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.