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The Basics

Communication Matters


Look Up


When I was young, my mother told me and then told me again to look at her when she was talking to me. One time I responded by saying, “I’m blind so what makes the difference?” Her response? “Yes, you are blind, but that’s never an excuse for being rood or lazy.”


I suspect that you get my point. For my mom, not being able to see was never an excuse for not doing what I was able to do. Even if I couldn’t see her, I definitely could turn my head in her direction when she was talking and at least act like I was paying attention.


I could look up and in her direction. That was at least the place to start. Success required feedback though. The problem was learning not to look too high or too low, too far left or right. I needed to focus on her voice and where it was coming from. The technique I developed is to focus a little below where I think the voice is located. It helps to shift my head and shoulders, so my shoulders are squared with the person talking.


The best way to get this right is to ask someone who you are around a lot and you are comfortable with to coach you when you are seeming not to be paying attention or are just getting lazy. Let them know that too much coaching gets irritating and not to coach when others can observe what’s happening. With practice, all of us who can’t see can get better at looking at people when they are talking to us.


As the skill improves, we can learn to look at anyone who is talking whether he or she is talking to us or to someone else. (Although I don’t know how it works for others who can’t see, I tend to look too far up and slightly to the right when someone is talking to me.)


• Even though I can’t see, I’ll look at you when you’re talking to me.


Speak Up


Let me just assume that you are looking at me when I’m talking. You are looking, aren’t you? If you aren’t managing that skill, speaking up will still help, but not so much.


Although this may not be a problem for you, it is for me. If I get a little lazy and don’t pay attention, I tend to look down and mumble or at least talk too quietly for others to hear without needing to make a special effort to hear. I’ll bet you see where my problem starts. Sure, it’s tending to look down.


Speaking up definitely hooks up with looking at people when they are talking. It’s important to also look at people when you are talking. It’s pretty easy for me to slip into not looking up, not looking at the person to whom I’m talking.


People who can see are much more comfortable when they and those with whom they are talking can look at each other. Face-to-Face is most always the preferred mode. If they are having a Zoom call, they want the cameras on. In-person is preferable to telephone calls. But here’s the clincher. Those of us who can’t see can usually hear when people who are talking to us aren’t looking at us.


• Even though I can’t see, here’s what I’ll do, I’ll look your way, when I’m talking to you.


When having a conversation, look at the other person, whether you or the other person is talking. When you are talking, speak up, clearly and loudly enough for the other person to hear without any special effort. Look up and speak up.


That’s definitely good advice for anyone, whether or not he or she can see. But for those of us who can’t see, it’s particularly important, since we may tend not to look at people when in a conversation and may not talk loudly enough or clearly enough to be easily understood. If you can’t see but don’t have any issues with always looking up and speaking up, way to go. I’m just mentioning it since I sometimes forget and thought reminding you can’t hurt.


Straighten Up


Now for the third element to remember when talking with other people. Who knew that a simple conversation could be so complicated?


Don’t slouch. Stand up or sit up straight. Okay, if it’s a casual conversation with a friend, not slouching is less important, but still makes a difference. For all other conversations or social situations, standing or sitting up straight and keeping your shoulders back matters a lot. It lets others know that you are interested, are engaged and are someone to be taken seriously. It also lets other people know that you are taking them seriously.


There is an additional element that I’ll get to shortly, but for now, focus on the 3 ups: Stand or sit up straight, look up at others when you or they are talking and speak up so others can hear you without needing to make any special effort.


You know to focus on the 3 ups: Stand or sit up straight, look up at others when you or they are talking and speak up so others can hear you without needing to make any special effort. This is useful advice for anyone, but it’s particularly important for those of us who can’t see. Why? Because some of us who can’t see, if not most of us, tend not to look at people with whom we are talking, are apt to not talk loudly enough and clearly enough to be heard easily and may get a little lazy and not sit or stand up straight.


Why does it matter? We want to be taken seriously and may not be if we neglect the 3 Ups. It’s no more complicated than that.


Respect and Connect


There is a fourth element for effective communication that I’d like to tuck in as the fourth up, but I can’t figure out any way to make it an up. Even so, it’s pretty important, important enough to label it as the key to effective communication. Without it, the 3 ups still matter, but even if you look up, sit up and speak up, it is still hard to be taken seriously or to let others know that you are taking them seriously.


It goes back to that blind thing. Certainly not everyone who can see, but many who can, make assumptions about blind people that are generally not true. Ask someone who can see to finish the sentence, “Blind people….” The likelihood is that they will finish the sentence with things that they assume blind people cannot do.


The additional issue is that they likely don’t personally know anyone who is blind. They probably know of a blind celebrity but still think of him or her in terms of what he or she can’t do, seeing the celebrity’s musical or other special talent as separate from his or her blindness. Blindness is typically not seen as a simple fact but rather as a complex handicap.


Of course, the same types of assumptions are made about people with other physical limitations such as not being able to hear or not being able to walk. This is the issue. People who can see, can hear, can walk, reflexively think of what they would not be able to do if they suddenly couldn’t see, couldn’t hear, couldn’t walk. They then project their perceived inabilities onto those of us who can’t see, can’t hear or can’t walk.


It’s worth noting that many people who see fine but then can’t see later in life, are apt to do the same thing, but they project their false assumptions onto themselves. They think of themselves as blind and unable to do much of anything. Since they haven’t yet learned how to manage without being able to see, it feels like not being able to do much of anything may be permanent.


I’ll get back to that on, but here I want to share the key to effective communication, when you can’t see.


• Listen and learn.


The single best way to be taken seriously in any conversation is to make it clear that you are taking other people and what they say seriously. If you first attend to taking the other person seriously, he or she will be more apt to take you and what you say seriously. The more seriously they take you and what you say, the more your not seeing moves into the background. You know you are being taken seriously when someone tells you that they forget that you can’t see.


I know. You were expecting something a little more profound. Here’s the thing. Being seen as blind can lead to people projecting a lot of their own feelings about what they couldn’t do onto you. The result is that they may tend not to take you and what you say as seriously as you deserve. They don’t get past blind.


Listen and learn is not a magic solution to the blind prejudice of some people, nor is it a guaranteed path to always being taken seriously. It is rather the best way I know to improve your odds of being taken seriously, especially when you combine that with getting better and better at getting better and better at doing things in spite of not being able to see.