Listening Barriers

Understanding Listening Barriers to avoid them

Listening and hearing—though are different processes—are connected because we can’t listen if we can’t hear; and when we hear, we only perceive sounds, but when we listen, this hearing is accompanied by a deliberate and purposeful act of the mind. In other words, we listen with our brains.

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.   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:

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.

2.   People-related Barriers

People-related barriers can be both physiological and psychological.

2.1.     Physiological Barriers

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

2.1-1.     Physical distraction

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.

2.1-2.     Mental distraction

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.

2.2.     Psychological Barriers

Psychological barriers cover the value system and the behavioural aspects. It may also be on account of hierarchical differences.

Psychological barriers 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:



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:

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.