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Communicating with hearing colleagues

I started working full-time in an office for the first time recently, and am struggling to join my hearing colleagues’ conversation.

I can see them chatting by the water-cooler or in the canteen every day and it bothers me that they talk far too fast among themselves for me to keep up. It’s very difficult as I know these chats will form the basis of many people’s working relationships and could even help them get promotions. What shall I do?

Tina, Glasgow

Deafauntie says:

Hi Tina

I think probably every deaf and hard of hearing person can relate to the water-cooler dilemma. I always say to people, “It depends on your kind of personality as to which strategy would work best for you, and how you can carry it off.” Some people would wait until a friend was at the water cooler – or the kitchen kettle, or wherever staff gather – with other staff  and then go and join them with a smile on their face and ask what’s happening (if you know your friend will repeat things to you).

Some would have a word with someone they trust and agree that they’ll meet up when others are there, and slowly staff will get used to seeing them and including them in their conversations. Others would prefer to wait until a staff meeting or a Deaf Awareness training session (you have booked one, haven’t you?) and bring it up then in a friendly and cheerful way. With all of these, lower your expectations and be happy with a summary: “We’re just talking about….” rather than expecting a word-for-word repeated conversation. That way lies madness.

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One response to “Communicating with hearing colleagues

  1. My top tips for networking at work: be open, friendly and approachable – and recognise that there are two key groups to cultivate. The first is your immediate colleagues. A smiling remark about the gathering itself or always bumping into Joe Bloggs in accounts at 11am and 3pm precisely can be a good “in” to the conversation.

    Be proactive both about your needs and about helping others: maybe offer to join the daily tea-making rota, as people will chat to the person bringing them tea, or suggesting a ‘break’ activity. In one office we had a good icebreaker at morning coffee: pairing off randomly for a daily 10-minute crossword competition!

    The second group comprises cross-department contacts, who provide a bigger picture of happenings in your organisation and a key source of opportunities. This is especially important as deaf people miss so much of the company-wide gossip, limiting their understanding of they fit into the organisation as a whole. There may be special interest clubs and groups that meet at lunchtime: I’ve met a huge variety of people through a “stitch and bitch” craft group.

    Lastly, be friendly, open and approachable in your work too. When your colleagues know you’re willing to help them as needed, it opens up the way for them approach you socially too. I hope it helps. Good luck!

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