Hello everyone, I'm new to the forums, but have been listening to MT for about 2-3 months. I could use some help with the following situation.

How do you approach a supervisor or a skip-level supervisor about a potential hearing loss? In recent weeks during conference calls and face-to-face meetings, it's become obvious that she has trouble hearing people talk at a normal conversational level. Though it shouldn't make a difference, I'm male and person in question is female and approaching retirement age. In fact, she has already publicly informed us that she plans to retire in the summer of 2008. In addition, she's not based in our office in the Kansas City area, but based two time zones away in California.

This is how my "Manager Sense" or "gut" tells me how to approach the situation. The next time we're in a face-to-face situation where I have to repeat myself, perhaps that's when I could ask to give some feedback. Perhaps it would go like this: "Susan, can I give you some feedback? When I have to repeat myself during meetings, it proves to be disruptive and the others on our end of the conference call lose interest. It appears that there are times when you're hearing aren’t as optimal as it should be. Have you had it checked recently?"

This is a delicate subject, and I don't think it's one that can be done over the phone. In addition, the age difference between this person and me is greater than 20 years. How do I approach this without sounding like some young punk?

Any and all feedback is welcome. Thanks for reading and giving this some consideration.


trandell's picture

That's a tough one. I completely understand where you are coming from and feel your frustration. This is an extremely delicate situation that could seriously harm you if it goes badly. My gut tells me not to confront her on this. It does not sound like this is seriously impacting anyone's work product. What if you compensated by speaking a bit louder? At a minimum, she'll hear you better. Maybe she'll wonder why and ask you. Then you have an opening to offer feedback, like "I notice you seem to have difficulty hearing me clearly on conference calls, so I decided to speak up a little more clearly."

I'm keen to hear what other people's thoughts are.

juliahhavener's picture
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I tend to agree with Terrence. It's a very delicate situation that she may not be consciously aware of. If you are aware, you may want to note early in a conference call that YOU are not always clear on what is being said and ask everyone to speak that clearly.

If you are in a face-to-face situation, it may or may not be an issue.

bflynn's picture

If she is your supervisor, do not use the feedback model with her. How you proceed would depend on your relationship, but the fact that you've expressed doubts probably means that you already know there are potential problems.

Personally, I would probably jump up a level and ask her boss about it - insert standard warnings about skipping over your boss. It may be something he is not aware of. And, it will be better coming from him than coming from you - he will represent concern for her and for the business, while you represent a "complainer", whether you're complaining or not. He is also in a position to offer assistance and make changes.


Mark's picture
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Let's be clear: NO FEEDBACK.

Now, what do you mean specifically by, "it's become clear that..."


ferdman's picture

Here are some recent examples:

A conference call yesterday: Multiple times people had to repeat their answer to a question. One situation occurred when the person in question asked, "Are there any questions?" Someone attempted to ask a question, but since the question was not heard, she continued on talking. Then the person had to interrupt to ask a question creating an awkward moment. At one point during the call, a colleague mouthed to us, "She can't hear us".

In addition, there have been times when the two of us have been working at one computer. I made a comment at a normal tone and she didn't acknowledge (verbally or non-verbally) the comment. The reason she didn't acknowledge it is that she didn't see me attempt to talk, since she was focused on the screen.

There have also been times when we've been out for lunch and dinner (places with ample background noise) and I'd catch myself repeating things I said or the server said.

I hope this provides more detail. I want to make it clear that I do have respect for this supervisor and want her to be successful, however my concern is that over time frustration will continue to build up trying to cut through this communication barrier and negatively affect not only my relationship, but also her relationship with other colleagues and coworkers.

Mark's picture
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I took no disrespect at all from your posts. In fact, there's a sadness to the disrespect that OTHERS show by not being willing to do anything.

You must talk to her.

"Joan, I need your help with our communication. On a few occasions lately I've felt like you couldn't hear something I'd said. Whether it was on a conference call, or even working together at the computer, there were times where I don't think you heard something I was saying. Could I communicate differently, or is there some way you want me to communicate with you that would be more effective?"

You could also say, "Joan, I'm concerned that you've not heard several things I've said lately. Conference calls, phone calls, at the computer, I've noticed something's different. Do I need to communicate differently, or are you not hearing as clearly for some reason?"

That second one touches on the fact that it could be her, so it's slightly more forceful. I like the first better.

Screw your courage to the sticking place. If we can't be solicitous of others' needs without worrying about repercussions, power-based or otherwise, we're in a tight spot.


aspiringceo's picture

I cant argue with what Mark says as I think his first suggestion is spot on. I'm also sure that Susan is aware that she has some hearing difficulty but is maybe to embarressed to mention it so there is a clear need to be sensative to her. To quote Mark Twain "Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can read."

I also like to ask if you've considered making reasonable adjustments eg make sure you have her attention before you start speaking. Speak clearly but not too slowly. Find a suitable place to talk, with good lighting, away from noise and distractions.