When it comes to communicating, talking is easy–listening, not so much. Listening involves more than just hearing what someone is saying. When you’re truly listening to someone, you’re taking in information and processing it. You're also paying attention to body language and other signals that might help your understanding of what the person is trying to convey.
Research suggests that we listen with only 25% efficiency, meaning that three out of four times we communicate, we misinterpret what the other person is saying or fail to retain it accurately. These miscommunications occur because of several barriers to effective listening that many of us are guilty of.
Why Active Listening Is Important
Active listening is one of the most powerful tools you can have at your disposal. As a founder, I’ve learned that listening—and being open to the opinions of my peers—is key to being an effective leader. Not only does it prevent avoidable mistakes, but it’s also vital in respecting and understanding others. Active listening provides you with accurate information, making it easier for you to communicate, collaborate and make decisions.
What Are The Common Barriers To Listening?
I’ve found that while a number of barriers to effective listening exist, they generally fall into two categories: external and internal. Here are a few external and internal listening barriers that can get in the way of active listening.
External Listening Barriers
It’s incredibly challenging to listen effectively when you’re concentrating on filtering out background noise. Too much noise from side conversations or phone alerts will distract you from what the other person is saying.
Sights have the power to distract as much as sounds. A movement out of the corner of your eye, people coming and going, or staring out the window can all pose barriers to active listening.
The physical environment you’re in can hinder your ability to listen. For example, if you’re outside in the hot sun, in a crowded space, or in any setting that causes discomfort, it will be more difficult for you to actively listen.
While some people believe playing with personal items can help them pay attention, it often distracts them from listening. Playing with a pen or a piece of jewelry can be a barrier to active listening.
The person speaking
Your personal feelings about the person speaking can be one of the biggest barriers to listening. Talking with a close friend, someone you don’t like, or someone you find attractive/unattractive can all cause distractions.
Internal Listening Barriers
If your mind is worried about something unrelated to what you’re discussing, then this can distract you from the conversation. Anxious thoughts will prevent you from actively listening to what’s being said.
When you’re talking with someone, it’s important to give them your full attention. Self-centered thoughts can take you away from their words and distract you with your own thoughts instead.
We don’t always want to listen to what’s being said to us. If we’re listening to complicated information, we might be tempted to tune it out to avoid having to follow along.
Boredom is another barrier to effective listening that can be difficult to overcome. If you’re uninterested in the subject you’re discussing, it takes much more effort to pay attention.
Sense of superiority
Listening is all about taking in information you may not already know. If you believe you have nothing to learn from someone, this can prevent you from listening to what they have to say.
Our preconceived notions can shape what we hear instead of allowing us to listen objectively. If we believe something strongly enough, then we might wind up interpreting what’s being said to support our opinion.
Bias may cause us to disregard the other speaker entirely. If we have a bias that doesn’t allow us to change our beliefs, then anything that doesn’t match that belief will be ignored.
The less efficient the communicator, the more difficult it is to listen. We may let impatience with a slow communicator interfere with what we hear.
How To Eliminate These Barriers To Listening
We have now answered the question, “what are the barriers to active listening?” But how exactly do we overcome them? To help you become a better listener, here are 5 practices I use in my own life.
- Practice Civil Discourse
Civil discourse is a helpful mindset to practice in order to be a better listener. It encompasses many practices that encourage listening over speaking to allow for a better exchange of ideas. To practice civil discourse, don’t interrupt or have side conversations. You should also listen for the content of what others are saying rather than assuming.
- Ask Questions
Asking questions will help you ensure that you fully understand what other people have to say. If you’re unclear about anything that’s being said, feel free to ask questions to clarify or request additional information. Asking questions also reduces boredom and impatience by allowing you to engage and extract the information you need.
- Set Aside Your Own Bias
We all have opinions, but these opinions can get in the way of truly listening to what another person is saying. While you obviously can’t change your opinion at will, try to take a moment to set aside your preconceived notions before a discussion. This will help you listen to what’s being said in an objective way without responding emotionally or being dismissive.
- Prioritize The Other Person
It can be easy to let internal and external listening barriers distract us during a conversation. Make active listening a priority by dealing with any external barriers as they arise. If you’re in a noisy area, move to a quieter one. If you find yourself fidgeting with something, set it out of reach. If you find your mind wandering, ask the person to repeat themselves to bring yourself back on track.
- Listen More Than You Talk
A good ratio to strive for is to listen twice as much as you talk. If you have a point that you want to make while another person is speaking, write it down for later reference and let them finish their dialogue. If you focus on listening more than talking, you’ll make active listening a habit before long.
Poor listeners will often interrupt the speaker, formulate opinions while the other person is still talking and rush to judgement. The above listening barriers can hurt us by preventing us from effectively taking in information. Follow these tips to overcome these barriers to listening and be a better communicator.