Top Barriers to Effective Listening and How to Overcome Them

Effective listening is every bit as important as effective speaking, and generally much more difficult. Although numerous barriers to effective listening can make the practice difficult, there are several habits one can adopt that will lead to a higher level of listening proficiency.

Listening is the most important part of the communication process. However, listening skills do not come naturally to most people; they require willingness, practice, and patience to develop.

There are many reasons individuals fail to listen successfully. These include:

1. Interrupting

2. Judging

3. Faking Attention

4. Becoming Emotional

5. Tuning Out

6. Jumping to Conclusions

7. Becoming distracted.

Interrupting is a problem for many reasons. First, it is aggressive behavior and will most likely bring a negative response from the speaker being interrupted. Second, it is difficult to listen and speak at the same time. When the listener is interrupting, he or she is certainly not listening fully.

Faking attention (often associated with tuning out) can be offensive and is usually hard to hide. This is hurtful and sends the message to the speaker that the listener doesn’t really care about what the speaker is saying. If an individual cannot listen actively in the present moment, it is best to let that be known and suggest that the communication process be put off until a point when there are no distractions.

Becoming emotional can hinder one’s ability to listen. It is important that the receiver be aware of his or her emotions. If the sender is sending a message that is offensive, it is important to acknowledge that fact and be aware of the fact that something is threatening a breakdown in the process. When a receiver is angered, it is easy for him or her to miss the most important part of the sender’s message.

To avoid jumping to conclusions, it may be helpful for the listener to wait until the speaker is finished before responding. It can also be helpful to ask questions throughout the conversation to clarify issues, or to let the speaker know that he or she is communicating in a way that suggests a certain thing, which may not be what they are intending to say.

It is easy to become distracted while trying to communicate. Often one has many tasks to do or there is a lot of other activity taking place while someone is trying to communicate. This can be a problem because it leads to miscommunication, faking attention, and tuning out all together–all of which threaten future communication.

Although the reasons for listening breakdowns are numerous, there are many ways to improve listening skills. These are:

1. Provide clues that you are actively involved

2. Concentrate

3. Refrain from formulating an immediate response

4. Try to prepare beforehand

5. Be prepared to accept revisions

6. Be sure the environment is conducive to listening.

Clues that one is actively listening can go a long way. It is important to the speaker to feel like the listener cares about what the speaker is saying. This is because it tends to send a message about whether or not the listener cares about the speaker in general. When people don’t feel like you care about them, they don’t trust you and the communication process quickly breaks down. Therefore, it sis important to use verbal and non-verbal clues that you are listening, including eye contact, gestures, and acknowledging statements.

Concentration requires willingness and practice. Practicing active listening helps with concentration but there are other elements that contribute to your ability to concentrate on what someone is saying. When you’re involved in an exchange of information, you can’t be multi-tasking. It’s important to position yourself in a way that maintains eye contact while allowing you to watch for body language and other non-verbal forms of communication.

It is important to refrain from formulating an immediate response. You won’t be able to fully concentrate on forming a genuine understanding of what the speaker is trying to say if you are too busy thinking about what you are going to say in response to them whenever it is your turn to talk. Instead, it is important to approach the communication as a dialogue. Dialogues help us to learn what others have to say by forcing us to think about their message and to acknowledge what we have heard rather than just responding with our own opinions.

Preparation can have a huge impact on the outcome of a dialogue or any form of communication. To prepare for an interaction where effective listening will be important, it is essential to keep in mind the purpose of the exchange. What decisions need to be made and how the collaboration between sender and receiver relates are important factors to keep in mind. It is also helpful to approach the situation with the attitude of really caring about and wanting to know the truth. The dialogue should be viewed as an opportunity to uncover the truth and make progress, rather than as a challenge or conflict.

A willingness to accept revisions will keep the communication process running smoothly. Often people are so busy trying to defend their positions that they fail to really stop and think whether they could be improved upon or viewed in a different way. This is what is often referred to as “spending 90 seconds expressing an opinion and 900 seconds blindly defending it.”

Choosing the right environment is important because it will help the listener focus and avoid distractions. Although there is no set environment which is best for all communication, in general it is best to avoid areas where there are high levels of activity, loud noises, an uncomfortable temperature, poor air flow, etc.

Implementing these techniques takes willingness and patience. The effort is worthwhile however, as the long-term benefit of improved communication skills will greatly increase one’s chances of success in the business world. Effective listening is the most important part of the communication process. It is probably the most difficult to master also. There are many barriers to effective listening, but practicing listening techniques will help one overcome these barriers and become a good listener.