Barriers to Effective Listening

The factors which act as impediments to effective listening and are considered as barriers to effective listening can be classified into the following:

Physical Barriers

Noise, poor acoustics, malfunctioning of the mechanical devices being used, frequent interruptions and uncomfortable seating arrangements are physical barriers that hamper effective listening. The first step of the listening process is hearing, and extraneous noise disturbs the hearing process.

Extraneous noise disturbs both the listener and the speaker. In case a device like a microphone or telephone is being used, then the malfunctioning of the device will act as a hurdle or it may also result in the failure of transmission of the message from the speaker to the listener. Poor acoustics of the room or uncomfortable seating arrangements may make it difficult for the listener to concentrate on the speaker.


lnterruptions by other people or by the telephone while someone is speaking disturb the concentration of the listener, frustrate the speaker and make the listening process less effective. Message overload, which involves listening to a lot of information one after another, also makes it impossible to listen attentively after a certain point.

Thus, we can summarize the physical barriers to include:

  •   Noise
  •   Poor acoustics
  •   Defective mechanical devices
  •   Frequent interruptions
  •   Uncomfortable seating arrangements and environment
  •   Message overload

People-related Barriers

Both the speaker and the listener influence the communication process. People-related barriers can be both physiological and psychological.

Physiological Barriers

State of Health

The physical condition of the individual affects the listening ability. Fever, pain or any other form of bodily discomfort makes it difficult for an individual to listen attentively. Similarly poor health conditions of a speaker reduce his ability to speak well and this in turn reduces the listening efficiency of the listener.


Hearing is the first step of the listening process and, therefore, hearing deficiencies may lead to poor listening. Similarly, speech disorders of the speaker may make speech incoherent to the listener. At times the speaker’s accent, though not a disability, may make it difficult for the listener to comprehend. Similarly, when a speaker speaks very rapidly, it may also result in an unclear message reaching the listener.

Wandering Attention

Research  shows  that the human  mind can process words at the rate of about 500 per minute, whereas a speaker speaks at the rate of about 150 words per minute. The difference between the two is quite large-350 words per minute. This leaves the listener with sufficient time to let his mind wander. The listener has to be careful of this rather than let his mind wander. Spending the time concentrating on the message and analyzing it would improve listening.

Psychological Barriers

Psychological barriers relate to attitudinal and behavioral aspects. These include the following:

Being Unsure of the Speaker’s Ability

Based on past experience or inputs from sources, the listener may have a preconceived notion of the speaker’s ability. He may perceive the speaker to not be well informed, or to be lacking in depth and ability. This acts as a barrier to the listening process as the listener will not listen to what the speaker has to say.

Personal Anxiety

Sometimes we are preoccupied with personal concerns and anxieties. This makes it difficult to perceive what is being said and thus acts as a barrier to effective listening.


Many times the attitude of the listener acts as a barrier to effective listening. The listener may be highly egocentric with a ‘know it all attitude’ and may not listen because he feels that he already knows what the listener has to say. A casual attitude on the part of the listener towards listening, assuming it can be done without much concentration and effort, also acts as a barrier to listening.

An overly critical attitude of the listener may shift the focus of listening from what is being said to noticing faults and errors in accent, delivery, appearance of the speaker, grammar, and so on.


The listener may not have the patience to wait for the other person to finish what he has to say. He may be intolerant or may be eager to add his own points to the discussion. As a result, his desire to speak overcomes his desire to listen, thus acting as a barrier.

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Sonia Kukreja

I am a mother of a lovely kid, and an avid fan technology, computing and management related topics. I hold a degree in MBA from well known management college in India. After completing my post graduation I thought to start a website where I can share management related concepts with rest of the people.
Sonia Kukreja