For almost a decade after discovering my hearing loss in the mid-80s, it had been my motto to be open and honest about it. When I met new people, I readily shared that I didn’t hear so well. Looking back, though, I didn’t really know what this actually meant – for me, or my surroundings – especially when I entered the workplace.
Needing help with basic tasks
As a linguist, I had studied A-level French and German and gone on to study German and Danish to a Bachelor level at University. I had always dreaded the lessons which focused on listening skills. I never got it quite right – even with headphones and the volume turned up. Today, I know the reason why: I couldn’t lip read. And that same challenge applied to telephone conversations.
When you are at the beginning of your career, you own a healthy dose of curiosity and can-do attitude. You are very willing to learn something new (almost everything is new), roll up your sleeves, and try things for the first time. When you realize that you struggle with a basic task, such as obtaining correct information over the telephone, it chips away at your confidence and you develop a complex.
As your struggles increase, so does your complex – and it becomes something you hide. Why? Because being different makes you stand out in the wrong way, and not every employer is open to this or knows how to deal with it.
Diversity and inclusion – hot topics in recruitment
Whenever I read the following statement in a job advertisement, I breathe a sigh of relief:
“X is proud to be an equal opportunity employer. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard for ethnicity, religion, age, gender, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation and all the other characteristics that make us different.”
It makes me feel on equal footing from the start. I know I can share my challenges and what I need from a future employer in an open and honest dialogue – and trust it won’t affect me negatively in the recruitment process.
However, this phrase usually belongs to a company of a certain size. What about the numerous small and middle-sized companies where HR departments are spread across two people or don’t even exist? Also, many people whether in an HR role or not, don’t know what hearing loss really means – so they make their own assumptions and make up limitations that might not even exist.
What do you say at interviews?
During the interview for my first permanent job in London in the mid-90s, I openly informed them that I wouldn’t be able to transcribe the tapes created by consultants after a client review meeting. It later backfired, so for future recruitment rounds, I learnt to stay quiet and focus on selling my skills and sharing my successes. I only notified them about my hearing loss after I had signed the contract.
Several years ago, I attended a support meeting for the hearing impaired, where one of the topics was honesty about hearing loss during recruitment. I learnt that we were obligated to inform recruiters of our hearing loss during an interview – and I was left feeling horrified and scared. Today, I’ve learnt this is not a requirement.
Selling your superpower
When you are invited for an interview, you are qualified for the job. For the employer, the face-to-face or virtual interview is about meeting the person behind the CV to find out if they will fit the team, role, and organization. For the candidate, it’s about finding out if the job is right for you and whether it matches your future career aspirations.
If you share a personal challenge too soon, it can feel as if you create a disadvantage for yourself. Suddenly there’s a focus away from your talents and skills. Maybe there’s extra equipment that is needed – this costs money. Maybe others will need to be involved to help you – this takes patience and time – and ultimately costs resources.
It’s human nature to focus on the things we can’t do – forget about the many soft and hard competencies we have instead and oversee the hidden talents we have developed because of our hearing loss. I’ve discovered that I hear things that aren’t said. I can read atmospheres and body language. And during my journey to be more open and honest, I have proudly shared this skill during interviews, turning my hearing loss into a personal superpower.
Become an ambassador for your hearing loss
I stayed with the same organization for many years – for what might be considered too long by some. Perhaps this was my safety net. I had built a great reputation, which reflected my skillset. I was known for my engagement, talents, and the results I created. My hearing loss was just part of who I was and I felt management had my back. This only happened because I moved from hiding, to being open and honest. I shared my challenges and involved my colleagues in the solution, which helped us to work together.
Tell your story with pride
Today, I readily ask about the opportunity to work from home and explore other ways in which my personal needs can be accommodated. It’s about timing and not giving your hearing loss any more attention than it deserves.
I still dream of a work culture that embraces a four-day week. Giving individuals with additional challenges or parents with small children the opportunity for a better work-life balance while still being treated equally.
Karin is British by birth, global by choice. Karin has a professional background in communications and learning and development. She has lived and worked in nine countries across four continents and speaks four languages. Karin lives with hearing loss and got her first cochlear implant in 2017. Karin works as an International Business Coach and (copy)writer. She offers coaching to support other hearing-impaired individuals (globally) who need to build self-coping strategies. Learn more at www.karinweiser.com.