Overcoming Barriers to Listening

“Seek first to understand – then to be understood.” Stephen Covey makes this point in his book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” What he is suggesting here is when we communicate with others, we should DIAGNOSE before we PRESCRIBE. Is it easy? Not so much. The truth is, at times, most of us are poor listeners. I have learned that this is because we are unaware of how we block our own active listening – how we keep the lid on the jar.

I have compiled a list of some of these barriers to active listening and how we can overcome them.

  • Snap Judgments

When we make up our mind about something before we’ve heard all the pertinent information and before we’ve given it the thought that it deserves, we’ve made a snap judgment. I submit to you that snap judgments are often foolish and can cause all sorts of avoidable trouble.

BEFORE you make a snap judgment while listening to someone, be sure that you consider the reasons the speaker gives to support their ideas. Remember, it’s perfectly okay to disagree. However, it’s just best to avoid snap judgments.

  • Interruptions

When we interrupt someone to make our point, we make it abundantly clear to the speaker that we are not receiving their message. Their “coins” are not making it into the jar.

When you are the listener, do your due diligence and stop yourself from saying any and everything that comes into your mind while you are listening. Do your utmost to wait politely and patiently for your chance to share your reactions and feedback to what the other person has said.

  • Mental Traffic

Listening carefully means more than simply not interrupting someone. Our very own thoughts can keep a message from getting through to us. We mentally argue with the speaker, (“I can’t believe you just said that.”), think about what we’re going to say next, (“Hurry up and say what you have to say so that I can really tell you what’s on my mind.”), or think about a point while a new and different point is being made. You can control this mental traffic by staying focused on receiving the message, remembering that we must seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Remember this: With all that is involved in interpersonal communication, it’s easy to see how important it is to be open when you listen. To be open, you must continually work at overcoming barriers to active and effective listening.