Last November, I blogged about the disparity between how fast we can talk and how fast the human brain can process information is a major contributor to poor listening (see Good listening: it’s about staying “checked-in”). But what else can get in the way of active listening? Well, mental and physical barriers can as well. One example of a mental barrier is a phenomenon called self-focus, which is the endless conversation that occurs inside our heads. Whether it is what needs to be picked up at the grocery store on the way home, a mental composition of an email note that needs to be sent out that afternoon, a thought about what to have for lunch, or just plain ol’ daydreamin’, this internal talk pulls us away from the dialogue in front of us and causes us to not listen as well as we should. Criticism is another example of a mental barrier. Human nature is that when we are criticized, we tend to get defensive, and defensiveness immediately impairs listening. On the other hand, physical barriers have to do with our environment. One universal example is noise. It’s harder to listen and stay focused in a noisy environment where there are many other loud distractions to pull us away from the discussion at hand.
An essential component of effective communication is good listening. So when it’s important to listen carefully, it’s well worth being aware of the physical and mental barriers that can get in the way and make communication harder.
So what do you think? What else gets in the way of good listening? What have I missed?