7 Important Lessons Deaf People Can Teach You About Communication

I think I can safely say that most of us who are not deaf have not spent much time pondering what it would be like if we were.  But since my daughter is becoming fairly proficient in sign language, I’ve not only thought more about what it must be like, but how my own methods of communication have room for improvement.  I think that’s why I found this short article so interesting.

I have a fairly expressive face.  If I am happy, sad, or irritated, chances are you can look at my face and tell.   I’m not very good at hiding my emotions.  But not everyone is proficient at reading those expressions.  My grandmother who is living with us has lost much of her hearing, and unfortunately has not grasped the skill of reading body language, or of choosing the most likely word.  When she mis-hears a word, she will often suggest an alternate word that may sound vaguely similar, but be entirely out of context of the preceding conversation.  This can cause a great deal of confusion, and often some pretty humorous suggestions.  But more importantly, she has a tendency to misread facial expressions.  When I come in to check on her because I’ve heard her up in the middle of the night, I may be concerned for her well-being, but she interprets the lines on my forehead as anger that she has disturbed me.

I must admit that I’ve found this quite frustrating.  I have come to check on her and see if there is anything she needs, and she is convinced that I’m mad at her for waking me up.  So not only do I have to determine whether she needs anything, I have to spend a good deal of time convincing her that I’m not angry.  I have tried to school my features a little better, so that she doesn’t get that wrong impression, but I’ve been pretty unsuccessful so far.  So the idea that we all should get better at  maintaining eye contact, and be more observant of body language and interpret it correctly really hit home with me.

I much prefer to have a conversation with someone in person.  I’ve never been much for long conversations on the phone, or carrying on a relationship exclusively online unless distance made it necessary.  I would rather see your face, interact with you, and hug you goodbye.  But so much of our communication is online now, and we end up sacrificing those minute details of interpersonal communication.  Emoticons are an effort to make up for part of that loss, but of course they can’t compensate for everything.

I think that’s why it’s even more important to make sure that when we ARE physically together we focus on the conversation at hand, instead of constantly posting to FB, checking e-mail, and otherwise excluding those details that are not available to us online or over the phone.  Surely that friend or family member is worth a few moments of your undivided attention.  Let us not forget to really plug in to one another when we get the opportunity to do so!

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