|"Conversation," by Pissaro|
So why not ask people to repeat themselves? A couple reasons. One is that it disrupts the conversation, as I mentioned above. Especially if you ask someone to repeat something when they were not speaking to you - if you're part of a conversation but someone else was being addressed. You have to take the chance of interrupting a response, and possibly cutting off other routes a conversation could have taken. Another is that people just don't like to repeat themselves. I can't tell you the number of times I've had to ask a stranger to repeat themselves (I work with the public) and gotten a dour stare in return. An uncomprehending stare, no less. Nothing can make you feel more stupid than asking for clarification and getting THAT look.
Oh, and then there's the dreaded "never mind." Or "ah, it wasn't important." The hand-wave. The blow-off. It's the other person telling you that if you didn't hear it in the first place you aren't important enough to be able to understand it. I could write this entire blog post just ranting about that phrase, so I'm going to leave it there. But it is another reason I dislike asking people to repeat themselves.
The problem is that trying to bluff your way through a conversation can have even more disastrous consequences than asking somebody to repeat themselves. You can find yourself making inappropriate responses for the conversation, answering questions incorrectly, and experiencing awkward silences when the other person is done but you can't continue the conversation. It can lead to people thinking you're stupid, slow or inappropriate. It can lead to frantic scrambling as you try to cover your butt and make an excuse for why the heck you just said a complete non-sequitur. I'm having terrible flashbacks to high school.
So why is it so easy for me and other people with hearing loss to continue bluffing? Well, for me it's because I'm pretty shy already and I'd generally rather try not to be assertive and make sure I'm understanding things. I know I shouldn't think like that, but that's my thought process. For most of my school years I got along basically just listening to the teacher, and watching other students if I missed anything (that is, if I knew I missed anything. Who knows how much just flew past me?). Many people I went to school with did not know I had a hearing loss. Unfortunately many of them probably thought that I was stuck up or hated everyone because I "ignored" them.
I've been trying lately to come up with ways to avoid bluffing. I ask members of the public who speak to me at work to write down as much as possible for a library card application, for example. I have them write down the names of books they are looking for and the names of their children who want cards. Sometimes if I know I heard something wrong, I make a joke out of it and say "Oh, I thought you said this, but that can't be right!" to bring a little humor into it. Of course I'm still bluffing every day. Sometimes you just have to - it's a survival mechanism. I'll just keep on figuring ways to get around it.