The 5 Most Common Barriers to Effective Listening and How to Overcome Them
Recently, a friend of mine had the opportunity to go to an interactive workshop/training session that I would love to have been able to go to.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible, so I told her that I would get all the good bits from her afterwards.

A few days after the session, I managed to catch up with her. Eager to hear what she’d learnt, I asked about the main issues that had been discussed.

I was staggered! She could only really tell me 2 or 3 really vague things that had been covered.

My friend had not really been paying attention properly, and had not been making notes.

Perhaps she had expected more in the way of handouts or something, and was lazily relying on that, but she clearly hadn’t been listening properly!

And this is a common problem.


Poor listening skills could be costing your business more money than you think. A lack of communication, whether between two people, different departments or with clients, will adversely impact your productivity and can damage your reputation – and your bottom line!

In addition to hurting your core business, poor communication can often result in conflicts and misunderstandings between colleagues, and can tank your team morale.

Low morale? Low productivity, high turnover and a general feeling of malaise amongst your team.

So, it's important to do a regular ‘health check’ on your listening skills, and one of the best ways to do this is by assessing some of the most common barriers to effective listening. (Another, once you've read this article, could be to take our free communications questionnaire, which gives you personalised feedback. That can be found here.)

Once you have identified how you react to these barriers, you can identify the best ways to overcome them in your business and personal life.

5 Barriers to effective listening

 1. You find yourself distracted by a variety of factors

 At times, we are all guilty of paying more attention to our smartphone or email than the person who is speaking to us, but technical devices are not the only distractions we face.

You might be caught up thinking about another matter, be distracted by something going on behind them, struggling with a headache, or be ruminating about something they said ten minutes ago – this will all impact your ability to listen.

Whether your distraction is physical, mental, visual or auditory, you can overcome it.

Try the following tips:
  • Face the person you are speaking with, square your shoulders and point your knees toward them.
  • Maintain an appropriate amount of eye contact with the speaker.
  • Try not to wear uncomfortable or restrictive garments.
  • Switch off your mobile phone and close your laptop.

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 2. Your regularly interrupt the other party

Nothing will make a speaker feel disrespected more than being constantly interrupted by their listener.

While a conversation should be an equal ‘2 way street,’ it can be easy to accidentally monopolise the conversation and interject your opinions.

When you do this too often, you will miss the nuances of what the other party is trying to communicate (not to mention sending the message that you don’t care about what they have to say).

Listen Carefully


Here are the best ways to overcome your desire to interrupt:
  • Allow the other party to communicate their entire thought before you respond. Even if you think you disagree, once they finish their thought, you may find that you’re actually on the same page.
  • To prevent yourself from monopolising the conversation in a group setting, allow others to speak first to see if they might share your ideas or concerns.
  • If you need clarification about certain details or ideas, try politely raising your hand in order to ask for an explanation. It may seem a bit childlike, but by deciding to do this, it already will make you question whether it makes sense to now interrupt.

3. You bring your emotions into the situation

We all experience times when another person’s viewpoints can get our hackles up. They can cause us to feel angry, defensive or minimised. Once you start to feel attacked or called out (even if this is not actually the case), you’re likely to shut down and stop listening to the other party.

If you have a past personal issue with the speaker, the situation can feel even more fraught with emotions.

Try these tips to overcome an overly emotional reaction.
  • Address any past conflicts with the speaker in a professional way, enlisting the assistance of a mediator, if necessary. This will prevent ongoing communications between the two of you.
  • Take a deep breath when you hear something that triggers your emotions, and remind yourself of the importance of listening.
  • Remember that the speaker may not be aware that they’re making you upset; if they are speaking about sensitive issues, you can politely tell them that they’re making your uncomfortable.

 4. You are trying to have a conversation in a noisy environment

 While it is quite trendy to have meetings in coffee shops or in bustling co-working spaces, these locations can be quite noisy!

Noise is an obvious distraction that can really make it difficult to properly hear the words that the other person is saying, let alone actually absorb what they are trying to convey.

Need to overcome this problem? Try the following.
  • Schedule meetings in quiet places, such as conference rooms or in a private office with the door closed.
  • Switch off the radio, music and TV.
  • Politely ask noisy colleagues or construction works to keep the volume down during your meeting (where possible).

 5. You find your mind wandering when listening to the other party

 It's a few minutes to lunchtime and you’re flagging, struggling to pay attention. You’re actually thinking about what sandwich to order.

When your mind wanders onto other subjects, you can end up ‘faking attention’ – sure, you hear what they are saying, but you are not listening and absorbing what they want to tell you. While you might think that the other person is none the wiser, they can often tell that they don’t have your full attention and that you are ‘faking’ it. Try doing the following instead:

 Listen attentively, and try to focus on each of the words they are saying. Even if you’re their boss, assume that they have information that you don’t.
  • Don’t spend your entire time thinking about how you plan to reply when they have finished speaking.
  • Consider taking brief notes that you can refer back to later. This will help you stay on track, follow the conversation and ask thoughtful questions when the time comes.

Now, I’m not sure where my friend went wrong. She’s not normally like that, and so it seems to have been out of the ordinary for her. Which is just the point, even good listeners sometimes listen badly, for different reasons.

I’m sure that next time, she’ll be listening a whole lot better. And if you follow these tips, you can do too!

And, if you found the above points helpful, consider hosting a staff meeting to discuss how you can all benefit from this information. An organisation that values listening is an organisation on the right track.

P.S. I mentioned up at the top that we have a free test that you can take to check your own communication skills. In case you forgot about that as you read the rest of the article, I remind you it can be found here.

Want to Communicate More Effectively?

Our great online courses have full 12-months' access.
RRP from $275 – limited time offer just $31


Could you mention any other common barriers to effective listening and how we can overcome them? Make sure to leave a comment below with your ideas.