Communication Strategies Training

Communication strategy activities can motivate group members to generate ideas on how to prevent a problem from occurring or to solve a communication breakdown once it has occurred.

Group AR is an ideal environment for participants to develop and practice these strategies in a supportive environment. As members generate their own solutions, it increases the likelihood that they will employ them in everyday life. 

Anticipatory and Repair Strategies

Overall, communication strategies can be classified as either anticipatory strategies or repair strategies.

  • Anticipatory strategies can be applied to a difficult situation before the event occurs. This may involve figuring out how to use an infra-red system in a theater or how to find a restaurant with low background noise levels.

  • Repair strategies refer to actions and ideas that can fix a communication breakdown once it has occurred.

Group Exercises

Exercises for both sets of strategies are meant to be implemented collaboratively. You can go around the room and ask each member to offer a strategy. Alternatively, group members can jump in when they have an idea to offer. It is best to alternate between these two techniques so that everyone has a chance to be heard.

Be Flexible: Go With The Flow

The difference between anticipatory strategies and repair strategies is often an artificial one.

Group members need to use both to communicate successfully. Therefore, there is no need to restrict a discussion of repair strategies to the predetermined topic.  If group members start discussing anticipatory strategies, then go with it.  These activities are meant to solve problems and problems are often best solved when a variety of techniques are employed.

Working With Anticipatory Strategies

A useful method to elicit techniques to prevent communication problems from occurring is the “15 things” exercise. In this exercise, the leader poses one of the problems identified by the group and asks the participants to identify 15 possible solutions. You can then go around the room and ask each member to offer a possible solution. 

Instructions: 15 Things Exercise

1. Have a group member identify a problem he or she has experienced or is anticipating.

2. Have the problem stated in objective, measurable terms, for example: "George does not go out in public since his hearing has worsened. I would like him to go out to a restaurant with me and another couple. When we go out, I want him to understand most of what is being said and enjoy himself."

3. Have participants identify at least 15 different things that could be done to facilitate doing this and help solve the issue. Don't stop until at least 15 suggestions are offered. It is often the case that 25 or 30 suggestions are made.

4. Write down every suggestion. Do not allow participants to offer any criticisms or find fault with any of the suggestions. If someone's suggestion is criticized, other group members will be less likely to offer one. It is important that you create an environment that is hospitable to creative thinking.

5. Give the list to the person who offered the problem, and ask them to select the suggestion that seems best to them.

6. Ask the individual to try the suggestion in real life and to report the results in the next session.

Sam Trychin uses the 15 Things Exercise to address a participant's communication challenge. Each offered strategy is heard and acknowledged.

Working with Repair Strategies

Kaplan, Bally and Garretson outline three steps one can take to repair a conversation breakdown: Courtesy, Explanation, and Direction.

These three steps seem simple, but performing them in real-life is actually complex. Group members need to learn how to generate solutions to communication problems at a moment's notice. Members also need to feel comfortable admitting their hearing loss to others. It is important to use group activities to increase the group's ability to employ these strategies.

Courtesy

When making a request to improve communication, a courteous request is more likely to result in a positive outcome than an abrupt or angry request.

Explanation

An individual will be more likely to respond to a request if they understand the problem. One can admit to having a hearing problem and explain the difficulty of the situation. Possible explanations could include:

- "I have a hearing loss and I have difficulty understanding when I cannot see someone’s face."

- "I wear hearing aids but I still have trouble understanding speech in noisy places."

Direction

People with hearing loss often cannot expect others to know how to repair a communication breakdown. Instead, group members should give clear suggestions to their communication partners.  Examples could include:

- "Can you make sure that you are looking at me when you speak?  I can understand better when I see your face."

- "Can we go into the hallway and see if it is quieter there? I really want to hear what you have to say."

Not as Simple as it Seems

These three steps seem simple, but performing them in real-life is actually complex. Group members need to learn how to generate solutions to communication problems at a moment's notice. Members also need to feel comfortable admitting their hearing loss to others. It is important to use group activities to increase the group's ability to employ these strategies.

Outside Materials

Other exercises have been developed for one-on-one AR in a workbook format. For example, Kaplan, Bally and Garretson have a book with many effective repair strategies. These can easily be adapted for a group by putting the information into a worksheet. Each group member can review the worksheet and then offer a suggestion for individual worksheet items.

Must Reads

H Kaplan, S Bally, and C Garretson. Speechreading: A way to improve understanding, Washinton DC:Gallaudet University Press, 1985.

S. Trychin. Living with hearing loss: Workbook, 2006.

J. Abrahamson and D. S. Wayner. Learning to hear again, Hear Again Publishing, 2012.