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Effective Listening: 10 Barriers and How to Overcome Them

written by: Srikanth Radhakrishna • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 7/30/2011

Poor listening skills result in ineffective communication, which will usually have an adverse impact on the productivity of the individual, the team and the organization. Here you can find about 10 barriers to effective listening and tips to overcome them.

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    Communication Effective communication is a valuable skill in the workplace, and listening properly is the most important part of effective communication.

    Poor listening skills definitely make a huge, negative impact on team morale and productivity. This situation usually results in conflicts and misunderstandings among team members, and it creates a negative environment.

    Fortunately, listening skills can be learned. The first step is to identify the barriers to listening. The second step is to consciously implement the tips provided here to overcome those barriers.

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    Excessive Talking

    Good conversational skills are an asset, and a person with this skill is more likely to achieve professional success. However, talking more than is necessary is a barrier to effective communication. People hesitate to interact with a person who talks excessively without listening to them. They may also get bored, and excessive talking may be perceived as aggression.

    Try these tips to overcome this habit:

    • Think before you speak, and don't speak if you have nothing important to contribute.
    • Practice self-control. Allow the other person to speak.
    • Avoid interrupting when the other person is speaking.
    • Be aware of indulging in useless talk for the sake of talking.
    • Be brief while conveying your thoughts.
    • Observe your listener's reactions while speaking.
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    Prejudice is a preconceived opinion of feeling, which is usually irrational. Prejudice is very dangerous and has the potential to bring animosity into the team and to break team spirit. The reason for a prejudice may be the speaker's race, religion, age or appearance. A prejudiced person will not make any effort to listen and understand.

    Overcoming prejudice while listening:

    • Respect the other person for his or her knowledge and skills, irrespective of the person's background.
    • Make conscious efforts to take charge of your thoughts.
    • Consciously avoid taking an "I know what he or she is going to say" attitude while the other person is speaking.
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    The four main types of distractions are physical, mental, auditory and visual. Here's how to avoid this common barrier:

    • Face the person who is speaking.
    • Maintain eye contact while the other person is speaking.
    • Ensure that you are comfortable.
    • Switch off the cell phone.
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    Excessive Attachment to Personal Beliefs and Values

    It is fine to have personal beliefs and values, but an excessive attachment to them will have a negative impact on your ability to communicate effectively with others. Learn to appreciate the fact that each and every person has his or her own set of beliefs and values.

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    Inability to hear correctly is one of the many reasons for misunderstanding of what the speaker is trying to communicate. This inability to hear is often the result of prejudice. To avoid misunderstanding, always clarify with the speaker to ensure that you have understood correctly.

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    Interrupting a conversation with improper body language or inappropriate words will have a negative impact in effective communication. Here's some tips to help you avoid this barrier to effective listening:

    • Listen without interrupting while the other person is speaking.
    • If you seek to clarify something, use appropriate body language such as raising your hand or use appropriate words (like "I am sorry to be interrupting you...").
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    Faking Attention

    The person who is faking attention is just "hearing" but not "listening". The person is acting as if he or she is listening. There may be some eye contact and the person may even be nodding, but the mind is elsewhere. The person may be thinking about what to have for lunch or what to wear for the party that evening. Faking attention is a habit for some people, but it conveys lack of respect and dishonesty.

    Try these tips:

    • Make it a habit to listen attentively. It is advisable to assume that the other person knows something that you may not know.
    • Avoid thinking about how to reply when the other person is speaking.
    • This habit can be overcome by taking notes while the other person is speaking.
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    Bringing in Emotions

    Emotions erect barriers to effective communication. A listener's senses are not likely to be functioning at their optimum level when he or she is angry. Likewise, it is not possible to understand or appreciate what the speaker is saying if the listener is excessively sad.

    Tip: It is better to avoid conversations when you are angry or excessively sad.

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    Noise is "any unwanted sound. It is a great impediment to clear communication. It is impossible to listen in a noisy environment. It becomes a frustrating experience for both the speaker and the listener.

    • Try to avoid conversations in noisy surroundings.
    • Eliminate the source of noise whenever possible; turn off cell phones, radios or television sets.
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    Fear is a great barrier to listening. People who are afraid during a conversation are not likely to listen. They become defensive and tend to argue.

    Tips to overcome fear:

    • Be aware that fear can only worsen the situation. Listen to what the other person is about to say without fear.
    • Keeping calm will give you mental strength to face any situation.
    • Taking a deep breath helps in overcoming fear.
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    Great leaders are good listeners. Effective listening is a valuable skill that helps team members achieve their goals efficiently and improves productivity. This skill is necessary to stay competitive in the current global scenario. Implementing the above mentioned tips will definitely help in improving listening skills. It is possible with self examination and self discipline.

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    Image courtesy: File: 040722-N-8148A - 049 by U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Kitt Amaritnant under Public Domain license

    Author unknown, "Listening Effectively," Wright State University,

    Webb, Michael, "Eight Barriers to Effective Listening,"