Even folks with the healthiest of hearing encounter situations in which understanding what is being said is challenging. Our world is incredibly noisy and trying to have a conversation in chaotic environments like a busy restaurant or a full playground. It’s not uncommon to mishear or misunderstand shared details.
For people with hearing loss, challenging listening situations easily extend into the workplace. Conferences, factory floors, production centers, meetings and business lunches are all places where mishearing can result in heightened consequences.
What is acoustical confusion?
This phenomenon is the name for instances when we mishear a word. Our brains are fascinating organs. Super computers tucked inside our heads, they run countless programs every day, many of which are beneath our consciousness. A surprising amount of what we consider ‘hearing’ actually takes place in the brain’s processing centers, far removed from the organ of the ear.
Our ears, and the sensitive inner ear cells, receive sound from the world and transform it into sound information that is sent to the brain via the auditory nerve. Once the brain receives the information, it begins to make it into meaning.
Sometimes, such as in a noisy situation, our brain ‘hears’ the wrong word. Perhaps it only receives some of the sound information and uses context cues to make a good guess. For the sake of efficiency, our brain (and bodies!) use shortcuts like this all the time. You only notice when it results in a mistake.
For people with hearing loss, the cells of the inner ear have been damaged and can thus collect less of the spectrum of noise that’s occurring. So oftentimes, their brains receive incomplete sound information and have to spend extra effort and brain power to piece together the puzzle of a sentence within a conversation. This results in more instances of acoustical confusion, or mishearing, for people with hearing loss versus those with healthy hearing.
Noise-induced hearing loss
The two most common causes for acquired hearing loss are age and exposure to excessive noise. Noise can damage the inner ear cells in an instant, with an incredibly loud sound like an explosion or crash. A person will likely be aware of hearing loss immediately following such an event.
Noise can also damage hearing in a more insidious process, slowly and over time. Gradually, the inner ear cells decline and less and less sound information is collected and sent to the brain. Because we are such adaptable creatures, this can be difficult to notice and self-diagnose. Instead, the brain develops tricks and communication strategies to accommodate for missing pieces of sound information, like using context cues, expressions and lip movements. This can happen subconsciously so that we don’t even know we’re doing it!
Implications of hearing loss in the workplace
Of course, hearing loss impacts personal lives and relationships from minimal to severe degrees. And hearing loss in the workplace has its own ramifications, from job performance to interpersonal relationships with colleagues.
Of course, mishearing or experiencing acoustical confusion in a meeting can have disastrous results. You order 5,000 units instead of the 50,000 that are needed. Or, on a manufacturing line, you might misunderstand a co-worker’s instruction that concludes in undoing then re-doing a full day’s work.
What’s more, people with hearing loss are more likely to experience a loss of confidence in professional scenarios. That can hold us back from taking on career-enhancing projects or holding ourselves back from promotional opportunities.
Treating hearing loss
Although most instances of age-related and noise-induced hearing loss are irreversible, they are highly treatable. Successful hearing loss solutions like hearing aids and cochlear implants are able to restore remarkable degrees of hearing. Most hearing aid wearers report improved relationships and studies show that hearing aids help to restore confidence.
Schedule a hearing consultation
If you’ve had experiences with acoustical confusion at home or in the workplace, schedule a hearing consultation today. Our team will lead you through a standard hearing exam to see if hearing loss is at play and if you would be a good candidate for hearing aids or other interventions. We’ll walk you down the path to your healthiest — and most confident — hearing available.