Why Pretending to Hear Doesn’t Help

Why Pretending to Hear Doesn't Help
Dr. Steinberg
Latest posts by Dr. Steinberg (see all)

Are you still struggling to be transparent about your hearing impairment?  If so, don’t be alarmed; many who struggle with this common condition are doing the same! Pretending to hear is not a productive way to communicate. Hearing loss has become one of our country’s top five health concerns, alongside diabetes and cancer. Learn to recognize your condition, how to come to terms with your hearing impairment, and how to empower yourself to take control. Stop pretending to hear today!

How People Pretend to Hear


Avoidance can start as an intuitive way to regulate us when we aren’t aware of something wrong. We don’t want to interrupt the flow of someone’s conversation or routine by drawing attention to our condition. Instead, our social circumstances put us in situations where we seek to avoid embarrassment or vulnerability to others. Hearing loss can be very slow and subtle. Let’s look at some of the common ways people attempt to pretend to hear and work through the beginning stages of hearing loss:

  1. Filling in the gaps in the conversation. 
  2. Removing ourselves from the situation.
  3. Saying what we think we should.
  4. Not asking people to repeat information.
  5. Avoiding direct responses to questions.

For a while, some of the above techniques might work in pretending to hear, but ultimately avoiding the condition can do more harm than good. For example, if you were to use avoidance techniques in a work setting, the results might be substantially worse than amongst friends and family members.


The subtlety of hearing loss from its onset can and frequently be compensated by our ability to improvise. We start to rely on more visual clues, such as facial expressions and body language, to gauge the context of the conversation. When this happens, we overwork our other senses, feeling more fatigued, and cause even more damage to our normal hearing process even more.

When we pretend to hear by overcompensating, our brain will try to correct the misinformation of the sounds we now receive. The result is that we force our brains to work harder to establish new neural pathways for hearing. In addition, the parts of our brain used to being employed for a whole hearing experience are now assigned to other areas.

What can you do to stop pretending to hear?

Face the Challenge

Did you know that informing and educating people about your hearing loss increases communication? People mostly want to be helpful, so communicating that you are having difficulty hearing, whether because of hearing loss or something else, is always the best action for any situation.

At work, there are laws in place to make sure your hearing ability is not used against you, as well as accommodations that can be put in place for your benefit.

The change for the better does require courage to acknowledge your condition and then disclose it to others in an informative manner!

Which of the two options would optimize a conversation?

  1. Inform your group/person that you have a hearing impairment and ask if they could speak facing you.
  2. Inform your group/person that you have a hearing impairment and leave it up to them to make the necessary changes.

If you chose B, then you are already doing well! Disclosure is important because it gives you a chance to inform as well as give suggestions to create conditions that benefit everyone. By disclosing your situation with others, you can avoid the following:

  • Hurt feelings due to miscommunication.
  • Misinterpretation of your actions as being detached from the conversation.
  • Adding confusion to the conversation or situation.

Practice Situations Where You Struggle to Hear

Do you remember practicing and role-playing for job interviews or presentations at work? The same concept can be applied to help in situations where you have been pretending to hear. 

  • Choose an upcoming workplace situation where you know you may have difficulty hearing.
  • Then, formulate a loose script of what you would like to say and are comfortable telling about your hearing impairment before that situation.
  • Grab a close friend or family member and ask them to join in or even ask for input.


  • What if you need help discerning certain consonants in speech? Ask the speaker to paraphrase.
  • Are you sitting in a disadvantageous location? Too near an open window or in a high-traffic area? Ask people if you can switch seats with them.
  • Are you losing track of the conversation? Ask people to please repeat themselves.

Seeking Treatment

At your next appointment with your hearing health specialist, list your concerns. Chances are good that they have a wealth of information to share when people first start experiencing hearing loss. When you are ready to call us, we will be here to help you with more information or to make an appointment for the next important step in your wellness.