What is listening effort?

Listening effort is how much energy or concentration a person requires to follow a conversation.

The more challenging the listening environment, the more concentration is required to follow the dialogue. Several factors can reduce someone’s ability to concentrate on speech for long periods. These include:

External factors such as

  • Background noise
  • Reverberation (how long a noise stays in space, i.e. an echoey environment)
  • Mask wearing

Internal factors

  • Hearing loss
  • Auditory Processing issues
  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of interest in the topic; Someone needs to be motivated to understand what they are hearing
  • Working memory
  • Pain
  • Medications / medical conditions
  • Being a parent…… I swear I lost 50 IQ points when I had my son….. either that, or my brain is always focusing on what everyone else needs at the table, and not the conversation that is happening right in front of me……..

In short, you hear with your ears, but you listen with your brain. When we lose auditory cues in background noise, some people naturally start to read lips. If your ears can hear 40% of the words, the brain will do the rest. When this is happening, we are ‘straining to hear’, and a lot more effort is required to follow the conversation….. and it is exhausting.

Having a conversation is like running a marathon.

– If you are physically fit and have trained hard (i.e. normal hearing), it is still a challenge but manageable. If you are injured, it will be harder, it will require a lot more effort, and you can do it if your mind and body are willing (i.e. you have hearing loss or processing issues)

– If there is no headwind, it still requires a lot of effort, but a headwind (background noise) will be more brutal.

– If there are other runners to navigate around (multiple talkers), it requires more effort and concentration.

– If you are tired, you need to concentrate on staying in the zone. Sometimes you tune out, then something will happen to catch your attention. You realise you have been going through the motions and missed a kilometre or two, then reengage.

– If your heart isn’t in it, you may not bother at all (think of those who avoid family gatherings. Do they have a hearing loss or are they just not interested?)

Running a marathon is hard, even on a good day. If you are injured, tired, stressed or really not up for it that day, you need to acknowledge that it will be harder than yesterday.

In summary, be kind to yourself. If you struggle with background noise, listen to your body and acknowledge your difficulties, then put the odds in your favour to manage that environment. If someone else chooses your dining venue, use communication strategies to assist you (which I’ll mention in another blog). A supportive friend who understands and fills you in on the conversation you miss will make the difference.

And, of course, use the Ambient Menu to find a quieter venue that allows for easy conversation 😉

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