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Lynn Hummel: Stop mumbling and communicate

Last week I missed a few important announcements made during noisy intervals, so I thought maybe my hearing was a problem and I went to have it checked. You know, of course, that you don’t go to a chainsaw salesman to have your hearing checked, you go to an audiologist.

A good audiologist not only hooks you up to machines that hum and beep softly into your ears, both left and right, they ask a lot of husband-wife questions that a chainsaw guy would blush to consider. In addition, she whispers words like huff, puff, soft and love and asks you to repeat them. The answers to the husband-wife questions and whether you can repeat a soft whispered puff tell the audiologist more about your hearing than the little machines that hum and beep.

In the end, I was pleased to learn that what I’m not hearing is not the fault of my hearing at all, no sir, it’s the fault of the way others communicate. I’ll tell you about some of the conclusions and you will see some obvious remedies. Maybe I can save you a trip to an audiologist.

One of the first conclusions reached by the audiologist (after some very intense husband-wife questions) was if my wife, Eartha, has the bad habit of talking when I’m not paying attention. That’s not a hearing problem, it’s a habit. Eartha’s habit. Also, she doesn’t whisper love very often, so when someone else (the audiologist’s name was Carrie) whispers it, it comes across like a word from a foreign language.

I do pay attention when Eartha and I are in a room together, but, face to face, all I get are long periods of silence. The silence is loud and clear. But when I walk out of the room, turn a corner, go down the hall, go into another room, brush my teeth, turn on the water or flush the toilet, she tells me what was on her mind during those long periods of silence when we were face to face. That’s not a hearing problem and it’s not my fault.

It isn’t just Eartha. I’ve been at meetings, many meetings, where the presenter upfront has a microphone at his or her disposal. If they elect to use it, they hold it closer to their belt buckle than to their mouths and talk softly. Can I hear that? No. Do I have a hearing problem? No. We have a speaker problem. Or the cocky speakers says, “I don’t need a mic, I have a strong voice, so I’ll talk loud and you will all hear me.” And it works for a while. Then somebody in the front row asks a question from four feet away in a conversational tone directed away from the entire audience. And the speaker — without repeating the question for those of us in the fifteenth row (I’m not a front row person) — answers in a conversational tone to the lady in the front row. Can I hear that? No. Do I have a hearing problem? No. We have a speaker carrying on a private conversation problem.

Did I mention problems hearing “speed talkers?” If you pay attention, you will notice that there has been a gradual increase in the speed at which people talk. It is generally occurring among teenagers and young adults who think fast and talk fast. Some of them talk faster than I can listen. That’s not a hearing problem, it’s a generate-gap speed-of-speech problem.

Finally, there is the biggest problem — one I’m guilty of too — the problem of mumbling or talking with your hand over your mouth. Everybody mumbles. We can be forgiven for being careless — unless we’re paid to speak clearly. Some television announcers make me wish I could turn up the volume and sit closer to the TV. But that’s not the problem, its announcer mumbling. When the news sounds like “President Omaha,” you’re listening to a mumbling announcer, and I don’t care if he or she is good looking and famous.

So that’s the happy, optimistic report on the state of my hearing — it’s not my fault. But, if somebody softly whispers a hint that the problem is mine and that I should engage in an electronic hearing enhancement, I’m not stubborn, but I just won’t hear of it.