12 Barriers to Effective Listening & How to Overcome Them

a woman listening intently while a coworker is talking
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Discover the top 12 barriers to effective listening, and learn strategies to overcome them. Improve your communication skills with this simple guide today!

Why Is Listening Important?

Great listening skills are a key part of learning and functioning in the workplace. Hearing the information, absorbing it, and comprehending it correctly can make a huge difference in work. Many studies suggest that even the smallest improvements in a person’s listening ability can have a noticeable impact on the overall effectiveness of communication and productivity.

According to Castleberry & Shepherd, effective listening occurs when there is a high degree of correspondence between the sender’s original message and the listener’s recreation of that message. Communication is a two-way street, but it is up to the listener to make sure they are receiving the information accurately.

Listening well is essential for nearly all work areas. These skills are crucial in teamwork, problem solving, decision making (we recommend decision making training for managers), managing, supervising, negotiating, customer service, and sales.

Listening Barriers

Unfortunately, there are some barriers to effective listening. These barriers to effective listening can be grouped into two major categories: external and internal.

External Listening Barriers

External listening barriers are easier to manage than internal barriers. They include a variety of environmental distractions contribute to poor listening, but that can usually be avoided or minimized with simple corrections, like removing yourself from the interfering barrier or removing the issue from the area that you are in. External barriers include:

  • Noise. Any external noise can be a barrier, like the sound of equipment running, phones ringing, or other people having conversations.
  • Visual distractions. Visual distractions can be as simple as the scene outside a window or the goings-on just beyond the glass walls of a nearby office.
  • Physical setting. An uncomfortable temperature, poor or nonexistent seating, bad odors, or distance between the listener and speaker can be an issue.
  • Objects. Items like pocket change, pens, and jewelry are often fidgeted with while listening.
  • The person speaking. The person listening may become distracted by the other person’s personal appearance, mannerisms, voice, or gestures.

Internal Listening Barriers

Internal listening barriers are more difficult to manage, as they reside inside the mind of the listener. Internal barriers’ elimination relies on a high level of self-awareness and discipline on the part of the listener, like catching oneself before the mind starts to wander and bringing full attention back to the speaker. Internal barriers include:

  • Anxiety. Anxiety can take place from competing personal worries and concerns.
  • Self-centeredness. This causes the listener to focus on his or her own thoughts rather than the speaker’s words.
  • Mental laziness. Laziness creates an unwillingness to listen to complex or detailed information.
  • Boredom. Boredom stems from a lack of interest in the speaker’s subject matter.
  • Sense of superiority. This leads the listener to believe they have nothing to learn from the speaker.
  • Cognitive dissonance. The listener hears only what he or she expects or molds the speaker’s message to conform with their own beliefs.
  • Impatience. A listener can become impatient with a speaker who talks slowly or draws out the message.

Working through these barriers are crucial to overcome poor listening and have better listening skills. If a listener can remove these barriers, they will find that they can gain better understanding of the tasks at hand, communicate more effectively, and achieve greater success in the workplace.

Learn More

Assessment & Workshop

Learning to Listen from HRDQ helps teams discover how to achieve immediate and lasting results through the art of effective listening. Whether you are looking for an instructor-led program or a self-paced learning option, this combination self-assessment and workbook has been a trainer favorite for more than 15 years!

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Free Webinar

To learn more about the importance of listening skills and how to perform them better, watch HRDQ’s webinar, How Listening Skills Can Improve Workplace Performance. Attendees will leave the session being able to determine listening effectiveness in three dimensions, explore the visible and invisible aspects of listening, learn what it takes both physically and mentally to listen, understand common barriers to effective listening, and create a plan to put new skills into immediate action.

Evaluate current skill level, shows individuals how to take an active role in the listening process, and then provide ample opportunities for practice and development. 


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