Excuse me, what did you say? I can't hear you!!!!
January 10, 2014 7:10 PM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend...Her husband is very soft spoken. Before he finishes what he is saying he will turn his head away. Even harder to hear him. She has asked him to speak up, of course. She has asked others to also ask him to speak up to increase his awareness. What can she/we do to encourage him to be heard? Any tricks or tips? Any help is much appreciated!
posted by goodsearch to Human Relations (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Has anyone asked him why he's speaking so softly, or why he turns away when finishing a sentence? Is this anxiety related at all?
posted by Dynex at 7:16 PM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

She needs to develop the refrain "I can't hear you if you don't look at me when you're talking" and then stop engaging until he corrects his own behaviour. It needs to be stated factually and with zero frustration or hostility, and with no further explanations or "What? Sorry? Speak up!" It also needs to be 100% consistent.

(This is what we do with small children learning conversational skills, and with husbands who walk three feet ahead because the neurotic dog feels safest that way, but who don't always remember to turn their heads back when conversing.)
posted by DarlingBri at 7:32 PM on January 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

How's his hearing? I'd get it checked if I were him.
posted by The World Famous at 7:33 PM on January 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

Here are some starting points to look at if it's a medical issue, social anxiety issue, or a self-esteem issue. Probably there are other explanations, but on the off-chance it's one of those three, I would approach the matter with care, because if he's embarrassed by someone drawing attention to it that just adds pain to something he already has trouble managing.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 7:46 PM on January 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Seconding getting his hearing checked.
posted by Specklet at 7:58 PM on January 10, 2014

If *he* acknowledges this as a problem and is interested in correcting it, perhaps putting himself in some situation where he has to project his voice for many little individual interactions would help get him used to it. I was loud as a kid and trained myself out of it because I got in trouble for talking in class, but am now working a job where I sometimes have to handle customers at the register (and have them hear me over store noise), and I think it is helping me be louder.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:57 PM on January 10, 2014

I'm not suggesting he work retail or anything, but he could volunteer for some event that functions similarly, like helping check people in for a charity walk/race or the like.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:59 PM on January 10, 2014

If he wants to solve this problem, go with ding training. A gentle, subtle reminder from a friend whenever he does it will help him be less anxious about it.
posted by Etrigan at 9:19 PM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

It really depends, is it a new thing? Or just part of his general demeanor? My husband does this, I just say, "hmm?" or "didn't catch that last bit". His family kinda harasses him about mumbling so he doesn't talk much around them because its frustrating to be harped on.
posted by stormygrey at 9:42 PM on January 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

She needs to develop the refrain "I can't hear you if you don't look at me when you're talking" and then stop engaging until he corrects his own behaviour. It needs to be stated factually and with zero frustration or hostility, and with no further explanations or "What? Sorry? Speak up!" It also needs to be 100% consistent.

I'm not a speech therapist or family counselor but my gut tells me this could be pretty damaging if the recipient is not open to this sort of boot camp approach.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:16 PM on January 10, 2014 [6 favorites]

I agree that the "tough love" and ding therapy(!!) advice could be extremely harmful. It's highly unlikely he is doing it to be a jerk, and I don't think he deserves to be humiliated, taunted, or punished.

She should talk to him about it, if she hasn't, but it seems likely to be a pretty deep-seated problem, which might require either speech or "regular" therapy. It seems highly unlikely someone could do this their whole adult life and not be aware that they're doing it. I'm sure if he could "just stop doing it" he would have a long time ago.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:25 PM on January 10, 2014 [8 favorites]

Maybe he doesn't like the sound of his voice. It could be hearing related. He might actually think he IS speaking loudly and inadvertently overcompensating. He might be saying something he's too flustered or embarrassed to say and is unconsciously diminishing the negative aspect by mumbling under his breath. Why not just ask? If you're unable to hear someone, you ask them to repeat themselves. And if you still can't hear them, say you don't understand and ask them to repeat themselves again. One question though, are you sure it's not your friend's hearing that is an issue? Maybe he doesn't want to be heard or this is a psychological issue that speaking up can be considered a bad thing for him. It seems to be more than just the friend being annoyed that they have to ask their husband to speak up. Was this an issue prior to their marriage?
posted by lunastellasol at 11:26 PM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

this is a feature, not a bug. soft-spokenness is way down in the great unabridged litany of marital complaints; not a felony or even a misdemeanor. nevertheless, it might be a dealbreaker for your friend, in which case, by all means go with with "ding therapy" (!!!) or otherwise make an example of him on every occasion, so that he will become self-conscious, withdraw all communication and ultimately find a more suitable marital partner.
posted by bruce at 11:34 PM on January 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

I would suggest hearing checks for both of them. He may be extraordinarily soft-spoken, but she's the one who can't hear him.
posted by trip and a half at 11:44 PM on January 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Is it other people who can't hear him? Or just her?

If it's just her, she may have a hearing problem.

If not, she's asked him repeatedly to speak up and he isn't doing so. All I can suggest is that she stop trying to listen when he's not audible. If he protests she can say "I can't hear you when you don't speak clearly".

That might seem harsh or shaming to some people, but it's a factual acceptance of the reality of the situation. Nagging hasn't worked so if it turns out he wanted to be heard, he will find a way to make that happen himself, whether that requires paying attention to what he's saying, or getting some help with his speech.

He's a child and not an adult. Speech or hearing investigations might be what's needed, but that won't make any difference if he doesn't want them. She can't drag him from appointment to appointment like a pull-along duck with wheels.
posted by tel3path at 12:31 AM on January 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

If she's already asked him several times to speak up and to not turn his head away while talking to her (and other people agree that he has this problem - therefore not just her hearing) then just stop listening. If he has something important to say, he'll make himself heard.
When he does make the effort to speak up and face her when talking then she should engage with him and give him lots of positive feedback (without being too obvious), like always being fully attentive, and in case the issue is shyness/anxiety - being very receptive to what he's saying.
posted by missmagenta at 12:53 AM on January 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm close to someone who does this and honestly I think pointing it out just makes them uncomfortable. I've found that just saying "Sorry, I didn't hear you, could you repeat that?" (or just "What?" works too) achieves the result that I get to understand the words and no one feels unfairly singled out.
posted by capricorn at 1:30 AM on January 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

I do this. I know I do this. I try to work on it. When someone asks me to speak up or repeat what I just said, I laugh and try to say it better. With good friends I'll repeat what I was saying but I tend to say never mind or move the conversation on to another subject when I'm less close with someone. Its hard! But I think I'm projecting ..... Is he very shy? Or does he do this in emotional conversations? Asking me to repeat myself because I looked the other way or mumbled, doesn't hurt my feeling especially from a SO who wants to hear what I am saying, these habits are so ingrained. I know for me its a safety mechanism when I'm around my sister or someone I trust 100% I will talk their ears off and so well and right at them. I also feel so awesome and empowered after these talking session. (Sister and good friends seem so interested at what I'm saying and they love me and are so nice!) Its a safety mechanism because I can take back what I just said if they didn't hear me.... Or it could be a bad habit? Is he on the computer all day, on the phone? If he is not asking for help, I think its kind of mean to ask friends to train him to speak more clearly. But at the same time if you don't hear him, you don't hear him. Its not rude to say "sorry I didn't hear you cause you turned away" I have to actively work on this, no one else knows I actively work on this everyday. Its hard for me to even post on here, cause I think I sound dumb. But I push myself and try to get my point across better. Just ask him to repeat himself that's all you can do.
posted by blueberrypicasso at 5:23 AM on January 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Are we sure her hearing isn't going? I mean I can hear people talking even when their head is turned away from me...

Even if this isn't the case, I would frame this in terms of her not having great hearing, not him speaking too softly.

As a kid I was really soft spoken, and even now it is difficult for me to tell how loud I am talking. This results in my shouting into my cell phone while walking down the street (I know, I know) and being told to speak up during large meetings.

I can tell you it is more difficult to speak louder, not less when your anxiety is spiking after repeatedly being told to speak up. Also, the relative loudness of your own voice is very difficult to modulate in this situation and you feel like you are close to yelling at the other person when you might only be speaking at a normal volume.

Does she interrupt him a lot when he's speaking? I would try to eliminate ambient noise and just pay really close attention to what he is saying for awhile and try to limit telling him to speak up as much as possible. I'm guessing he's in an anxiety loop with not being able to speak loud enough and if he is able to relax and not feel like he is going to be chastised every time he opens his mouth, in time, he may be able to speak more loudly.
posted by whoaali at 8:20 AM on January 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another vote for hearing problems. I speak pretty quietly with new people (and on the phone if I am forced to use that vile device) because I have a hearing impairment, and I don't want to be one of those hearing impaired people who shouts all the time. I also have mild vestibular hyperacusis and loud sounds make me freak out a little. It's possible that certain timbres of his own voice can cause tension, stress, or even balance issues.
posted by elizardbits at 9:26 AM on January 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Is she sure it's really communication meant FOR HER?

That sounds weird, but I used to do that. I think most people sometimes mumble to themselves, or think out loud, or just let a thought trail off unfinished. I used to do that a lot.

My wife used to not-quite-catch these and it would drive her nuts. She tried the call-it-out-everytime strategy and it was SO. FUCKING. INFURIATING. I just stopped sharing my thoughts unless they were fully-formed, I'm going to tell you this thing now-type thoughts.

Now she's in such a habit of it that she will sometimes immediately interrupt me with WHAT? if she doesn't quite catch a single word, without even trying to get it from context. Which is very annoying and, I feel, disrespectful. It often breaks MY train of thought enough where I just say "nothing, never mind."

I'm not saying it's her fault. We get along ok. I make an effort to compromise, avoiding doing that as much as I can, and being more clear when I'm talking to myself. She lets some of it go, recognizing that it's probably something I didn't mean for her anyway. I wish that she had chosen a different strategy, because I have actually had the conscious thought before - I just don't have the energy to put up with that today.

So I guess I'm against "ding therapy" unless she talks to him and he agrees that would help.
posted by ctmf at 9:53 AM on January 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

I guess what I'm saying is, the compromise is the key. I'll put in "Make An Honest Effort" if you put in some amount of "Deal With It" when I fail.

I think unilateral imposition of "ding therapy" puts it all on him, 100% of the time. And recruiting allies to help her pick on him is OMG-don't-do-that-level escalation of the conflict.

The "how can we work this out together" discussion, with periodic follow-up discussions about how much better (or not) it's been, is much more likely to work. (Or for her to quickly find out that he doesn't care about her feelings about it.)
posted by ctmf at 10:20 AM on January 11, 2014

I just had a conversation this morning with my mother about this very thing. My dad is both a mumbler AND doesn't hear well, so she is constantly frustrated with him. She nags him about it all the time, which makes him miserable. And the more she nags with no result, the more miserable she is. So: I don't recommend nagging; it doesn't work and everyone feels bad.

I'm losing my hearing on the left side and I have tinnitus, so if there is any amount of ambient sound, I will not hear someone whose head is turned away from me. I snap at my kid a lot when she does this because I feel like I say to her ALL THE TIME that she has to look at me when she is talking. So I understand your friend's frustration.

However, I've also realized that recently I've become a bit of a mumbler. Which has surprised me, because in the past I've been way more likely to be asked to keep my voice down than to repeat myself. I assume the mumbling is related to the hearing.

So, shorter version: maybe they should both get hearing tests. But if everything checks out, probably she is only going to be able to change her reaction to the behaviour, since that's the only thing she has control over.
posted by looli at 11:52 AM on January 11, 2014

This is his voice. This is what he sounds like. Asking him to be someone who talks louder is asking him to change a part of who he is. I speak softly and get told to "speak up" sometimes (and constantly by my mother, which is annoying). If someone asks me to say something again then I will, no problem. But there are no "tips and tricks" which will grant me a different voice. It may be be related to a lack of confidence on some occasions, but mostly it's just what I sound like. And it's helpful in some of the work I do, as I've been told it can be very soothing.

It bugs me when people are really loud but I don't tell people to talk more quietly, because that's their voice and its just rude I think to say to someone "alter this part of yourself to suit my tastes." Basically what I'm saying is that she needs to not recruit people to hassle him to change a fundamental part of himself, unless he actively wants to change it, and it's better for her to just get used to kindly asking him to repeat the things she doesn't hear.
posted by billiebee at 1:20 PM on January 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

I used to work with someone who was a "low talker" To complicate matters, the very noisy CPU for the office's computer system was just a few feet away from my desk, so I seemed to be forever either asking him to repeat himself or just smiling and nodding as if I understood what he was saying (if it was apparent he was talking about his weekend rather than a work-related issue). I do have some hearing loss and thought at first it was just me, but after a few corporate meetings in the conference room and others leaned forward and asked him to repeat himself every time he spoke, I realized that he's just a soft-spoken person. I eventually was very frank with him and told him "I hope that you don't think I'm rude when I ask you to repeat what you've said, but you tend to speak much more quietly than what I'm used to and I just want to make sure I've understood you."
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:44 PM on January 11, 2014

My husband loves to talk to me when I'm in the kitchen with water running or the vent on high. He talks through closed doors as well. I explained to him that after one "I can't hear you," I'll have to just pretend he didn't say anything. Now I don't answer if I can't hear, and he either quits trying, speaks up, or comes to where I am to speak to me.

I don't do this to be mean or to prove a point; I just think it's reasonable for me not to have to keep turning off the fan or the water, or to walk to another room when he wants to say something that can probably wait.
posted by wryly at 4:25 PM on January 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

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