Meet: Bruno Kahne, who teaches hearing people to communicate like deaf people

Posted on June 1, 2012

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Bruno Kahne has worked for the last 15 years as an auditor, trainer and consultant for companies in fields as varied as the nuclear, food and construction industries.

He currently works for AirBusiness Academy, the international training centre of Airbus. Bruno is Belgian, lives in France, and delivers courses all over the world, where, unusually, he teaches hearing people the benefits of communicating more like deaf people.

I first became aware of his ideas when I read an article online four years ago, and was very close to meeting him in France to interview him and cover his work, before editorial budgets and other commitments got in the way. I was very pleased to make contact with him again recently and ask him about how he views deafness and communication.

Could you explain why you think Deaf people are better at communication?

Hearing people can see Deaf people in two different ways. Either as people who have lost something – their hearing – or as people who have gained something – the ability to communicate without sound.

In the first case, Hearing people will express at best compassion towards Deaf people, which will be perceived by them as offensive. In the second case, pity will be replaced by curiosity, respect of the difference, and desire to learn skills which are not found in the Hearing world. Here are a few examples of those skills:

  • Deaf people talk one at a time, in a very sequential manner. Hearing people talk all at the same time, and often interrupt one another.
  • Deaf people are able to be simple and precise at the same time. Hearing people are either simple and vague, or precise and complex.
  • Deaf people stay focused on the interaction. Hearing people disconnect regularly.
  • Deaf people constantly reformulate and check understanding, saying when they don’t understand. Hearing people never ask others to repeat, and never say when they don’t understand something.

How can hearing people learn to communicate in a ‘Deaf’ way?

Our children show us on a daily basis that to learn, three conditions are required:

1. To have a role model. Someone better than us who can be observed and mimicked

2. The opportunity to imagine in our minds and our bodies the behavior we have observed

3. A secure and positive environment, protected from any form of criticism or mockery

The best courses on the market apply the two last conditions using simulations and exercises to help trainees experiment with new behaviors in the protected environment of the training room.

However, this training can only fail because they don’t meet the first requirement, the most important of the three. Who are the trainees supposed to copy? A theory written on a paper board, or a trainer who can only pretend to be better than the trainees?

As Deaf people have developed specific behaviors which help them to communicate faster than Hearing people, and with much more precision, and as they are present in the training room, the trainees, through highly interactive exercises, simply have to copy their behaviors, consequently adopting a more precise and rapid form of communication.

How did you discover the phenomenon of Deaf communication?

It was 5 years ago. It would take me too long to explain how it happened (for those interested, the full story is recorded in the introduction of my book). Let me just say that it is the story of a Hearing trainee who listened to his inner voice and wrote a name and a phone number on a small piece of paper, because he was convinced that something incredible could come out of a meeting between two people. And he was right.

What do your trainees think of the course?

Being strong in emotional content, this training not only pushes people towards change, but also remains in people’s minds for a long time. Here is a quote from an e-mail I received six months after a course, from a Vice President of a High Tech company: “Working with Deaf trainers helped me understand that I was not as good a communicator as I thought I was. I understood that I should change, that I could change, but most of all, I understood how to change. The emotions that I felt during the course forced me to challenge many of my strongest beliefs. This course gave me the desire to become better. Thank you for this beautiful lesson of humility.”

Tell me what your book is about?

At the beginning, I didn’t think about writing a book. I’m a trainer, not a writer. I just wrote an article on the course I had developed (read it at: http://www.strategy-business.com/article/li00076?pg=all) and immediately received lots of e-mails from all over the world: the USA, Canada, Mexico, Europe, India.

I received an e-mail from a Deaf person who told me that after reading my article, for the first time of his life, he understood who he was. This e-mail profoundly touched me. But the e-mails that pushed me to write a book were those from people who after reading this article, were telling me that they couldn’t find my book on Amazon. Of course they couldn’t. There was no book. So I decided to write it.

I first did some research and was surprised to find out that thousands of books and papers had been written on all the sufferings and misfortunes of deafness, and on all the things that Deaf people should learn from the Hearing world, but nothing on what the Deaf world could bring to the Hearing one. I was stunned.

The book I have written (which hopefully will be published later this year) goes against the tide. Here, the teachers are Deaf people, and Hearing people are the students. The content is based on the accumulation of 5 years of research which gives a first book containing 10 lessons from the Deaf world to help Hearing people improve their communication skills.

The second, which is nearly finished, touches more on personal development: how Hearing people can adopt Deaf behaviors such as being more comfortable with their body, or being more happy and humble like Deaf people, two behaviors which are less and less common in the Hearing world. Both books are full of quotes from Deaf autobiographies, and transcriptions from face to face interviews of Deaf people, to avoid the mistake of having a Hearing person talk for the Deaf world.

Interview by Charlie Swinbourne

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