Latest posts by Leanne E. Polhill, LHAS, BC-HIS, BA (see all)
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Do you struggle to hear around the conference table during a meeting? If you attend a lot of meetings, or find yourself leading discussions, you know that hearing loss can have a huge impact on your work. While the words your colleagues are saying are important, learning to pick up on the subtle nonverbal cues can help you follow conversations and understand your coworkers during meetings.
Experts in Nonverbal Cue
Those in the hard of hearing community, as well as American Sign Language interpreters and instructors, are the experts when it comes to picking up on nonverbals. Laurie Achin, for example, is an American Sign Language faculty member at Northeastern University, and is also deaf. Achin can read facial expressions, as well as gestures and body language, to help her understand what a person is saying, and even understand things they aren’t saying out loud.
Experts in nonverbal cues, like Achin, watch for “the little behaviors, the small movements, the small changes in people’s expressions, body language, and even how the person is saying something,” and these all help her read the room. She says she’s able to determine what a person is thinking or feeling by watching how they drink their coffee, walk into the room, or even how they’re sitting in their chair.
Nonverbal Cues in Meetings
If you spend a lot of time in meetings, particularly if you’ve been struggling with hearing loss, paying attention to a few key nonverbal cues could make you a better communicator, help you follow the person speaking, and even help you understand the people who aren’t speaking.
Communication is a two-way street. We often fall into the trap of thinking it’s all about the person speaking, but linguists know that there’s another line of communication, called the backchannel. This is the “uh-huh-s” of conversation, indicating that you’ve understood the speaker, and is often an unconscious response. If you’re speaking to a group, don’t assume that just because they can hear you, they’ve understood the point you’re trying to get across.
Make sure you’re getting feedback from this backchannel, so you know people have understood you. Have you seen any head nodding, or heard a “hmm” recently? If not, take a moment to check in and make sure you’re still being understood. If not, take the time to explain a complex point again, and make sure everyone is on the same page before moving forward.
This is particularly important in virtual meetings, or if anyone in the meeting is on the other side of a phone or screen. Make sure you receive feedback from them before moving ahead in your presentation.
Letting Others Speak
For anyone running a meeting, it can be hard to know when to let someone else speak. You might be so focused on your own points that you aren’t noticing that the people around you have a question that needs clarification, or want to make another point. Be sure to take a moment to glance around the room and read the nonverbal cues.
When someone wants to interject something into the conversation, they will often get restless in their chair. Be on the lookout for anyone rustling around, leaning forward in their seats, or sitting up higher. These are the cues that this person would like a moment to speak.
Watching for Signs of Frustration
Interrupting someone who’s speaking is often considered rude, but sometimes it’s necessary to make sure you’ve understood what’s been said. Think about meetings as a more collaborative effort, and scan the room for anyone who’s frustrated about not being able to ask for clarification, or make a point of their own. It’s all in the shoulders. When someone is frustrated, the shoulders are raised towards the ears. When someone is content, their shoulders are relaxed and down.
Treating Hearing Loss
If you’ve been struggling to hear, it may be affecting your ability to communicate in the workplace. Over the long term, this could affect your relationships with your colleagues and clients, and it could impact your productivity.
At Encore Hearing, we understand. Visit us today for a complete hearing test and tell us about your experience with hearing loss. Whether you need help hearing the grandkids, need the best in connectivity features, or want the ultimate in directionality technology to help you hear in the office, we have the device that will fit seamlessly into your lifestyle, and help you hear in every listening environment.