7 Barriers to Good Listening

At work we often talk about “Barriers.” They are those things, people, rules, policies, etc. that “prevent movement, or access, or progress.” In a coaching conversation, for example, you might ask, “have you experienced any barriers to meeting the expectation?” In other words, “is there anything outside or within your control that has prevented you from achieving the desired result?” In their book, The Oz Principle, authors Roger Connors, Tom Smith, and Craig Hickman write about overcoming barriers to achieve results as part of being accountable.

We have a 9 month old puppy named Zuzu. It appears that one of her primary goals in life is to overcome barriers. While we were training her to go outside, we placed various barriers at entrances to rooms with carpeting or a rug and to keep her in the family room with us which has a tile floor. Mind you, Zuzu is a 5 pound puppy. It has been incredibly entertaining to watch her find ways to get beyond those barriers. She uses her nose, her paws, her teeth, whatever she can, to move (thankfully never destroy ) any barrier.

We’ve been talking this month about Listening. There are many potential barriers to good listening. One of them is he belief that because we hear, we listen. Hearing is part of listening, but only part. Listening, as I’ve written about elsewhere, is a full contact sport.

There are several other barriers to good listening. Here are a few of them:

The Speed Gap Trap

This refers to the difference in the speed at which people speak and the speed at which we can process speech. Most of the time, people speak at a rate of about 125 words per minute. But, we can hear at a rate of 500 – 800 words per minute. What happens to all that extra time? That’s where the untrained listener’s mind wanders, they lose concentration and wind up being accused of not listening.

The Vapor Effect

Hearing is the most ephemeral of senses. Sounds are vibrations. Once the vibration is over, it’s gone. That’s why we take notes or make audio recordings of lectures in school. That’s also why its a good idea to take notes during certain conversations. Because, if we don’t make some concerted effort to retain the words that have been spoken, they won’t last any longer than the vibration that carried them.

The Me Focus

“Self-Centered” means to be preoccupied with oneself and one’s own affairs. Often when we are in conversation our focus is us. What do I want to gain from this discussion? What do I want to say next? How can I prove my point? Again, this speaks to how we use our Bonus Brain Time. If my focus in our conversation is me, what are the chances I’ll ever reach super-power listening skills?

Now, there is a difference between being self-centered and being self-aware, a huge difference. Self awareness is linked to “Meta-cognition” which is something we’ve talked more about in another post. Basically it means “Thinking about our thinking.” For our topic we could say it means, “Thinking about our listening as we’re doing it.” This self-awareness is a powerful tool for developing our listening skills. Self-Centeredness is the opposite.

Some other barriers to good listening include:

Prejudice – If we have preconceived ideas about the other person, their motives, position on a topic, or anything else, it will inhibit our ability to listen to them.

Stress – is like static in our brain and blocks out other people.

Anger – is similar to stress in its effect. When we’re angry, even if it’s not with the person who is speaking, the emotion blocks our ability to listen.

Distractions – seems pretty basic, but background noise, cell phones, TV, etc are kryptonite to super-power listening.

There are many other possible barriers to listening. How many can you think of? Understanding the barriers to good listening goes a long way in helping us get better at listening if we act like Zuzu and find a way past those barriers.

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