Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Are You a Bluffer?

Have you ever been caught in a conversation where you weren't sure what was going on yet you nodded along, laughed along or excused yourself to head to the bathroom?

Social bluffing. Everyone does it, my neighbors with hearing in the normal range have shared with me. "I'll be at a party," says my neighbor Denise, "and I'll miss something that's being said or my mind is elsewhere and I'll just nod along with the conversation."

Social bluffing is pretending to hear or understand something that is being said, and behaving in a way that shows you understand, even when you have little or no clue as to what is being said. I grew up hard of hearing and it was physically impossible for me to participate in group conversations with school friends, so I learned quickly to bluff my way through conversations just to get through the day.

I can remember this skill emerging back in second grade, when a group of us gathered around the teacher to read about "Curious George." The teacher called on me, but I was so enthralled with the pictures of the monkey and the man in the yellow hat, that I had no idea of the monkey's name or just what the story was about. So I nodded along with the teacher's question and apparently it satisfied her because she kept on reading and calling on others.

I continued to bluff my way through school and in high school, I met another student who also had hearing aids. Shawn and I became fast friends in high school. During our senior year, the high school newspaper published a story on us. More than one student came up to us that day and said, "I didn't know you guys had a hearing loss!" We had bluffed our way through so many situations that others around us didn't realize how much we actually missed.

When I transferred to Northern Illinios University in college, I had become deaf just a few weeks before. As I gradually learned to sign, I found myself using the same bluffing skills in an effort to fit in. I nodded along, pretending to understand someone's signing while desperately trying to soak up the meanings of all the signs. It didn't take me long to figure out that I couldn't bluff with my deaf and hard of hearing friends, and I didn't have to. Once I became proficient, for the first time in my life, I was able to experience full access to a group conversation. Parties took on a whole new meaning. In high school, I would avoid parties and group gatherings, but with my new deaf and hard of hearing friends, I couldn't wait for the next one.

It took a long time to acknowledge a lifetime of bluffing and change the way I access communication. As Lenny Kepil says, "It's a survival skill." I often employ communication strategies and occasionally ask people to write things down. Communication is a two-way street and today, I'm much more assertive in making sure that communication happens the way I need it to.


BEG said...

I find that it depends on the context.

At work, or other important type of situations, I will not bluff. I will repeat back, followup on email, double check with co-workers and so on.

But in social situations? You can *not* repeat the punchline to a joke without destroying it. It's impossible to apply the above techniques in social situations.

So unfortunately in group type of situations, I'm a major bluffer. And that's why I absolutely hate being at parties and large groups of people (more than say about 3).

Katherine said...

I am an expert on social bluffer, but not at poker. Kidna hard to bluff with deaf friends :) So I never walked away with 600 bucks!

Wade Nelson said...

That's a beautiful story. If I could pray or do magic and somehow restore your hearing, oh, what I wouldn't give to do so.

I kinda had the opposite problem. In noisy bars, at parties and such,I tended raise my voice to MAKE SURE what I was saying was heard. I was TOO worried about it.

And it was inappropriate. I think people expect to only catch 60% or so in these situations. I stood out like a buffoon, shouting above the band. took me years to realize...

Many, many of my older friends now can't handle conversations in noisy places. So we choose restaurants and the like that are purposely quiet, not the high-ceilinged, busy, noisy "trendy" places.

I just wish ALL Americans were tri-lingual or more, ASL, French, an Oriental Language, and Spanish. How much more fun we could have!

My favorite noise? The ear-splitting taxicab whistle I can do. Fans in stadiums 2 aisles down duck and cover their ears when I let 'er rip.

I paid a girl $20 (in 1968 dollars) to teach me how to do that -- and it has been worth every penny, not just to hail cabs, but to stop friends headed out the driveway, get an entire groups' attention in a split-second and on occasion make a kid stop in his tracks before running into the road.