Communication Rings

The Communication Rings tool is an exercise to allow individuals to think about the people who make up their social networks and to identify the frequency and challenges to communication with these individuals.

The tool encourages individuals to think of the people in their lives and consider how their hearing loss might impact their relationships with them.

Once a person has identified individuals in their social network, a discussion can follow about the different communication situations in which they interact with these individuals. 

Identify Social Networks

The tool consists of a series of circles. The inner circle represents the people who are most important to the person with hearing loss, and typically, the people with whom they communicate most often.

As the client fills in the rings moving from the inner circle out, they describe the people with whom they might interact only on occasion, such as a pharmacist or a physician, and others who are not as crucial to daily life such as a librarian or repairman. 

The Communication Rings encourage individuals to consider how hearing loss might impact all of their relationships. It is important to point out that social networks are dynamic and reflect changing needs and interests in an individual's life.

Communication Disruptions

Once the people in the 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). For example: 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Some people with hearing loss may have fewer communication partners than expected because they have withdrawn from many social situations. Professionals might be able to illustrate that people who used to be in the inner circle of the client's life are more removed as a result of the hearing loss. It is a compelling way to show how relationships can be displaced because of the breakdown in communication.

By formulating an idea of what is happening in the client's environment, hearing care professionals can identify points of difficulty, facilitate discussions, and formulate rehabilitation goals. During this exercise, clinicians are gathering quite a bit of factual information, but more significantly, they are hearing the clients' point of view on issues that are central to their lives.

Collaboration Partners

The tool is inspired by the collaborative efforts of 75 hearing care professionals worldwide who attended the Ida seminar series on Enabling Communication Partnerships from 2009-2010.

We would also like to acknowledge the contribution from Ida Fellow Joseph Montano and the faculty members of the Enabling Communication Partnerships seminar series.

Joseph Montano explains how you can use the communication rings to help people with hearing loss visualize who they communicate with on a daily basis.

Rings As Motivator

It can be helpful for the person with hearing loss and his or her partner to fill in separate Communication Rings. Sometimes, by the time couples come to see a clinician, hearing loss has disrupted the relationship to such an extent that they are left with an ongoing feeling of irritation and annoyance. The person with hearing loss may believe that his or her spouse is irritated at having to constantly repeat themselves and no longer wants to converse. The spouse may assume that the person with hearing loss has withdrawn and lost interest in communicating.

It is likely that the couple will put each other in the inner most circle. By visually mapping the communication network, both person with hearing loss and partner see how important their ability to communicate with each other is to each of them and negative perceptions can begin to change.

In situations where the communication partner has chosen to stay in the waiting room, the clinician might have the person with hearing loss complete the rings and then invite the partner into the session.

Clinicians might ask the person with hearing loss to share the Communication Rings with their communication partner or begin the discussion themselves as a way to engage both individuals. You might say, “You are right here in the inner circle. You are one of the key people X wants to communicate with. This is a shared problem. It affects relationships and communication, so we need you in the session.” In this way, the rings can act as a motivator.

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