• Jessica West

Asking people to repeat

"Did you hear me that time?"

Not long after I began wearing hearing aids, I discovered that other people would get incredibly annoyed at me when I asked them to repeat themselves multiple times. Even my close friends, who knew that I was struggling to adjust to life with hearing aids. In this case, I must have asked my friend to repeat herself in a situation one too many times, because she turned to me with an annoyed look on her face and asked icily if I had heard her that time. I had not, but her demeanor led me to not ask for further clarification.

When interviewing young people with hearing loss for my undergraduate honors thesis, my participants discussed the struggles they face when asking people to repeat themselves. One young woman (we’ll call her “Danielle”*) succinctly summarized the sentiments of most of the participants by saying, “people don’t like to repeat themselves.”

After encountering previous negative experiences with asking people to repeat too many times, my thesis participants explained that that they learned that it is only acceptable to ask for repetition a limited number of times. For example, Mia told me that she asks for repetition until she feels “like giving up on the situation.” More specifically, Caroline said that when she misses something the first time, she says something like, “Sorry? Excuse me?” But the second time she will “just smile and nod and, like, walk away.” Likewise, Danielle will ask people to repeat once or twice “if it’s necessary,” but she will not “ask them a third time.” Similar to my own example, Catherine thinks that other people “start getting annoyed” after she asks them to repeat themselves “once or twice.” I think Helen's comment below is especially clear:

I often tell people you can say “what” three times. You can say it once, you can say it twice, but at the third time it’s no longer acceptable. And I still kind of adhere to that myself.

I found it really fascinating that so many young people with hearing loss were telling me roughly the same thing: you can ask people to repeat themselves…but only up to a certain point. Otherwise, you risk angering the other person. Based on their previous interactions with people with normal hearing abilities, these participants believed that if they are unable to follow the conversation, it was preferable for them to remain out of the loop than to ask people to repeat themselves more than twice.

I have lots more thoughts (and research!) on disclosing hearing loss, which I will share in future posts.

#hearingloss #disclosure

*Note: I used pseudonyms in my thesis to keep my participants' identities confidential, and have changed their names again here to further ensure confidentiality.

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