Listening Barriers

Understanding Listening Barriers to avoid them

Listening implies paying attention and focusing on the sounds we hear and get meaning from them. Listening requires us to concentrate and ignore all the other environmental and physiological distractions. One may hear the words another person utters without really understanding them as a result of barriers to listening.

Listening Barriers or the factors that impede effective listening are forms of noiseOpens in new window (conditions or situations) that block our ability to listen well or at the level necessary to achieve a listening goal.

Several distractions that interfere with our ability to listen effectively can be physical, physiological or psychological barriers. In other words, they may be people related—emanating from the speaker or listener—or otherwise from the environment. Understanding these barriers can help the listener adopt effective strategies to avoid them.

1.1  Barriers from the environment

Physical barriers, which emanate from the environment, include anything that can interfere with your ability to “hear” the message or any distractions that would interfere with your ability to focus.

Physical barriers include excessive noise levels, uncomfortable environmental conditions, and excessive visual stimulation. For example, environmental distractions can be found in a crowded room where someone is trying to carry on a conversation.

Other potential circumstances may be when you are talking to your friend on your mobile and a queer shrilling sound disturbs the transmission. When you try to talk to someone on a running train, bus or in a crowded market, several distractions in the surroundings disrupt the listening process. To truly listen, we must drown out all the extraneous noise and focus on the conversation we are part of.

1.2  People-related Barriers

People-related barriers can be both physiological and psychological.

Physiological barriers include physical and mental distractions because listening is both a physical and mental activity.

  1. Physical distractions arise when the listener suffers from ill health, fatigue, sleeplessness or hearing problems. Without being able to hear properly, you lose your ability to listen well. It may also arise due to the accent and pronunciation shortcomings of the speaker.
  2. Mental distraction emanates as a result of our own mind wandering 100 miles an hour; thereby hindering us to focus on anything else. Barriers characterized with mental distraction can affect the ability to listen. If you are not “sharp and focused,” your mind will tend to wander to other thoughts. Your physical body may be present, but your mind is miles away. The term associated with this phenomenon is daydreaming. During long one-sided conversations that we are not actively involved in the communication process, we may find ourselves daydreaming.

Psychological barriers cover the value system and the behavioural aspects. It may also be on account of hierarchical differences. They may relate to bias against the speaker or the message, lack of credence about the source of communication, underestimation of the speaker and the speaker’s ability and past experience.

Some examples where listening fails to be effective on account of people-related factors are as follows:

  • The speaker speaks in a shrill voice that cannot reach the receiver.
  • The speaker speaks very rapidly or with an accent that is not clear.
  • The receiver of the message does not consider the speaker to be well informed.
  • The receiver lets the mind wander rather than stay focused on the message.
  • The listener perceives the speaker to be lacking in depth or not having adequate authority.
A Deviation from Ethics

Most listeners allow prejudices to color their remarks about the speaker. Making unfavorable and untrue remarks about the speaker is unethical.Anonymous

Another factor which constitute barrier to good listening is Poor Listening BehavioursOpens in new window. Learn about them hereOpens in new window.

Cultivating Powerful Listening Skills

You can reverse the harmful effects of poor habits by making a conscious effort to become an active listener. This means that your mind is focused on both the message and the speaker. The following keys will help you become an active and effective listener:

  • Stop talking: The first step to becoming a good listener is to stop talking. One cannot be talking and listening attentively, at the same time. The speaker cannot speak and get the message across if the listener continues to talk. Stop talking and start listening!
  • Control your surroundings: Whenever possible, remove competing sounds. Close windows or doors, turn off electronic gadgets, and move away from loud people, noisy appliances, or engines. Choose a quiet time and place for listening!
  • Establish a receptive mindset: Be objective and expect to learn something by listening. Strive for a positive and receptive frame of mind. If the message is complex, think of it as mental gymnastics. It is hard work but good exercise to flex and expand the limits of your mind.
  • Keep an open mind: Most of us sift through and filter information based on our own biases and values. For improved listening, discipline yourself to listen objectively. Empathize with the speaker for having put up great work to come up with the message. Hear what is really being said, not what you want to hear.
  • Listen for main points: Take your active listening skill a step further by looking for the speaker’s central themes. Congratulate yourself when you find them!
  • Capitalize on lag time: Make use of the quickness of your mind by reviewing the speaker’s points. Evaluate evidence the speaker has presented. Don’t allow yourself to daydream. Rather try to guess and anticipate what the speaker’s next point will be.
  • Listen between the lines: Focus both on what is spoken and what is unspoken. Apart from the bare verbal message, listen actively for the emotional content as well. Be alert to all cues and carefully observes the nonverbal behaviour of the speaker to get the total picture.
  • Focus on ideas, not appearance: Pay attention to the content of the message, not on its delivery. Avoid being distracted by the speaker’s looks, voice, or mannerisms.
  • Hold your fire: Discipline yourself to listen to the speaker’s entire message before reacting. Such restraint may enable you to understand the speaker’s reasons and logic before you jump to hasty conclusions.
  • Take selective notes: In some situations thoughtful note-taking may be required to record important facts that must be recalled later. Select only the most important points so that the note-taking process does not interfere with your concentration on the speaker’s total message.
  • Provide feedback: Let the speaker know that you are listening. Maintain eye contact, nod your head and ask relevant questions at appropriate times. This active involvement effectively improves the communication process for both the speaker and the listener.
Distinguishing the Good Listeners from Bad Listeners
  • Finding areas of interest
While the bad listener tunes out boring subjects;
the good listener opportunizes and asks, ‘what is in it for me?
  • Judge content, not delivery
While the bad listener tunes out if delivery is poor;
the good listener judges content and skips over delivery errors.
  • Hold your fire
While the bad listener tends to enter into argument;
the good listener does not judge until he fully comprehends. He or she interrupts only to make clarity.
  • Listen for ideas
While the bad listener listens for facts;
the good listener listens for central themes.
  • Be flexible
Whereas the bad listener takes extensive notes using only one system;
the good listener takes fewer notes and uses four to five different systems, depending on speaker.
  • Work at listening
While the bad listener shows no energy output and fakes attention;
the good listener works hard and exhibits active body state.
  • Resist distractions
Whereas the bad listener is distracted easily;
the good listener fights or avoids distractions. He tolerates bad habits and knows how to concentrate.
  • Exercise your mind
While the bad listener resists difficult expository material and tends to seek light, recreational material;
the good listener uses heavier materials as exercise for the mind.
  • Keep your mind open
Whereas the bad listener would react to emotional words;
the good listener tends to interpret emotional words and does not get hung up on them.
Sourced from C.L. Bovee and J.V. Thill, Business Communication (New York: McGraw, 1995) 571.

In summary, barriers to listening are characterized by psychological or physical distractions. Psychological barriers emanate from assumptions and prejudices we hold of other people. Physical barriers emanate from environmental noise, interruptions and any situation that makes it more difficult to hear what the speaker has said.