Curtis Alcock, founder of online hearing think tank Audira.info, with part one of his series on why some of the messages professionals send can turn people off accessing hearing care.
If someone walks into Porche dealer, what does it say about them? If someone walks into a betting shop, what does it say about them?
As consumers, we understand that the places we attend tell others something about us. So we’re careful to act in a way that is consistent with how we see ourselves and how we want to be seen. We avoid sending signals to others that might lower our social standing with them, and we prefer to raise people’s opinion of us, wherever possible.
What happens, then, if we walk into a hearing care practice as a consumer? What does it say about us? Is it an action consistent with how we see ourselves, or want to be seen?
To put it another way, what signal does our visit send to others?
It depends on the messages the hearing care provider has been presenting to the public. Each message speaks not only to the intended recipient, but also the rest of society: it tells others how to interpret the actions of the person who responds to the message.
Here are some examples:
Type of Message What it says about responders
Are you suffering from hearing loss? Find out with a free hearing test. Must be more desperate than the rest of us.
Hearing tests for over 65 year olds. Hearing tests are for older people, therefore they must be getting old.
Hearing loss increases your risk of dementia They may have dementia = they’re different from the rest of us.
Are you annoying your neighbours? Must be ignorant or stupid for not realising.
Variations on the types of messages in the table above are common in hearing care today, but the signal they send to the rest of society makes it “risky” for an individual to respond.
Firstly, nobody likes to think they’re different to normal, and most people wouldn’t consider themselves to be suffering, unless they’ve reached a point of desperation.
Secondly, nobody likes to suggest they’re getting older; it means they’re on the way out.
Thirdly, having a hearing test or using hearing technology does not get rid of hearing loss… so the risk of dementia is confirmed, not reduced, by discovering you’ve lost hearing!
Fourthly, responding to a message that suggests you are annoying is as good as admitting it, and no one wants to be the one that others poke fun at.
Such messages deter more people than they attract because they involve a psychological or a social risk: it requires someone to change how they see themselves, or separate themselves from their normal social group (“I used to be ‘normal’, but now I’m one of ‘the hard of hearing’, am I still classed as normal?”)
As hearing care providers we must become conscious of the implications of our messages, and avoid inadvertently sending signals that make it difficult for people to respond.
So in Part 2 we will look at the type of messages we should be presenting, and why.
Curtis Alcock spent 12 years in design and marketing before making the transition into hearing care. He is founder of an online think tank for hearing called Audira.info which seeks to create a new social norm for hearing where the majority 1) respect their hearing, 2) do all they can to keep their hearing working at its best, 3) are mindful of the role their hearing plays in their own lives and in society, 4) and are confident that others will demonstrate practical understanding should a residual reduction in hearing put them at a disadvantage. His strategic and inclusive vision for hearing care, together with his work on attitudes towards hearing care and hearing technology, has taken him to Denmark, Canada, the United States and Brussels, where he addressed members of the European Parliament. In 2013 he won the Ida Institute’s award for best public awareness campaign.