Why are deaf people so direct?


My hearing partner tells me that he finds some deaf people incredibly direct – to the point of rudeness, sometimes: too much pointing, graphic descriptions, etc. It did make me wonder if deaf people don’t always understand how hearing people get hung up about this.  Why are deaf people so direct? What do you think?

Deafauntie says:

I think we are going to get a lot of replies to this one! My own view  (I can relate to this as I have tried to tone down my directness – a lethal mixture of being deaf and from Yorkshire, a combustible combination) is that it is partly the way we are brought up and related to by both family and school.

We, as children, were told very firmly (and often loudly to all and sundry) to speak clearly – a surefire way to limit conversation! Who wants to talk whilst being attacked? I sure didn’t. We were often commanded to repeat to the neighbour or to Grandma, things which we did not really want to repeat so we would say them loudly and quickly.

Sometimes we’d be asked quite aggressive questions and were expected to bark out our answers. These are just some examples of how dysfunctional our communication training could be. (There are of course some lovely examples of parents and deaf children talking which seem just right.) Also if our speech was not clear we’d keep our answers short and to the point. I could go on…. so maybe we need to be aware of these things and adapt to whom we are talking to?



19 responses to “Why are deaf people so direct?

  1. Wow love this response of yours Laraine. Please can we raise this at a Healthy Deaf Minds meetings about a clash of culture when we are in the hearing environment and how we really relax when meeting another deaf person. I have been told off for pointing by a hearie!!

  2. For many deaf people it is black and white and nothing in between therefore we tend to come straight to the point! how many times do we tell hearing people in Deaf awareness training etc to cut out the waffle and stick to the point?

  3. (Taking off my deafauntie admin cap, if that’s OK with you, Laraine)

    I think it’s also to do with language being linked to culture, which is common with born-deaf or early-onset deaf people. Once the child starts stringing together words the parent starts introducing him/her to national customs by teaching him/her what and what not to say. “Shush – you can’t say he’s fat.” “What do you say to the nice lady?”

    The deaf child will miss some of these instructions – or the nuanced meanings inherent in them anyway. Ultimately s/he grows up not understanding why hearing people need to be so flowery or “waffly” in their speech.

  4. My hearing husband calls it “the Deaf Way”.

    I think it’s partly “getting to the point quickly” which helps in understanding the conversation correctly when among deaf peers. BSL of course is in a “topic-comment” formation.

    It’s not only deaf people who find this difficult: I have a German colleague who finds British indirectness exasperating and can sound very brusque to British people because there’s no preamble “would you be so kind as to . . . ” etc. It’s perfectly polite in German to be direct! So there’s a definite “British” issue there in part.

    Also we don’t always catch how hearing people talk to each other. As a lipreader, by the time I’ve identified who is speaking, I’ve missed the start. Hearing people waffle, there’s no two ways about it. But that waffle is the way they communicate – to convey something else. Sometimes it’s for politeness’ sake, sometimes to disguise cleverness or not to seem arrogant, and sometimes, frankly, because they don’t know what they’re on about! All these extra non-verbal communication cues are very hard to get when you don’t hear what’s being said in the first place.

    Being graphic: my husband was immensely struck by how two deaf friends, unknown to each other, from different backgrounds and areas, were both similarly graphic in describing an upset tummy. I think it’s part of the way we use intensifiers in BSL, so that a violent illness is described more graphically than a mild bug, but it can look rather disconcerting to hearing people when you aren’t aware of the context!

  5. I come from a mixed background, and it is quite maternal and Jewish. In that environment we are taught as kids to speak up and be direct, and no waffling. As a deaf child this naturally suited me. However I did eventually go to a Deaf school and was shocked by the “rudeness” and weird contortions of the language. This I too managed to adapt and use to communicate with other deaf people, but we were not allowed to use BSL.
    So onwards I moved on into the real bad world of Hearing people…..and lo behold, I had to relearn the art of communication, even improve my English vocabulary. So I had to tone down my culture, my deaf needs to communicate without all the “waffle”…..over the years I adapted to the Hearing World.
    Today, I must admit, I am like your partner. I do tend to find the Deaf language as “in your face” and invasive of personal space. I often have to tell a deaf person to “back off”, and find myself ducking and diving physically to “avoid” what looks like hands about to strike me in the face or someone actually being aggressive. I think the problem is that a lot of Deaf people tend to socialise amongst themselves and do not always mix with hearing people in order to understand the body language of the world at large.

    I think all that is required is a simple tone-down – gentler strokes, or more eye contact. It works both ways. Some hearing people are so passive and quiet that it is impossible to hear them or understand their body language. Nobody is perfect, but we all could do with a frank talk about use of language, and encourage each other to learn more about how we communicate. Body language between humans is so important, regardless of culture, language or whether they are hearing or deaf. It is in this area that I think a lot of misunderstandings take place. Deaf people are not alone with this problem.

  6. I’ve always been told I’m too blunt in emails. A hearing colleague tried to help me (lol) and told me to start emails by making the reader feel good (lol again) and only then, get to my point. My answer is why should I waste time doing this? If a hearing person needs softening up, that’s their problem, not mine. I like to get things DONE.

    When talking, I’ve often been interrupted by hearing people and told I speak too quietly, or am ignored in social situations. It just knocks your confidence doesn’t it? I’d rather not speak at all and get on my phone and have a conversation there!

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  8. Stuart Parkinson

    I was told many years ago if you want to work with Deaf people you have to have a thick skin and how right they were.

    One memory I can remember is that one of the Elderly members of the Deaf Club who had not seen me for a while rather than saying ‘How are you’, she said I was fat! Another time I wore contact lenses and was told I look ugly! On this subject I think as we often do not hear how hearing people communicate and consequently don’t understand their mannerisms, we have not grasped how to be diplomatic. Many a time I have come across someone who is direct in their criticism and has not mastered the skill of being constructive. We as members of the Deaf community state that hearing people need Deaf Awareness but I also think that sometime we Deaf people need Hearing Awareness.

  9. A lot of common themes emerging here: lack of nuance: directness, whether motivated by not having to repeat ourselves, or by not waffling; bluntness – someone once announced he hadn’t recognised me since I’d put on some weight since our last meeting however many years ago. Cue collective intake of breath from the hearing persons present – almost audible, it was so visible!

    Something else has occurred to me: ‘tone of voice’, which caused me problems in the past. On occasion, speaking passionately seemed to elicit a disproportionately angry or aggressive response from my point of view.

    I worked out that getting carried away in arguing a case diverted my mental resources from my voice, and the unintentional increase in volume provoked a correspondingly negative reaction.

    Once I’d worked that out, things became a lot easier, and preparing in advance took a lot of heat out of such situations, as then I was able to think more about voice volume.

  10. I can definitely relate to this one and my husband totally agrees with your partner! As for me…I’ll admit that I can also be ‘direct’ when I want to ie. I put that down to holding my own in conversations and not allowing myself to be patronised or fobbed off by hearing people! They are not all ‘perfect’ either!

  11. I found Gillian’s comment to be true, I often find that when I do counselling work with the Deaf Community, most of it all stems from their childhood experiences.

  12. I am inclined to think that my ‘directness’ was learned and not related to my childhood experiences! My only interaction with deaf people was the six years I spent at a deaf boarding school. It was not till I left school that I became exposed to the harsh reality of working with hearing people and all the communication difficulties and frustrations that this entailed. I think the problem with a lot of deaf people is that they can come across as aggressive when they should perhaps try to be more politely assertive.

  13. Yes it can be either learned behaviours or related to behaviours from childhood experiences, it depends on the individual. As for aggressiveness, some children have not learnt manners and how to be polite without being rude, especially limited access to communication in hearing families, boarding schools or foster homes or whatever, when a Deaf child tend to be left out and receives limited teaching or information on social skills and so on, therefore they do not know how to behave in the right way through no fault of theirs.

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  17. I am hard of hearing and born deaf in 1975. Deaf equipment like hearing aids were poor audio. It no fault of my own and but I grown up self learning to lips reading and the hearing people have no patience to repeat words or they using their own accent words. Deaf people can not read those accents words. You need to keep it plain English and clear when speaking deaf people or your been discrimination and cruel, racism to deaf. .
    Deaf people get frustrating and angry because Hearing people say “forget it what I said”

    It not deaf people fault and their behavior. If you don’t want talk deaf people then stay away because deaf world is different to hearing world.

    Deaf people make a noise by accident and hearing neighbor complain and bang on wall. Deaf say shut up! or I make you deaf then you will understand why?

  18. A very interesting thread, and one I can definitely relate to, as I am usually very direct with both deaf and hearing people. However, I understand the nuances of the hearing population and how they communicate compared to the deaf. BSL is a very visual language and can look far more “aggressive” than when hearing people are chatting to each other. The two cultures are very different and many deaf people cannot communicate with the hearing world effectively enough to learn how they converse with each other and therefore behave with each other. I do not think hearing people “waffle” it is simply that there is far more vocabulary in English than in BSL so this makes it look as though they waffle, when they are just expressing themselves in more words. I doubt the differences between the two will ever change, or at least not for many years, if ever!

  19. I’m completely deaf from age 8 and grew up and worked with hearing people my whole life. Never learned ASL and didn’t want to. Maybe the deaf who sign should study the speaking mannerisms of Clint Eastwood in his westerns, Be cool and slow instead of an auction yard barker. No offense meant but it sure helps. God bless

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