Establish Group Understanding

It is important for group members to understand most of what is being said during each group session. 

This section provides suggestions and tips to structure the group's communication and establish ground rules to ensure that participants can follow what others are saying. This can facilitate learning and hopefully maintain or increase motivation to change personal behavior. 

Tips to Improve Group Comprehension

Everyone on Same Page

If a person goes to Group AR to get help, and they again face a situation where understanding is difficult or next to impossible, they will probably not return for another session.

The extent and type of hearing loss may vary for members of your Group AR program. So, it is important to design the group so that those with the most severe hearing loss can understand most of what is said.

If people have a profound hearing loss and are unable to understand when using assistive listening devices (ALD's), Group AR will probably not be helpful for them.

Use an ALD System with Microphone

The amplification of sound with an Assistive Listening Device offers improvement over hearing aids because the microphone that picks up the sound is close to the speaker’s mouth. 

A portable induction loop system is inexpensive and easy to manage. Loop receivers could be available for participants who need amplification but do not have hearing aids with telecoils. Other useful ALD systems are FM and Infra-red.  

Another benefit of using an ALD system is that it makes it easy to identify who is talking; it is the person who is holding the microphone. It also slows down interactions, because it takes time to pass the microphone from one person to another. By slowing down the speed of the conversation, group members can learn and experience the benefit of slowing communication when hearing loss is present. You can find more information at the Hearing Loss Association of America website.

One Person Speaks at A Time

This cuts out distracting background noise. It allows the person with hearing loss to focus attention on whoever is speaking. This activity also serves to educate communication partners about the need to reduce talking over each other by speaking at the same time.

Sit Around a Table

Sitting around a table, especially a round or oval table, brings people closer together with fewer visual obstructions. Everyone can clearly see each other's faces. Both are important factors in preventing or reducing communication problems.

Equal Opportunity and Time to Speak

Everyone present should have an equal opportunity to speak and equal time to do so. This ensures that no member is always the last person to respond to a question or to make a comment.

Being last often means that by the time it is your turn, someone has already said what you wanted to say. If this happens over a series of conversations, this could reduce the participant's motivation to participate.

It is helpful to ask questions or elicit comments by first starting at one end of the table and proceeding right to left, giving each participant opportunity to respond. The next question or comment proceeds from the person sitting to the right of the person who first answered the question, and then you can begin proceeding from left to right. The person starting to answer the next question may be seated at the end of the table farthest from the two people who answered the previous question.

This allows you to avoid going around the group in the same direction each time. It provides each participant with an opportunity to be the first or second person to respond.

Limit Group Size to 10-12 People

Keeping the group to a manageable size allows people to see each other more easily. It also reduces the likelihood of aside conversations that serve to interfere understanding due to the creation of background noise.

Groups sized 8 to 10 provide all members the opportunity to participate in each issue that is discussed. Smaller groups, with 4-6 people, limit the number of useful suggestions that can be elicited from the group. If all members of the small group are reticent to speak, the sessions can become somewhat boring.

Person Speaking Uses the Microphone

This ensures that listeners will know who is talking. It amplifies the sounds coming from the speaker. It also reduces the effects of background noise present, such as rustling papers, feet shuffling or air conditioners.

Say Something and Speak Up if You Cannot Understand

Enforcing this rule during a Group AR session does several things. First, it provides permission for group members to stop the proceedings when they are aware that they do not understand something being said. This allows participants to apply effective communication skills when necessary. Some people know what they should be doing to improve communication when a difficulty arises. They are just reluctant to do so out of fear that taking action may be considered impolite or socially unacceptable. 

Second, informing others immediately when one cannot understand what is being said teaches an effective communication tactic. This is the tactic of stopping someone immediately, instead of waiting until the speaker has gone on for five minutes and then saying, “What?” 

Third, many people who have hearing loss have developed a long-standing habit of pretending to understand. They are bluffing. Following this rule allows for the proceedings to stop when it appears that a participant is bluffing. One can then ask the person to repeat what had just been said. If the person had in fact been bluffing, you can ask them to request a repeat from the person who had been talking. This is a way of bringing a long-standing, often unconscious habit of bluffing to conscious awareness.

Treat Each Other with Respect and Kindness

This guideline is helpful in alerting people to another important communication issue—that how one says something is as important as what one says. Making polite requests for communication behavior changes is vastly more effective than demanding or displaying negative emotions.

If a group member conveys irritation or anger, you can ask the person if she or he might be able to say that in a way that others might want to hear it. It might be useful for a person displaying anger to take a break for a few minutes to gather their thoughts and calm down. People are often unaware that they come across to others as being angry. Bringing this out in a Group AR session can help bring this to their attention. 

Must Reads

Trychin, Samuel (2003) Communication Rules. Erie, PA.

Trychin, Samuel, (2003) Actions Speak Louder! Erie, PA.

Trychin, Samuel, (2004) Speak Out! Erie, PA.