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As a public speaker, the art of listening is vital. To be a great speaker, you need to be a great listener. For your message to reach the ears of those you speak to, you need to know what they want to hear. Everyone has a job to be done. You can only find out what that is by listening to what your audience is saying prior to preparing your speech. When you learn how to be a truly supportive listener, you may find yourself surrounded by others who are able to do the same, thereby reducing or even eradicating any hindrance to effective communication. In listening we therefore have problems of attention and accuracy, but difficulties also arise from the different frames of reference held by the speaker and the listener. Our knowledge, concepts, vocabulary and way of thinking derive from the past – our own, individual past education and experience. If we do not allow for the fact that the other person has his/her own, perhaps very different, frame of reference, it is all too easy to get our wires crossed, or to assume a level of understanding which is not real. We continually run the danger of over-complicating or oversimplifying what we hear. We have all had the experience of talking to someone and then hear them say, “I know just what you mean” and then go on to describe something unrelated to your conversation.

What are Listening Hindrances?

Physiological Hindrances to Effective Listening Hunger

Communication and active listening involve higher-order brain functions that cannot be supported without proper nourishment. If you skip lunch before meeting with a friend, chances are that you will not be able to really listen to what he/she is saying.

Needing to Use the Restroom

Always use the restroom before entering a situation in which you may need to use active listening skills. Otherwise, you will have difficulty focusing. It is better to interrupt the interaction for a quick bathroom break than to continue without the ability to really listen.


A headache, stomach upset or injury can inhibit your ability to process information and listen to someone when they speak. Find a way to control your pain as much as possible if you cannot postpone a conversation or meeting that requires your full attention.


When you are sick, it is a bad idea to become involved in a conversation that requires you to actively listen. You will not be able to concentrate and you will be too focused on how you feel to care about what the other person is saying.


Fatigue undermines your ability to concentrate and make important communication judgments. Even though you may do your best to actively listen, chances are you’ll find yourself dozing off while the other person is speaking.

Emotional Distress

Extreme grief, anger, anxiety or fear can alter the chemical balance of your brain, making it physiologically impossible to engage in rational, intentional communication. Active listening shouldn’t be attempted until after you’ve calmed down.

Poor Hearing

Hearing loss or partial deafness can severely impede a person’s ability to actively listen. Poor hearing can cause you to incorrectly perceive what someone is saying, making communication difficult. Age-related hearing loss, an ear infection or even a plugged ear canal can all interfere with active listening. If you find it difficult to hear what people are saying to you, visit your doctor to test for hearing problems.

Psychological Hindrances to Listening


Listening barriers can also be created by internally generated noise, such as monologues. People often miss what others are saying because they are distracted by their own thoughts or daydreams. Sometimes they fail to concentrate because they are too self-absorbed.


The way people feel about themselves and about others can be a major listening barrier. When a person thinks that he or she knows best, either in general or when discussing a particular topic, this attitude can prevent him or her from effectively receiving information from another person. People also have a tendency to erect listening barriers when they feel threatened by what they are hearing. This can happen when individuals believe that they are being personally attacked, accused or insulted.

Being defensive can also result in listening barriers if one person is accustomed to the poor communication skills of another person. For example, if a husband and wife constantly argue, the anticipation of an argument may prevent them from listening to each other even when they try to interact more civilly.


Certain words can trigger reactions that create listening barriers. Being politically correct and using emotionally charged vocabulary has this effect. Words denoting ethnic or racial identity can also have this effect if they conjure thoughts of negative stereotypes. This type of language grabs attention but also tends to create a situation that prevents people from listening effectively to the overall message.

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