Roadblocks to Listening

12 Roadblocks to Good Listening

Roadblocks are barriers to good listening as they hinder or limit reciprocity and make further communication difficult and sometimes impossible.

Although most of us believe that we practice good listening, what we actually do in conversations is quite the opposite. One way to understand the practice of good listening is to first know what it is not.

To describe what the practice of good listening is not, 12 roadblocks are revised from what Thomas Gordon (1974) identifies as twelve roadblocks to communication. They are twelve ways in which people often respond instead of listening well, sometimes even with the intention of being a good listener.

1.  Directing

Directing involves telling someone what to do, as if giving any of the following order or command:

  • You’ve got to right your wrongs!
  • Hold up tightly!
  • Stop being pessimistic!
  • Go right back there and tackle the problem!

2.  Warning

Warning is an act which involves pointing out the risks or dangers of what someone is doing. Considering the following, it can also serve as a threat.

  • You’ll be sorry, if you do that.
  • Don’t you see the implication in all this.
  • Doing it your own way might not work this time around.
  • You’d better control your emotion.

3.  Advising

Advising involves making suggestions and providing solutions, usually with the objective of offering help, as follows:

  • If I were in your shoes, here’s what I would do …
  • Have you given it a thorough thought?
  • One thing you could try is?
  • How about do it this way …

4.  Persuading

Persuading consists in lecturing, arguing, giving reasons, or trying to convince with logic. It usually takes the following forms:

  • If you think about it you’ll realize that …
  • Yes, but don’t you see that …
  • Now let’s think this through. The facts are …
  • It’s the right thing to do, and here’s why …

5.  Moralizing

Moralizing consists in telling people what they should do, usually in the following forms:

  • You really should …
  • You need to …
  • It’s your responsibility to …
  • I think you ought to …

6.  Judging

Judging usually takes the form of blaming, criticizing, or simply disagreeing.

  • You let things got this way!
  • You’re still asleep at ten o’clock in the morning?
  • No, you’re wrong about that.
  • Well, what did you expect?

7.  Agreeing

Agreeing usually sounds like taking sides with the person, perhaps approving or praising, as follows:

  • Yes, you’re absolutely right.
  • Good for you!
  • That’s what I would do, too.
  • You’re such a good mother.

8.  Shaming or Ridiculing

Shaming or ridiculing is when attaching a name or stereotype to what the person is saying or doing.

  • That’s a stupid act!
  • How could you do such a thing?
  • You really ought to be ashamed of yourself.
  • You’re being so selfish!

9.  Analyzing

Analyzing offers a reinterpretation or explanation of what the person is saying or doing.

  • You don’t really mean that.
  • Do you know what your real problem is?
  • You’re just trying to make me look bad.
  • I think what’s actually going on here is …

10.  Probing

Probing is when questions are asked to gather facts or press for more information.

  • When did you first realize that?
  • What makes you feel that way?
  • Where was the last place you saw it?
  • Why?

11.  Reassuring

Reassuring someone isn’t the same as listening. It often sounds like sympathizing or consoling:

  • Oh, you poor thing. I’m sorry for you.
  • There, there — I’m sure this will all work out.
  • Things aren’t really so bad.
  • You’ll probably look back on this in a year and laugh.

12.  Distracting

Distracting is attempts to draw people away from what they are experiencing by humoring, changing the subject, or withdrawing. It consists in the following:

  • Let’s discuss something else.
  • Oh, aren’t you the gloomy one! Lighten up.
  • You think you’ve got problems. Let me tell you …
  • That reminds me of a joke.

You may be thinking “What’s wrong with these responses?” Actually they are not wrong. There are occasions and contexts where each of these responses might be appropriate. It’s just that they are not good listening because they tend to limit or direct the flow of communication away from the sender to the receiver. If you want to develop effective empathy skills it’s important to suspend these reflexive ways of responding.

The responses above are roadblocks because they contain information on what the listener thinks about the speaker, but fail to show any consideration of the speaker’s points of view. As a result, they divert speakers from their natural flow of experience and eventually cause them to become resistant and avoiding further communication.

Guarding Agaisnt Roadblocks

To guard against roadblocks in communication, listeners must unlearn all the practices mentioned above. Then they should project an attitude which facilitates genuine and open communication with the speaker. This will often require them to change their mindsets, not just learn the skills for enhancing communication.

Rogers (1959: 210 – 211) reminds us of the importance of empathy which involves “the internal frame of reference of another with accuracy and with the emotional components and meanings which pertain thereto as if one were the person but without ever losing the ‘as if’ condition. Thus, it means to sense the hurt or the pleasure of another as he senses it and to perceive the causes thereof as he perceives them, but without ever losing the recognition that it is as if I were hurt or pleased and so forth.” This is the basis for genuine understanding, sharing and communication, without which active listening is impossible.