearing impaired person experiences in daily conversation. I’m with you though, at my degree of hearing loss, sometimes I am surprised and amazed at how well I can manage. But I am also grateful for loving friends and kids that are patient and kind enough to help me along the way.

    • Hi and nice to meet you. I know a lot of people who don’t like the term hearing impaired. I use the label ‘half deaf’ myself. At least that gets peopel to face me. I like your newspaper idea! Only black out half the letters in many of the words too. lol

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