Hearing strategies

If you have a hearing loss, active hearing strategies can greatly enhance how you communicate in a range of environments. Whether or not you are helped by hearing technology, you can still make communication more effective and enjoyable by employing the following hearing tactics.

Communication tactics for better hearing

Position, position, position

Position yourself at the eye level of the person speaking, at a distance of three to five feet. If one ear is better than the other, sit with your better ear toward the speaker. Make sure you still have a good view of speaker’s face, and their face is well lit, as facial expressions add helpful context. Move away if the light is in your eyes or casting a shadow on the speaker. Background noise makes conversation more difficult, so turn off the television or radio, close windows or doors facing noisy areas, and move away from other noise sources. You might also consider enhancing the acoustics of a room where you often have conversations. This could involve installing carpeting, draperies, padded furniture or acoustic ceiling tiles.

Pay attention to visual cues

You can gain a lot of information simply through observing the person speaking - their lip movements, facial expressions, gestures and body language. Wear your glasses when you need to and when people are talking to you, look at their lips, not their eyes. It will help you understand what they are saying, and they won't notice the difference.. Looking at the speaker not only helps you understand what they are saying, it is also good manners. You can also take advantage of aural rehabilitation training which helps you ‘read’ other people’s speech more effectively and with less concentration.

Master the power of the pause

Don’t feel you always need to talk to fill in silences. If you are in a group situation, pausing for a moment can give you time to understand what has been said and catch up on the conversation. If you are just speaking to one person, even a short pause will let you better process what you have heard. Also give yourself permission to withdraw from conversation when you need to. Listening takes a lot of energy and concentration and is always harder if you are sick or fatigued.

Ask specific questions

If you’ve missed something in a conversation, you can help the speaker by being specific about what you have missed. For instance, you could say “I didn’t catch the last bit of that sentence” or use the information you did get to phrase your question, i.e. “What time are we meeting?” or “What was that about election?” This reduces frustration on both sides and keeps the conversation flowing smoothly. You can also ask the speaker to “say that in a different way” so the words you couldn’t make out can be replaced with words that are easier to hear. Another tactic might be to ask the speaker to spell the word you are having difficulty understanding.

Be honest and assertive

Don’t hesitate to tell people you have a hearing loss and the practical ways they can make communication easier. Tell them if you need them to need stand closer, speak more slowly, keep their hand away from their mouth, or if you need to move away from background noise. Many people are unsure how they should to talk to someone with a hearing loss. Reassure them that clear, natural speech is easiest for you to understand and they don’t need to shout. Also let them know that it helps to have a clear view of their face so you can read their speech and facial expressions.

Tune into the topic

It is much easier to follow a conversation when you know what topic is being discussed. Ask friends or family members to give unobtrusive leads about the conversation and let you know when it changes. For example, they could say "Now we are discussing the housing market". Or you could quietly ask someone what is being discussed. You can also try introducing topics you are familiar with, although be careful not to dominate the conversation to avoid the effort of listening.

Use assistive listening devices

Take advantage of the many assistive listening devices which are designed to help you hear better in specific situations― both in your home and in public places. There are attachments to aid communication on the telephone, help you listen to the television or radio, and even hear the doorbell. When attending lectures, request that speakers use microphones or FM systems. Assistive listening devices can be used alone or with hearing devices to boost their benefits.

Learn more about assistive listening devices.

Plan for public listening environments

Consider your hearing needs when planning to go out to eat, see a show or attend a lecture or meeting. Check a restaurant’s noise rating before reserving a table and try to go at times when it is less busy. Ask for a quiet table in a quiet corner, or a booth if available. If you’re going to a play, concert, lecture or meeting ask for an assistive listening device and arrive early to secure a seat close to the sound. If attending a meeting, ask the chairperson to ensure that only one person talks at time and ask for a copy of the agenda so you know what will be discussed next.

Keep it realistic

Even people with perfect hearing don’t catch everything, so don’t worry or get discouraged if you miss a few words. Focus on the idea a person is expressing rather than exhausting yourself trying to understand every word. It’s also important to have realistic expectations and recognise that in certain environments listening will require more effort and active hearing strategies.

Learn to laugh at yourself

Being able to laugh when you make mistakes in conversation is far more helpful than chastising yourself and withdrawing. Feeling tense and negative robs you of the energy and concentration you need to listen and speech read, and prevents you from enjoying communication. Everyone misses the mark sometimes, and by seeing the funny side of miscommunications you can stay present and connected to the person you are talking to.

Write it down and repeat it back

If the details are important, such as with directions or medical instructions, get them in writing to avoid confusion. If you need to take down information over the phone, repeat it back to the speaker to make sure you heard correctly.

Speak and stand how you want others to

People tend to adjust their speech and posture to match the person they are talking to. Hold yourself tall, look people in the eye, and speak in a clear and confident voice, and you may encourage others do the same. If you find it hard to monitor your voice level, ask your conversation partner if your volume and pace is okay. This will also make them naturally more aware of clearly and slowly they are speaking.

Stay informed and do your homework

Being tuned into what is happening around you can help your listening in a number of different ways. Knowing the big issues in world affairs, your local community and the lives of your friends will make it much easier to join and follow a range of conversations. Similarly, if you are going to see a movie or play, reading the reviews beforehand will allow you to follow the plot more easily.


The information on this website is for educational purposes, and is not intended to replace medical advice. Please consult a hearing healthcare professional to diagnose or treat a hearing or health problem.

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