What are the barriers to effective listening?

Listening is a very complex process aimed at perception and understanding of the other person. It is a useful skill, and it can be essential to solve problems and conflicts. But poor listening can lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations, thus, causing conflicts or disputes. Excessive interruptions, inattention, hearing what you want to hear, mentally composing a response, and having a closed mind – these are all indications of poor listening. Let’s define listening barriers and figure out how to avoid major listening problems even many leaders face.   

Going deep into the types of listening barriers, first of all it should be mentioned that listening barriers can be split into physical and mental ones. It is more or less clear when we speak about physical barriers, like noise, interruptions, poor acoustics, uncomfortable seating, etc. But it is far more interesting to bring up the topic of mental listening barriers as in today’s society we can hardly imagine an effective leader without strong listening skills.

The main mental listening barriers are the following:

  • Little or even nothing in common with the other person. It is important that a speaker should have a common experience with you so you would perceive the information. Short stories and some examples can be in handy in order to fall into line.  
  • Lack of focus. Multitasking is the main reason for defocusing. That is why it is crucial to be prepared for communication and try to avoid any listening distractions (checking your phone, daydreaming, etc.).
  • Emotional part. You are not a good listener when you are stressed or under out-of-control emotions. In this case you are more likely to misread a speaker. There is a number of ways how to quickly calm down and become effective listener.
  • Inconsistent or negative body language. Body language is effective additional way of communication and it should reinforce what is being said, not contradict it. You may dislike what’s being said or disagree with it, but to communicate effectively and not put the other person on the defensive, it’s important to avoid sending negative signals, like avoiding eye contact, crossing your arms, etc.
  • Lack of eye contact. It is scientifically proved that eye contact significantly increases the level of information perception and catches attention of the other person. Try to keep eye contact while listening.
  • Giving advice and making assumptions. Listening to a speaker followed by interruptions in the form of advice or assumptions is one of the common barriers to communication. Giving advice to a speaker believing that you know the answer may play a dirty trick on you, you can lose the track of communication and, what is more, you may hurt a speaker’s feelings and make him be at a loss.
  • Evaluation and comparison. A common mistake is to identify with you everything what is being said. You also need to set aside your judgment and withhold criticism in order to fully perceive the information from the other person.  

Now you know that not only speaking skills require training and development but listening is also the skill which should be constantly improved. This can be achieved by practicing. Keep practicing, as listening and understanding what the other person is communicating is one of crucial skills required in modern society.

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