Overwhelmed in noisy situations? Difficulty staying engaged in the conversation? There are steps you can take to help reduce its impact.


Unwanted sound is just “noise”! When sound interferes with conversation, thinking, concentrating, working, or sleeping we see it as undesirable background noise.

Listening in Noisy Environments

Social norms around behavior in public have changed, especially regarding noise… people holding loud phone conversations in public and music being pumped through speakers in cafés and shopping malls are everyday experiences and examples of what is often “unwanted” sound. Our world is a noisy place!

A survey conducted by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association1 showed that more than 30% of adults say loud noise reduces their enjoyment of leisure activities outside of the home. More than 25% reported that they have chosen not to go back to a place, like a restaurant, that is too noisy. When you have a hearing loss these issues may have an even greater impact on your enjoyment and ability to communicate, however there is a lot that you can do to help in managing background noise.

A family sits around the Thanksgiving dinner table. They are working on listening in noisy environments.

Noise on the menu

With trends toward loud music, high ceilings and hard surfaces that don’t absorb sound, restaurants today find noise to be the top complaint from customers2.

Due to a phenomenon called the “Lombard Reflex”3, a speaker will subconsciously increase the loudness of their speech in noisy environments like loud parties, restaurants and cafes to maintain the audibility of their voice.

So even moderate levels of background noise from music, staff, and other diners will trigger each of us to raise our voices to be heard above the background sound levels.

And as the noise levels continue to rise so does each of our voices.

According to the 2018 Zagat National Dining Trends Survey4 noise was the most annoying issue at 24% followed by poor service (23%), crowds (15%), high prices (12%) and parking problems (10%).

Consumer Reports (2016)5 also says noise is the top complaint among the restaurant diners it surveyed, above bad service. For the people taking this survey, the biggest issues were around loud customers and blaring music.

A large family sits around the dinner table. They are working on listening in noisy environments.

Manage your listening environment

A restaurant or café’s design and layout can have big impact on the level of background noise and your dining experience. Here are some ways to help make listening and holding a conversation in a café or restaurant easier.

Think about where you sit. Don’t be afraid to ask for a suitable spot and consider making a preferential seating request if you are reserving a table.

Don’t sit near the kitchen, bar or service area. The noise level in these areas is higher than other parts of the café or restaurant.

A table along a wall of the restaurant may be quieter as the noise isn’t coming from all directions. If you have a choice between a table or a booth, pick a booth for this same reason.

Try to avoid sitting directly under the air conditioner unit, fan or music speakers.

If you ask, often the restaurant will agree to turn down the volume of the music if you explain that it is too loud for conversation.

Make use of technology

  • Talk to your clinician about SmartSound iQ*6 with SCAN7 technology. This technology will allow your sound processor to automatically adapt to your environment without the need to make manual adjustments. The dual microphones first capture and filter sound. SCAN then analyzes your surroundings and identifies the type of listening environment like a noisy restaurant scene. SmartSound iQ* then automatically optimizes the sound and adjusts the setting for that scene.

  • Try ForwardFocus8. Think of it this way, ForwardFocus will focus your sound processor wherever your nose is pointing, so the best spot to sit in is the one that will put room noise behind you. ForwardFocus can only be enabled by your clinician so seek their advice. Once enabled by your clinician, simply switch on ForwardFocus through your Smart App to decrease noise coming from behind you and focus on the face-to-face conversation in front of you.
  • The Mini Microphone 2+9 is great for one-on-one and group conversations. For conversation over a meal for two it can be worn by the person you are speaking to. For a larger group, you can place it in the center of the table at the café or restaurant.

Engagement is key to maintaining strong relationships and personal happiness.  And, participating in conversations happening in diverse environments is also an effective strategy for increasing your listening skills with cochlear implant.  Be patient with yourself and ease into exposure to noisy environments.

Download the 2020 Holiday Tip Sheet for additional suggestions on how to better manage noisy environments.  You’ll also find various tactics you can employ to ensure you and your tribe’s noisy holiday gatherings are more enjoyable for everyone.

  1. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Noisy Environments Poll Summary Spring 2017
  2. Zagat’s National Dining Trends Survey, 2018
  3. Lombard, E. (1911). Le signe de l’élévation de la voix. Annales des Maladies de L’Oreille et du Larynx 37, 101–119
  4. Zagat’s National Dining Trends Survey, 2018
  5. Consumer Reports Top Restaurant Complaints and Worst Offenders Survey, 2016
  6. It is recommended that SNR-NR, WNR, and SCAN be made available to any recipient, ages 6 and older, who is able to 1) complete objective speech perception testing in quiet and noise in order to determine and document performance and 2) report a preference for different program settings.
  7. SNR-NR, WNR and SCAN are approved for use with any recipient ages 6 years and older who is able to 1) complete objective speech perception testing in quiet and in noise in order to determine and document performance 2) report a preference for different program settings.

  8. ForwardFocus can only be enabled by a hearing implant specialist. It should only be activated for users 12 years and older who are able to reliably provide feedback on sound quality and understand how to use the feature when moving to different or changing environments. It may be possible to have decreased speech understanding when using ForwardFocus in a quiet environment.
  9. The Mini Microphone 2+ provides you with the ability to hear better in groups, including at school, at the office and at home.
Anna Martinez
Anna Martinez is the Associate Volunteer Engagement Manager and has worked for Cochlear since 2016. She is responsible for communication and onboarding with the Cochlear volunteer community. Anna is a Colorado native and enjoys being outside in the beautiful weather with her son.