In a previous post as part of the session on Effective Listening, we explored what effective listening is and why it’s important to managers. This activity will focus on identifying possible barriers to effective listening.


  • Tell them that:
    • We know effective listening is good for us as managers but there are barriers that may prevent us from being able to listen effectively.
    • Let’s explore some of those barriers.
    • I want you to think about what barriers may prevent you from listening effectively to your team members and write them in the chat window.
    • Let’s take 3-minutes to do this.
  • Allow 3-minutes for them to write their answers in the chat window and as they do so read through them quietly for the duration.
  • When the 3-minutes is up, stop them and get everyone’s attention.
  • Read out their answers so they can hear. Acknowledge each person as you read their answer.
  • After reading, thank them for their answers and let them know you also have some barriers to share with them.
  • Display the slide titled – BARRIERS TO EFFECTIVE LISTENING.





  • When the slide displays, it will be blank without any content.
  • Click once on the slide to display information for the ‘Mental/Psychological’ barriers.
  • Tell them that:
    • Listening barriers can be classified into three groups.
    • This first one is ‘Mental/Psychological’ barriers. These group of barriers refer to barriers which exist in our head. They have to do with our thinking processes.
    • One of them is when people are busy planning their response to the person speaking instead of concentrating on understanding what the person is saying.
    • We think at a rate much faster than we speak, so we can get into the trap of thinking ahead to how we are going to respond while the other person is speaking.
    • Not only do we not listen to understand what the person is saying but we also formulate inappropriate responses because we did not accurately understand what the person said.
    • Another of these barriers is when our thoughts are elsewhere. We are thinking about something else while the person is speaking.
    • Some people may also have a closed mind. They are not open to other ideas and no matter what people say they have already made up their mind not to listen because they have their own fixed assumptions.
    • Some people may also approach conversations with prejudice about the speaker, which leads them to make prior judgements and then erroneous presumptions.
    • We need to be aware of how we think and what is going on in our head when we communicate with people unless our thought processes can become major barriers to our ability to listen effectively.
  • Click the slide again to display – ‘Environmental’ Tell them that:
    • These are external barriers that come from things we can see.
    • They include things such as, trying to have a conversation with more than one person at a time. You are not likely to concentrate on any one person if you do this and you obviously won’t listen effectively.
    • Doing something else while trying to listen to what someone is saying, such as glancing at your computer or phone will prevent you from understanding what someone is saying. This is not just a listening issue; it is also a sign of disrespect because you are not giving eye contact to the person speaking to you.
    • Background noise can also distract us from listening well.
    • We may also fixate on how a person speaks such as their accent or their use of grammar. This can become a barrier that prevents us from listening to the person.
  • Click on the slide for a final time to display ‘Personal’ Tell them that:
    • These set of barriers come from us. They are the barriers we personally create and they may also be linked to how we think.
    • They include things such as our view of the speaker. If we have unrealistic or negative views about the speaker, we may not be willing to listen to them.
    • Also, we may lack interest in what the person is saying and not even give them our focus.
    • Sometimes our physical or mental health may also affect our ability to listen. For example, if we are tired or unwell, listening may be a challenge for us.
    • When we have a lot on our minds, we may not listen to what is being said as we’re too busy concentrating on what we’re thinking about. This is particularly true when we feel stressed or worried about issues.
    • Finally, non-verbal behaviour, such as lack of eye contact with the speaker, inappropriate posture – slouched, leaning back or ‘swinging’ on a chair, leaning forward onto a desk or table and/or a constantly shifting posture can be a barrier that prevents us from really listening to a person.
  • After you’ve finished telling them about the barriers, ask if they have any questions and/or comments about what you’ve just told them.
  • If they do, listen to their comments and questions. If you need to respond, do so appropriately.
  • Also tell them that there is information about these barriers in the part of their workbooks titled – BARRIERS TO EFFECTIVE LISTENING.



Mental / Psychological

These are barriers in your head.

  • Planning your response: When you are busy planning how to respond to the person instead of trying to really understand what she is saying.
  • Thoughts elsewhere: You are preoccupied thinking about something else (what am I going to have for lunch?)
  • Closed mind: we all have ideals and values that we believe to be correct which can make it difficult to listen to the views of others that contradict our own opinions. The key to effective listening and interpersonal skills more generally is the ability to have a truly open mind – to understand why others think about things differently to you and use this information to gain a better understanding of the speaker.
  • Prejudice, judgements, and presumptions: You have already made up views about the person which you use to judge them and make presumptions. Everything the person says is coloured by the prejudice you have about the person. This causes you to judge them and make presumptions. You clearly won’t listen to the speaker in such instances.

 Environmental barriers

These are external barriers which can affect listening.

  • Multiple conversations: Having more than one conversation at the same time. For instance, talking on the phone and trying to listen to someone else or trying to talk to two team members at the same time.
  • Computer/Phone: Glancing at your computer or phone while trying to listen to somebody without giving them any eye contact or physical attention.
  • Noise: There may be background noise which affects your ability to listen to someone.
  • Language: Whether a person is fluent in the language we are communicating with or has an accent may also be a barrier.

Personal barriers

These are barriers that we have personally.

  • View of speaker: Your view of the speaker may affect how well you listen to them. You may be prepared to show more interest to someone you have a positive view of than a team member you view negatively.
  • Lack of interest: You are not interested in the topic. You become bored.
  • Not focusing: Not focusing and being easily distracted, fiddling with your hair, fingers, a pen. Or gazing out of the window or focusing on objects other than the speaker.
  • Tired or unwell: Feeling unwell or tired, hungry, thirsty or needing to use the toilet.
  • Preoccupied: when we have a lot on our minds, we can fail to listen to what is being said as we’re too busy concentrating on what we’re thinking about. This is particularly true when we feel stressed or worried about issues.
  • Non-verbal behaviour: Such as Lack of eye contact with the speaker – listeners who are engaged with the speaker tend to give eye contact.  Lack of eye contact can, however, also be a sign of shyness. Or an inappropriate posture – slouched, leaning back or ‘swinging’ on a chair, leaning forward onto a desk or table and/or a constantly shifting posture.   People who are paying attention tend to lean slightly towards the speaker.


  • Next move on to discuss how managers can listen effectively.

In the next post we will explore five basic skills that can help managers listen more effectively.

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