12 Barriers to Effective Listening

12 Barriers to Effective Listening

Experts agree that the first step to becoming a better listener is to develop an awareness of the problem. Andre (1991) points out hearing problems, overload, rapid thought, noise, and inappropriate approaches to listening as problems for effective listening.

Ashenbrenner and Snalling (1988) mention judgment, preoccupation, pseudo-listening, semantics, excessive talking, and fear as pertinent problems of effective listening.

Murphy, Hidebranot, and Thomas (2001) mention problem factors as prejudice against the speaker, external distractions, thinking speed, premature evaluation, semantic stereotypes, and delivery. The following discussion enlists the unique problems:

Hearing Problems

This covers any of the myriad problems that can decrease or eliminate the range of sounds that can be heard. This is especially important when you consider that hearing is the first step in the listening process. Without adequate hearing, there can be no listening whatsoever.


This problem is associated with hearing too much, having to attend to too many stimuli. The result can be stress, withdrawal, or not being able to focus attention.

Rapid Thought

Thinking is faster than talking. The average person speaks at 80 to 160 words per minute, but people have the capacity to think at the phenomenal rate of up to 800 words per minute. That leaves time on the listener’s hands. What will they do with that idle time? Listening is affected if the listener allows their mind to wander.


Listening is interrupted by the physical environment, the channel, and the psychological environment.

Inappropriate Approaches to Listening

This is the general category for a host of inappropriate listening behaviors. It includes:

  1. Ambush Listening: Listening for the little piece of information that can be used as the basis for an attack on the speaker.
  2. Insensitive Listening: Listening to accept the speaker’s words at face value and not taking into account all the things that affect meaning.
  3. Dan Akroyd Listening: Listening only for the facts.
  4. Touchy-feely Listening: Listening only for the emotions.
  5. Pseudo-Listening: Pretending to listen.


The tendency to evaluate what we hear, often before we have heard it completely.


Our own concerns become more important than listening to another. We believe that what we are thinking is more important than what the other is saying.


Meanings unique to a particular field create misunderstandings when applied outside of its relevance. People are also hesitant to ask another to repeat or clarify.

Excessive Talking

We prefer to talk rather than listen to another. We listen for pauses so we can interject, believing that what we have to say is more important.


Sometimes we tune out because we are afraid of what the other will say.

Prejudice Against the Speaker

Listening is distracted because the speaker is saying something against our attitudes, positions, or beliefs.

External Distraction

The entire physical environment affects talking. Noisy fans, poor or glaring lights, distracting background music, overheated or cold rooms, oddly shaped or gaudily decorated rooms, excessive drafts from a window, loud clothing, and sloppy dress of the speaker, or the reek of perfume or cologne, all these and more can cause people to tune out the speaker.


The mode of delivery of talks seriously affects listening. A monotone can readily put listeners to sleep or cause them to lose interest.