Tell people you care what they are saying

Anonymous said:

Another speech-impediment related question: Usually my ability to understand speech is perfect, but it deteriorates rapidly if a person has an accent or talks lowly, so I spend a lot of time smiling and nodding politely.

I feel bad about this with everybody, but especially if a person has a speech impediment or disability accent.

But to understand I’d have to ask people to repeat themselves three or four times for every sentence. Do you have any advice?


realsocialskills says:

Basically what I think about this is:

  • It’s ok not to understand people. That is not your fault.
  • Listening is important. It’s (usually) not ok to ignore people.
  • It’s not usually ok to pretend you understand someone when you don’t (unless you need to protect yourself)

Being honest about what’s going on makes communication much easier:

  • People don’t like being ignored
  • If you smile and nod, people can usually tell that you’re not really listening
  • They can’t tell why, because they can’t read your mind
  • As far as they can tell, you’re ignoring them because you don’t care what they’re saying

It can help to be be explicit about what the problem is, and what you think might solve it.

Eg:

  • “I’m sorry — I care about what you’re saying, but I’m having trouble understanding. It’s hard for me to understand low pitched voices - would it be possible to speak at a higher pitch?”

Or:

  • “I’m having trouble understanding your voice, but I’d like to listen. Would it be better to write things down, or should I ask you to repeat, or something else?”

Also, if there’s a particular accent you’re encountering a lot, it’s likely worth spending some time working on your ability to understand it. If it’s a particular foreign accent, one way to do that is to watch videos or shows in which people speak in that accent, and turn the captions on.

And just, generally speaking, this gets easier with practice. Once you get more experience listening to people with the accent you’re having trouble with now, you’ll probably understand more readily and not have to ask for as much repetition.