Alternatives to repeating “What?” if you can’t hear someone

I’ve been in this situation a lot, and it becomes very awkward very quickly:

Person: “Kljiuojhuihph.”

Me: “What?”

Person: “I said, laskgoperhtoiuhuhgb.”

Me: “I… what?”

Person: “Adkjgpohett!!”

Me: “…What?

Person: “Oh, never mind.”

This is a waste of breath for everyone. It’s also quite frustrating if you genuinely care what the other person is saying, because you know there is something there and you can’t tell what it is. Finally, it annoys the other person in the conversation.

Basically, the goal in this situation is to get the other person to tell you what they are saying, in a way you can understand, without annoying them.

My suggestions for this situation are:

  1. Instead of repeating “What?” try using different phrases. “Say again?” “I’m sorry?” etc. This is especially good because some people think “What?” is rude, for some reason.
  2. If you think you know what they said, but aren’t sure, it can be good to ask them “Did you just say ______?”
  3. After 2-3 times that you haven’t been able to hear the answer, suggest an alternative. “Can we talk about this outside?” or “Can you write it down?” (or sometimes “Can you spell it?”) or “Can we talk about this later?” followed by an explanation (“It’s too loud in here” “I’m deaf in that ear” etc, or simply “I can’t hear you”) work for me.

I hope this helps.