Barriers to effective listening can cause many types of communication issues.
The truth is, much training and attention is given to making people better at speaking and getting their point across.
The thing that’s often overlooked is the supply side of the communication loop. And that’s listening.
And nearly all areas of your life can benefit from improved listening skills.
From communicating with your family and friends, to listening to your team members and customers.
Most of us can improve our listening skills.
And here are some barriers to effective listening, that you can spot and overcome.
From my point of view, it’s not being in the moment that can catch us all out.
Whether it’s selling (we’ll talk about, shortly), to coaching and counselling your team members… or anything else. If we’re distracted by other things, then we don’t listen effectively.
If we’re lost in our own head, and consumed by our own thoughts, then it detracts from listening attentively and affectively.
Have you ever talked to someone and it was clear that they weren’t 100% focused on what you had to say? They may have summarised the wrong things, or were looking at their watch from time to time. Or they just were nodding in agreement with that glazed look in their eyes?
We’ve all been there.
You may have felt angry and even just stopped the conversation there and then. Perhaps you vowed never to talk to them again.
The fact is, not listening correctly, is a trust and respect killer.
When you’re even slightly distracted, your ability to listen effectively, is reduced. You’ll tend to miss the important clues, or gestures, or even points of the story.
You’ve got to take all distractions out, and just listen.
You don’t have to be the font of all knowledge.
You don’t have to provide all the advice and solutions…
You just need to listen with clarity.
The following additional barriers to effective listening are all symptoms of not being in the moment.
So, keep your attention on what the person is saying, what body language they’re giving off; how they’re saying it, and provide your undivided attention…
Trying to offer advice, might seem the thing to do, but it can interfere with listening.
It’s normally the symptom of trying to be helpful.
And because you want to be helpful, you tend to get caught in your own mind again, trying to find a solution.
And when you get do this, you often miss the important elements of the conversation.
You may miss the clues; body language; main points of discussion.
Be happy that you’re there to listen, and listen well.
Often, the fact that you’re listening attentively means that the person doing the talking can consciously work things out, just by logically going through their problem.
Provide open questions to help drill down, and explore deeper issues.
Use words like:
“what did you mean by that?”
“How did it make you feel?”
And so on.
These questions allow you to explore even more, without you steamrollering in!
This is the classic, “listening with filters on”.
When we’re all being communicated to, we have our own filters. These filters are from things that form our perceptions. Often, these perceptions are not rational, but they feel so to us.
They stem from our own experiences in life; our beliefs and values and our perception of what we think is being said or happening.
Jumping to an answer when someone’s talking, may deem helpful by us, but why do we even have to give an answer?
Often, jumping to, and thinking you know the answer means you already know what’s going to be said. This means that your tentative listening may not be that tentative after all.
What’s more is that you may cut that person off in full flow.
By listening, you must give that person time to talk. Cutting someone off only adds to the feeling that they’re not being listened to.
The better listeners of us always try to keep an open mind. They’re there to listen and to absorb the information. They’re also there to open their mind rather than being caught in a closed-minded loop of existing thoughts and opinions.
Allow the points to thoroughly be discussed. Listen and try to not judge and answer too soon. Let that person explore ideas as they talk… Without jumping straight to the conclusion.
A great strategy to overcoming this, is to allow a few seconds to pause after they’ve spoken. It allows the person speaking to you to get it all off their chest. And they’ll feel good that you’ve listened to what they had say.
Emotional triggers are those words or situations that elicit a reaction from you. And they form he third of the barriers to effective listening.
Here’s the interesting bit. You can only react to emotional triggers if you’re not in the moment, and locked in your own thoughts. (That’s why being in the moment is so vital)
Often, through our own experiences and values built over a lifetime, we develop triggers.
These triggers are normally irrational.
For instance, my wife hates it when I raise an eyebrow at her when she talks. It almost literally makes her see red.
She gets angry when I do it.
We can be talking jovially, and the minute I do it, her tune instantly changes and she fires off a warning….”Don’t look at me like that…”
This reaction is totally irrational and illogical to you and I, but to her, it’s a trigger. That trigger comes from her past.
And it turns out that her parents would give her that look when she was a child. It’s safe to say her childhood wasn’t a great one, to say the least.
Over years, her irrational mind has built up a trigger that it’s not acceptable to look at her like that.
To me, there’s no malice whatsoever. But to her its personal and a threat (bringing back those dark memories). And it’s like lighting touch paper…
Where am I going with this?
Well, we all have our own emotional triggers. And if we experience them when we’re listening, we can’t possibly give rational support.
We’d more than likely jump in and give our own biased views on the subject, based on our own irrational filters (or triggers).
How do you get over this?
You need to find your trigger points. Understand what they are and how they make you feel. And when you experience them, coach your mind into understanding that it’s a totally irrational view, even despite the past that goes with it.
Learn too, not to jump in. You’re there to listen. Don’t try and save the world. Let the person talk and then reflect. Often, reflection is a great way of logically appraising something and dismissing it, anyway.
The big learning point here: Repeat lesson 1 – Get in the moment and be open minded! Don’t allow yourself to get lost in your own head. Step back and be unbiased. Just listen with an open, and positive mind.
Excessive talking is another of the common barriers to effective listening… which stems from being caught up in your own mind, too.
You’ve heard the saying; we have two ears and one mouth and therefore should use them in proportion?
Well, when you’re listening and trying to listen effectively, it’s not about you, it’s about them.
Ask questions to drill down, but it’s not a talking shop. It’s a listening shop (if you know what I mean).
I once did some sales training, and the trainer said to me that sales is about effective listening.
Ask questions to understand more, but it’s not there for you to rabbit on. The best sales techniques are those that listen to the person’s problems and then confirm their issues back to them. Then and only then you help find a solution.
How many sales people do this? Or do they just jump in talking about their business, and its services and how they can help?
Listening should follow this simple rule. Listen. Just listen. Don’t talk unless you’re asking meaningful questions to help them get to the root problem or reflect. (Cue the advice in the first section again…)
Just remember, active listening is not about you. It’s about them and hearing what they say.
Keep it simple, and follow these notes on barriers to effective listening, and you’ll be a better listener in no time.