old man and woman sitting together while reading a book

Why Pretending to Hear Doesn’t Help

In Hearing Loss by Dr. Jason Leyendecker

Dr. Jason Leyendecker

When we acquire hearing loss, we miss out on conversations around us. Sometimes we hear everything, and other times, we miss a lot. One habit all hearing-impaired people seem to develop is social bluffing. It is a coping strategy, especially for older adults. 

What is social bluffing?

It simply means we make out what we’ve heard. We sit in a group with a polite smile fixed on our face. It’s the ‘I hope I’m smiling the right smile for this conversation’ smile. When the group laughs, we laugh, but we have no idea what they’re laughing about. When the group turns to look, we turn too, but we have no idea what we’re looking for. We sit next to someone and follow their silent cues and hope we don’t get it wrong. If we do ask someone to repeat and we don’t understand the second time, we give up and make out we’ve understood. What we’re doing is social bluffing.

Lip Reading and Social Bluffing

Someone who has moderate to severe hearing loss usually relies heavily on lip reading to participate in the conversation. But lip reading is not an exact skill and requires intense concentration. Generally, only about 40-60% of what is being said can be picked up by lip reading. Attention must be focused non-stop on the speaker, and if you even blink at the wrong moment, you may misinterpret what is said. This kind of concentration is extremely tiring, so a deaf person fills in the gaps by making astute guesses and hence becomes good at social bluffing. We take clues from body language, location, surroundings, other people, the weather, or anything which may help to understand.

Group Conversations and Social Bluffing

With just one-on-one conversation, it’s usually easy to communicate, and we feel reasonably confident in asking for a repeat if we don’t understand. When there are two people, we usually still cope. But get three or more people together when the conversation ebbs and flows; it’s difficult to determine where the sound comes from, plus people interject and talk over each other. It’s in these situations we become social bluffers. That polite smile, a nod of the head, a soft chuckle with everyone else, and the laugh at a punchline we had never heard.

Why do we do it?

Basically, it’s a way to fit in and avoid embarrassment. (Of course, sometimes it causes even more embarrassment when we get it wrong). Rather than ask for someone to repeat, we simply look as if we’ve heard. It’s the safest and simplest option. Sometimes it can take two or three repetitions, and still, we don’t understand. It can be very embarrassing as the attention of the group focuses on us. 

Can hearing loss treatment help?

Hearing loss treatment can help reduce social bluffing by improving an individual’s ability to hear and understand speech in different environments. There are a variety of options for hearing loss treatment, including:

  • Hearing aids: These devices amplify sound and can be adjusted to match the individual’s specific type and degree of hearing loss.
  • Cochlear implants: These are electronic devices that are surgically implanted into the ear and work by converting sound into electrical signals, which are sent directly to the auditory nerve.
  • Assistive listening devices: These are devices that can be used in conjunction with hearing aids or cochlear implants, to help improve hearing in specific situations such as in group settings or on the phone.
  • Speech and language therapy: This type of therapy can help improve communication skills and strategies for individuals with hearing loss.

With the appropriate hearing loss treatment, individuals with hearing loss are able to hear and understand speech better, which can reduce the need for social bluffing. They will be able to participate more fully in group conversations and social situations, reducing their sense of isolation and increasing their overall quality of life.

If you or someone you know is experiencing hearing loss, we encourage you to visit our clinic to get a hearing evaluation and explore the various hearing aids available to improve your hearing. Take the first step towards better hearing today.