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I recently just started working full time at a large company after graduating college. At my company, we have hubs in two locations so it's not uncommon that whenever we have meetings, there's a bridge line set up for people who aren't on location that they can phone into and join in the meeting.

So far, I haven't had to directly speak or actively listen to the people on these calls but just from listening, I have absolutely no idea what they're saying; it really just sounds like garbled noise to me. I can maybe figure out a couple of words but by the time I manage to parse those words, I lose a lot of context. It doesn't matter if that speaker is fluent or has an accent (though if they do have one, I have an even more difficult time listening), I feel really hindered by this mode of communication. Right now, I have no need to utilize conference calls but I have been in several meetings already with bridge lines, and I know in the future I probably will have to participate in such things.

My question is what are some tips I can utilize that can help me with communicating with people when meetings take place over conference calls? I fear coming off as rude to ask people to repeat themselves, especially because I know that I won't be able to get the full message through one repeat alone. Right now, I'm sitting here dumbfounded as to how people are carrying on professional conversation with people over these calls when I can barely make out what they're saying.

To clarify, I'm not legally deaf or anything; I'm the type of person that would prefer to watch movies/shows with subtitles (even if it's in my native language) because if I don't, I miss out on 80% of the dialogue. I place partial blame of my hearing on the fact that I blasted music through my earphones as a teenager.

EDIT: the situation of conference calls I'm referring to is sitting in a meeting room with a speaker in the center that people can phone into and from there, they can listen in on discussions as well as make statements. There are no headphones to utilize as its pretty much broadcasted openly into the room.

  • what Is a bridge line in this context are you using POTS for conference calls or VIOP, cheap conference call tech can have poor quality for voip using a better usb head set instead of the builtin cheap mic might help – Neuromancer Jun 20 '17 at 22:55
  • @Neuromancer I'm not sure how to describe it as I'm unfamiliar with office tech; I say bridge line because that's what everyone around me calls it. In meeting rooms, there are speaker like objects that sit at the center of the table that people phone and from there can listen and speak. It's more or less a speaker that we're listening to. – Tracy Nguyen Jun 20 '17 at 22:58
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    @JoeStrazzere I don't find the issue I'm having is that the volume of the conversation is quiet or anything, but rather I can barely process the sounds coming out of a speaker as words. If I had the option to, I would love to take part in conference calls from my desk with a headset, but I'm new so I don't have a desk phone, and I feel that my superiors and team members would prefer if I was present physically. – Tracy Nguyen Jun 20 '17 at 23:14
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    It sounds like you are hard-of-hearing (as they say in the USA). You should get tested and possibly see if a hearing aid would help you. Irregardless, you should tell your manager and HR about the problem so everyone can work on a solution. – mkennedy Jun 20 '17 at 23:23
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    I had exactly the same problem. I got hearing aids specifically for meetings (conference calls and regular meetings). They are a game-changer; now I can hear a fuller range of sounds. To be clear, it's not that I couldn't hear people's voices--it's that I couldn't hear the full range of sounds that they were making. Some hearing aids can connect directly to an iPhone via Bluetooth. So maybe you could listen to calls in one ear, and keep the other ear free for hearing the other people in the room. – User1973 Jan 17 at 16:36
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Talk with your manager about the problems you are having. This accomplishes two things:

  1. Your manager might be able to help solve the problem (perhaps a better speaker in the conference room, for example).

  2. Your manager will now be aware of the issue and be more understanding as you look for ways to solve the problem.

Based on your comments, it sounds like it would be possible for you to join the call separately -- it's not limited to just two participants -- but that you can't do that from your desk. Do you have a cell phone and headset? Is the audio good on that? (If you're still listening to music on it, then presumably yes.) Perhaps you could join the call using your phone. This does not preclude you being in the room with your coworkers -- try using your phone's headset to listen while otherwise participating normally. (Turn your mic off and just use the room mic.) If the headset makes it hard for you to hear people speaking in the room, try using the headset on just one ear. Experiment with better ways to deliver clear audio to your ears. If your manager is any good, he will smooth the way with any coworkers who react oddly, though if your coworkers are reasonably mature and professional, it shouldn't be a problem. I have some vision problems that require accommodations in meetings and my coworkers have never given me any trouble over it.

Finally, if you haven't already discussed your hearing problems with your doctor, do so. Your doctor might be able to suggest measures you can take, in addition to the diagnostic and treatment benefits of medical consultation.

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While conference systems might be under-quality sometimes (we've all had these situations throughout the years), what you describe seems to be a "personal" problem.

My best advice is to have a meeting with your doctor so he can recommend you the good path to proceed. At the minimum, you should have an audiogram done.

You might be able to hear most of the sounds good enough, and have some trouble with the frequencies present in the recorded / electronically transmitted human voice.

Please note that naturally, the human voice if (far) richer in frequencies than whatever you hear in a movie or, even worse, through a digital audio channel.

This means that you might be able to communicate nicely face to face, but not so much on the phone (at least, some phones).

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In the USA, a difficulty in hearing the conversation on this type of phone call could be considered a disability.

In the USA, telling your manager you are having difficulty hearing the calls and comprehending the calls will likely be treated under Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with the manager and human resources (HR) to help find an accommodation. information on accommodation

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+50

I am hard of hearing as well. I started to lose my hearing as a young child and never had an issue until my mid 20s. I am like you where I require subtitles or closed caption to hear/understand movies.

I decided to go see an audioist about my hearing and got hearing aids. It has vastly improved my overall well being. It used to be crowded rooms were hard to understand and even to this day hard but with these hearing aids, it has improved considerably.

This also tells people two things when they see you: that you are hard of hearing, and they would be more understanding if you asked them to repeat or not picking up what they say. Without hearing aids, it might offend folks since you seemingly understand one thing but not another.

Now hearing aids are expensive. They can cost in the range of $2,000 to as much as $5,000 for just one and pairs of them can easily be in the range of $4,000 to $10,000. However, they will vastly improve your life and I highly recommend it. As you get older you'll naturally lose hearing. There are studies out there that hearing is an important part of your overall brain health because it is simulating various parts of your brain. So I highly recommend going this approach since it will overall improve your life in and outside of work. Until then, you'll be like bobbing in water where you hear clarity then suddenly muffled mumbling sounds.

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  • I'm starting to get the impressing that hearing aid shops have a base price that is kind of like a "sucker price". Example: I found a boxing day sale for Hearing Life in Canada that was 30% off $8000 hearing aids (which is a big deal). And I also got a friends and family discount. In the future, I'll try to buy one hearing aid in December, and the second one in January, in hopes that my insurance coverage would reset for the second year/hearing aid. – User1973 Jan 24 at 16:38
  • @User1973 Good point about insurance. I do agree that there seem to be a "sucker price" but it really depends on your level of hearing loss. People who only lost a little bit of hearing naturally might have better luck since they wouldn't need all the power. I should also say that it is important to see a doctor since the hearing loss might be as simple as ear wax build up. It's a good idea to get the full test before investing a lot of money into hearing aids since they do cost a lot and as far as I know has terrible resale value. – Dan Jan 24 at 18:09

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