10 Barriers to Listening

By Kelly Ross, PCC

Listening is a critical leadership skill.  Without listening we cannot be an effective leader.  While it seems easy to listen, there are many things that pull our attention away from the conversation in front of us. Here are ten common barriers to listening.  Which do you fall prey to?

  1. Judgment of the speaker or the topic. Do you find yourself pulled away from the conversation in front of you and focused on your own perspective about the person speaking to you or your feelings about the topic?
  2. Getting ready to speak or thinking about your counterargument. Listening is more than waiting for your turn to talk, yet many of us can get distracted by planning what we will say next.
  3. Distraction or daydreaming. Is your attention pulled toward people walking by, thinking about what meeting you have next or email alerts popping up on your screen?
  4. Connecting to what the other person is saying and making it about you. Perhaps you hear the challenge the other person is bringing to you and it reminds you so much of a situation you have faced that you put all of your attention on what you did to resolve the challenge.
  5. Making assumptions or reading the mind of the speaker. Are you guilty of hearing a few words of the other person’s question and assuming you understand what they are asking without letting them finish?
  6. Giving advice or counsel and believing you know the answer. Do you find yourself solving everything others bring to you rather than hearing if they even wanted to you what you would do in their position?
  7. Agreeing just to stop or avoid the conversation. Have you found yourself weary of the conversation you are in and agreeing with the other person only to be able to end the conversation?
  8. Looking through your ‘lens’ or filter (attitude, belief or experience) and only hearing the parts you want to. Some of us fall prey to making whatever the other person brings up about us without recognizing that we can’t possibly know what the other person’s experience of this situation is unless we ask them.
  9. Getting into a debate or sparring match. Do you love to debate any issue? You might fall pretty to debating or sparring for the sake of entertaining yourself versus hearing what the other person is saying.
  10. Comparison and evaluation of what the other person is saying relative to you. It has been said comparison is the thief of joy. If you fall victim to this barrier you may be failing to fully listen and getting distracted with what you did or did not do in similar situations.

As you read these barriers do you recognize the ones that get in the way of full, active listening for you? Take a few minutes to consider how you can manage yourself to overcome the top barrier you face.  For example, if you are getting distracted because you are getting ready to speak (barrier 2), you might focus on listening to the other person and paraphrasing back what you understand their argument is. You are not saying you agree with them, just that you heard they believe X and want Y.  Then you can share how you are looking at the situation differently.

Elevate your Leadership Potential

For more practical tips on overcoming your own barriers to full, effective listening, consult with Kelly.