‘Never Mind’: Why These Words Are So Painful To The Person With Hearing Loss.

by Jeannie Taylor

Never Mind Picture

Every language has its own collection of insightful sayings.  Sometimes we refer to them as ‘wise sayings’ or ‘idioms’.  The words most usually relate to a cultural principle or value and are characterized by deep understanding and good sense.  Below are a few examples of idioms and their meanings in our language:

At the drop of a hat 

Meaning: Without any hesitation; instantly.   

Back to the drawing board

Meaning:  When an attempt fails and it’s time to start all over.

Ball is in your court

Meaning:  It is up to you to make the next decision or step.

(Retrieved from http://www.smart-words.org/quotes-sayings/idioms-meaning.html)

Never mind’ is an example of an idiom as well.  When you say ‘never mind’ to someone, you are telling them not to worry, skip it, or that it’s not important.   For example:  I forgot to buy milk at the store this morning.  Well, never mind, I’ll pick it up later.  When used in the sentence above, the combination of these two words seems natural and harmless.  However, when you say ‘never mind’ to a person with hearing loss in response to them asking you to repeat something they’ve missed in conversation, the words have the potential to evoke painful feelings.

In the article, “Please Don’t Tell Me Never Mind” retrieved from the website Living with Hearing Loss, the author notes that sometimes people with hearing loss miss something or need clarification while communicating.  At some point the person with hearing loss may ask, “What did you say?”  The speaker may then respond by saying something like ‘never mind’, ‘forget it’, ‘it’s not important’, or ‘don’t worry about it.  ‘Never mind’ used in that context may be interpreted by the person with hearing loss as a dismissal or an insult.  The author notes that, “It says the listener is not important enough to the speaker to repeat what was said.”

If a person with hearing loss discovers they are in this situation, what should be said or done next?  Let’s look at some repair strategies from Dr. Scott Bally, a retired professor in the Department of Hearing, Speech, and Language Sciences at Gallaudet University.  Repair Strategies are those approaches used to reestablish communication when it has broken down.  According to Dr. Bally, when communication breaks down during a communication event, the listener should (1) inform the speaker, and (2) instruct the speaker as to what he/she should do to help reestablish the communication cycle.  In the article “Hearing 101:  It’s all in the Strategies” (Hearing Loss Magazine, March/April 2012), Dr. Bally writes, “When communication fails and you don’t understand what has been said we may utter, without thinking, “Huh?” or “What?” Both responses are tiresome if used again and again. Further, they do not direct the speaker as to how he or she might help you. In addition, such responses place an undue burden on the speaker. Consider that you might have missed a word or two and by saying “Huh?” you are asking the speaker to repeat the whole utterance. Wouldn’t it be more equitable to repeat what you heard and ask the speaker to fill in the blanks?  For example, “I know you said you would meet me for lunch on Thursday at Café Auricle but I missed the time you wanted to meet there.” This not only shows consideration for the other person, but helps to narrow the possible responses.  Other repair strategies include asking a person to say it in different words or to spell words you cannot identify.”

As I see it, the person with hearing loss has the choice of two responses:  proactive or reactive.  For example, the proactive response might be that the person with hearing loss anticipates possible challenges in the communication cycle and becomes armed with strategies to repair and maintain communication.  The hearing loss person in reactive response mode may become stressed or emotionally upset after a breakdown in communication instead of relying on strategies learned to prevent or effectively deal with the communication challenge.

ReactiveProactive Image

In conclusion, the words ‘Never mind’ may become your opportunity to show off your communication repair strategies!  Remaining positive and proactive will serve the person with hearing loss much better in the long run!  See some additional Repair Strategies from Dr. Bally below:

  • Repeat“Could you repeat that please?”
  • Rephrase – use alternate wording or different words to say the same thing. “Sorry, I didn’t understand.  Is there another way you could say that?”
  • Key Word – determine the topic or a key word. “Were you talking about last night’s game?”
  • Spelling – ask for the word to be spelled letter by letter
  • Code Words – such as “B as in boy” or “D as in dog”
  • Air or Palm Writing – use index finger to draw letters in the air or on the palm of the hand
  • Numbers – say each number individually, spell the number word, counting, hold up the correct number of digits

For your consideration:

  • When communication fails and you don’t understand what’s been said, what is your response?
  • How do you feel when someone says, ‘never mind’, after you’ve asked them to repeat something you’ve missed in conversation?
  • As a person with hearing loss, in what ways can you remain proactive during the communication cycle?
  • If you are a hearing person, how can you be proactive during the communication cycle?

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Also be sure to visit our website at www.hearinglosskyhome.org

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