Friday, August 24, 2012

John and Gill: Communication Partners


What can you learn from watching the ethnographic videos?

After more than 4 years and 35 films, I am still amazed how Ida Institute documentaries are able to provide insights that help audiologists understand their patient’s communication needs. I find the videos especially helpful when it comes to understanding and exploring the patient’s communication relationship to their spouse, children and other communication partners.

Let me show you how:

In 2009 I visited John and Gill from Colchester in UK. Gill has a profound hearing loss. While John supports Gill, the hearing loss is clearly putting a strain on their relationship. Unintentional irritation, lack of patience, loss of spontaneity and even social pain are well-known and common consequences resulting from hearing loss. The hearing loss is “owned” by Gill, but it is clear that John is also to a great extent affected by it, because hearing loss essentially is a matter of social communication – thus not reducible to kilohertz and decibel.

One of the ethnographic insights I got from the visit was the role shifting in their relationship. John tells us that he is “acting as an earpiece” for Gill at social gatherings. This means he has taken over some of Gill’s former communication competences in terms of small talk, social networking and even friendly gossiping.

People with hearing loss often experience the loss of social competences as a loss of their own identity. : “I am not the person I used to be”, I often hear. Gill was very much aware of this and during the visit she even joked about the fight they would have of being the family’s best gossiper if she suddenly she got her hearing back…..

So what can you learn from this:

By letting the patient talk freely about their hearing loss, the ethnographic video uncovers some of the real problems Gill and John are dealing with. These “real problems” would probably have gone unnoticed if she had been given a traditional questionnaire to gauge her hearing ability.

Therefore my advice to you is:


Be curious and take the time to listen to your patient’s stories and challenges! Chances are you will get a more precise and more realistic picture of your patient’s concerns, especially their relationship and communication challenges with their spouses and friends.

I hope this will inspire you to try out the ethnographic method of being curious, posing open-ended questions and listening! If you are interested and would like to know more I can clearly recommend that you take a closer look at the Ida Institute's GPS and Communications Rings tools.

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