“Why are you yelling?”
Have you ever been asked this by a significant other or friend during a casual conversation? You realize suddenly that what you thought was a casual conversation was perceived by the other person as a loud, angry voice. Conflict and hurt feelings can arise out of nowhere.
Or maybe you’ve heard this one. “You’ll need to speak up.” They say it over and over. You’re fairly certain that the person you’re speaking with doesn’t have severe hearing loss. Why are they having trouble hearing you?
Maybe you thought that hearing problems only impact your ears, but incidences like these aren’t uncommon for someone who has trouble hearing.
Let’s look at what’s happening and explore some solutions.
How You Hear Your Own Voice
Humans hear their voices through two means. You can hear your voice with your ears. Sound waves hit your eardrum. They then enter the cochlea where little hairs help the brain interpret the pitch, volume and patterns of your voice to distinguish sounds.
This is how others hear you.
You can also hear the vibrations of your vocal chords inside. Your skull acts a little like an orchestra hall, resonating the sound. This effect causes your voice to sound lower pitch than it does someone else. That’s why your voice sounds higher when you listen to a recording.
If you have hearing loss, you are less able to hear both the volume and the intricacies of your voice. This problem may cause you to speak louder, quieter or at a different pitch than you would have when you had perfect hearing.
On top of this, life factors can impact how your voice changes as you age.
If you have a higher pitch voice, this means that your vocal chords vibrate quickly, producing a high frequency. As you can imagine, women’s vocal chords tend to vibrate more rapidly. Their vocal cords are typically thinner than a male’s, making them agiler.
People with a larger voice box and thicker vocal chords naturally have a louder voice from birth. They learn to regulate this volume as they grow through social conditioning.
Humans rely primarily on the sound of their own voices to determine when they’re using an acceptable volume. But without social cues, it would be difficult to know how loud is loud enough or too much.
When you were little, a parent may have told you to use your inside voice or a teacher may have reprimanded you when you were too loud in the lunchroom.
Through this social conditioning, you learned the socially acceptable volume of your voice in different settings. You adapted.
The Aging Vocal Chords
Something happens as we age that people rarely talk about. It’s not a popular topic like, “how to treat hearing loss.” As we age, our vocal chords become less agile. The voice deepens. As it does, it can become quieter.
In extreme cases, we call this a “thin voice”.
Hearing Loss + Aging Vocal Chords = Trouble
If not for the aging of vocal chords, you would likely maintain the voice volume you learned as a child even after you experience less than perfect hearing. But because the vocal chords are changing as well, it’s hard to know if you just can’t hear your own voice. Or maybe your voice really is too quiet.
Most people end up either over-compensating by exhausting themselves as raise their voice, or they continue to speak at what they think is the same volume they’ve used their whole life.
Reconditioning Your Vocal Chords
Now that you better understand this phenomenon, you can respond differently and avoid those embarrassing volumes.
You can use the same kind of social conditioning you did when you were a child. It will help you adjust your volume and relearn the “right” level to speak. Make a note of the responses of those around you. Don’t just assume it’s the other person’s hearing if they can’t hear you.
Share this phenomenon with your children and friends. Ask them to let you know if your volume seems socially unacceptable. Get their help to regulate it once more.
Wear your hearing aid to reduce volume issues. With a hearing aid, you will be better aware of how loudly or softly you’re really speaking. Practice speaking with your hearing aid, making a note of how different your voice sounds.
If you don’t have a hearing aid, it’s time to speak to an audiologist. Having untreated hearing loss will cost you more than you might realize.