How to stop a deaf colleague interrupting

The problem

Unfortunately deaf people do tend to cut across other people who are speaking. Only in very rare cases is this intentional. Normally it is simply because the deaf person - let's call him a male for ease of reading - genuinely doesn't hear that someone else is speaking. In a work situation, however, this cannot be allowed to continue if it happens a lot. So the question arises as to what can be done about it.

What to do

The solution to the problem must depend on the situation. What works in one situation for one deaf person may not work in another situation for a different deaf person. So tread carefully and be aware of his reactions.

In my view, as a professional with considerable hearing problems, an early step has to be for him to help himself - but there is an earlier step still. He has to realise that there is a problem.

Fortunately most deaf people are sufficiently socially aware as to recognise from colleagues' reactions that they have done something socially unacceptable.

Who to do it

If your colleague does not seem to realise the problem, someone has to tell him. In my view, this should not be the first person to think about it or notice it, as this would tend to come across either aggressively or patronisingly.

Neither should a big thing be made of it - at least not in the first instance. In my view it is a task for the chair of a particular meeting or a group leader and it should be mentioned in relative privacy as a throw-away remark - again in the first instance. If he sees it as a big deal he is likely to shut up completely; his self-confidence as a person will be damaged and his expertise will be lost to the organisation.

Once he knows there is a problem, he could do well to read the pages on coping as a deaf person in committees and social situations - and indeed various pages in the 'Coping with hearing loss' section. I won't repeat them here, although they are extremely relevant.

If none of these suggestions work, he has got to ask for help - but do allow him time to do so. It won't be easy as he will probably try to cover up his disadvantage. As a last resort the chair of meetings or head of group or some other designated person has to have a heart to heart talk with him about the problem.

Once he agrees that he needs help, the best solution is for someone helpful and with good hearing to sit next to him and motion to him if he starts to speak while someone else is speaking.

I always remind the chair at the start of meetings while touching my 'deaf badge' and then raise my hand during the meeting if I want to speak. This is not seen as cutting across, and the chair then usually makes a space for me to speak.

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Disclaimer: The information on this site is for a lay audience and I cannot be responsible for errors or omissions. The views, strategies, advice and suggestions etc are based on my personal experience and are not necessarily appropriate for anyone else. They should, hopefully, stimulate individuals to develop their own strategies.