The Communication Rings allow people to think about the individuals that make up their social network and how their hearing loss might affect their relationships.
Hearing care professionals can use the tool with clients to identify people and communication situations that are particularly important to them and discuss individual rehabilitation goals and strategies.
Step 1: Identifying social networks
The tool consists of a series of circles. Start by asking your client to identify and place people from their social network in the circles according to their importance or how often they communicate with them.
The inner circle represents the people who are most important to the client while the outer circle is reserved for those with whom it is less important to communicate.
As the client fills in the rings moving from the inner circle out, they describe the people with whom they interact – from friends and relatives to people that they interact with only on occasion such as their pharmacist, physician, librarian or repairman.
This encourages the client to consider how hearing loss impacts all of these relationships. It is important to point out that a person’s social network is dynamic and changes over time. It is therefore useful to repeat the exercise to assess your client’s communication needs as they evolve over time.
Step 2: Addressing communication disruptions
Once the people in your client’s social network are identified, discuss the environments in which the client is likely to encounter these people. Highlight how and where communication occurs and how effective it is (e.g., very successful, adequate, problematic). Do disruptions occur on the phone, during meetings, in small groups, etc.?
Some people with hearing loss may have fewer communication partners than expected because they have withdrawn from social life. Using the rings will illustrate to your client how people who used to be in the inner circle of their life have become more removed. It is a compelling way to show how relationships can be affected by hearing loss.
By talking to your client about these issues, you can achieve a thorough understanding of the needs that are central to your client and formulate rehabilitation goals together with them.
Step 3 (optional): Involving partners
In couples affected by hearing loss, the relationship is sometimes strained due to difficult communication. That’s why it can be helpful to include your client’s partner in the Communication Rings exercise and ask them to fill it out separately.
By visually mapping the communication network, both the person with hearing loss and their partner will be reminded how important their ability to communicate well with each other is and negative feelings can begin to change.
You can ask your client to share the Communication Rings with their partner to start a conversation or use the circles to explain to the partner how important a role they play and how hearing loss affects relationships and communication.
You might also find the GPS tool helpful to facilitate this conversation.