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Social bluffing by the deaf

When we go deaf gradually we find ourselves missing out on conversation around us. Sometimes we hear everything and other times we miss a lot. One habit all hearing impaired people seem to develop is social bluffing. It is a coping strategy, especially by late deafened adults so I decided to examine why it is we bluff - why are we uncomfortable about saying we donít hear?

What is social bluffing? It simply means we make out weíve heard. We sit in a group with a polite smile fixed on our face and smile. Itís the ĎI hope Iím smiling the right smile for this conversationí smile. When the group laughs we laugh but we have no idea what theyíre laughing about. When the group turns to look we turn too but we have no idea what weíre looking for. We sit next to someone and follow their silent cues and hope we donít get it wrong. If we do ask someone to repeat and we donít understand the second time, we give up and make out weíve understood. What weíre doing is social bluffing.

Someone who is severely or profoundly deaf usually relies heavily on lip reading to participate in conversation. But lip reading is not an exact skill and requires intense concentration. Generally only about 40-60% of what is being said can be picked up by lip reading. Attention must be focussed non-stop on the speaker and if you even blink at the wrong moment you may misinterpret what is said. This kind of concentration is extremely tiring so a deaf person fills in the gaps by making astute guesses and hence becomes good at social bluffing. We take clues from body language, location, surroundings, the other people, the weather or anything which may help understanding.

With just one-on-one conversation itís usually easy to communicate and we feel reasonably confident in asking for a repeat if we donít understand. When thereíre two people we usually still cope. But get three or more people together when the conversation ebbs and flows, itís difficult to determine where the sound comes from plus people interject and talk over each other. Itís in these situations we become social bluffers. That polite smile, a nod of the head, a soft chuckle with everyone else and the laugh at a punch line we never heard.

So why do we do it? Basically itís a way to fit in and avoid embarrassment. (Of course sometimes it causes even more embarrassment when we get it wrong). Rather than ask for someone to repeat we simply look as if weíve heard. Itís the safest and simplest option. Sometimes it can take two or three repetitions and still we donít understand. It can be very embarrassing as the attention of the group focuses on us. If it gets too hard we abscond from the group and find something else to do like the dishes or going to the bathroom.

Do I bluff? I was an excellent bluffer !Ö Sometimes my bluff paid off and I even worked out what was being said. But wow! It took an enormous effort not to seem semi-stupid. I would often respond inappropriately, or frequently I became Ďthe life of the party.í If I monopolised the conversation then I knew what was being said! These days, since my Cochlear implant, I donít need to bluff because almost always I actually hear what is being said. If I donít, it is not embarrassing to ask for a repeat because itís occasional rather than everything.

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