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Please Repeat

by Branden Huxtable

Originally published in the September 1997 issue of the CSCDHH GA Newsletter

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When talking to hearing people, I have to read their lips or I would never understand what they are saying. Different things help me read their lips, such as good light, no distracting background, moving lips, and getting my attention first. If someone forgets to get my attention, I miss half of what the other person said.

One friend of mine, however, never remembered that. Several times, he would start talking as if I was hearing. Who knows what he was talking about? I have to stop him to ask him to repeat, he would get mad at me for interrupting him, and I would get mad at him for not getting my attention first. After this frustration, we quit talking to each other for five minutes.

It seemed so simple. Get my attention first. What’s difficult about that? But, no matter how many times I asked, he never remembered.

Then, I started thinking. Maybe just telling him is not enough. If telling him over and over never worked before, then probably telling him over and over again probably won’t help either. In some situations, like this one, people need to learn by experience. Tell someone something as many times as you want, but only when they learn from experience will they truly understand. That’s a problem since he’s hearing and I’m not. All he has experienced is the hearing way of thinking and anything else, like getting my attention first, makes no sense at all. Why should I expect him to know how I think and feel, especially if I have no idea how he does? Part of our differences is that my friend never had to ask the same questions I did. How do I talk to people who mumble? What do I do about noisy backgrounds? Where is the best place to sit in a large group discussion? Since he’s hearing, these questions never occur to him.

What can I do? Instead of telling him telling him my perspective which he will forget, what if I could help him by getting him to think in a different way? What if I asked him questions that he never had to ask himself? What if answering the question, he discovered a new way of thinking?

Next time, just like always, he started talking without getting my attention first. Instead of stopping him, I let him keep on going. I waited and waited until he finally finished talking.

"How much of that do you think I got?" I asked him when he finished.

". . . . uhh . . ." he stammered before repeating what he just said. The whole thing.

After once or twice of this, he finally learned to get my attention first and he and I have never had a problem since.

We tend to think there are only two kinds of people: those who are sensitive and those who are not. There’s actually a third: those who don’t understand. We usually think of those in the third group as insensitive especially if we have to tell them something over and over again. Actually, the problem may simply be that our two points of view don’t match. Once we start to understand each other’s point of view, then we can share our problems easier and help each other out.

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