Overcome These 5 Listening Barriers to Realize Your Professional Potential

listening barriers

Hearing happens naturally, but listening is a skill that can be sharpened. We’ve all found ourselves drifting off during an important presentation or growing bored when we knew we should pay attention. The seemingly simple path that ideas take from a speaker’s mouth to a listener’s mind is filled with potential roadblocks. Here are the top five challenges to active listening and how to overcome these listening barriers.

PROBLEM: Pseudo-Listening.

Pseudo-Listening is pretending to listen. This may be listening to another conversation in the room or thinking about something else.

SOLUTION: No conversation in the room is as essential as the one you are a part of.  Become conscious of when you’re drifting. As soon as your attention has shifted away, bring yourself back to the conversation you’re in. Repeat this as many times as you need to. Over time it will become more natural to be engaged in the current conversation.

PROBLEM: Scoring Points

Scoring points relates everything we hear to our own experience. You might hear someone who is scoring points respond to what they’ve listened to by saying… “Oh!  That’s nothing. Wait till you hear what happened to me last week.”

SOLUTION: First, acknowledge to yourself that this approach is counterproductive. Then focus on taking in all of the speaker’s story instead of responding with your own. Ask them questions about their experience instead of turning it into an opportunity to talk about yourself.

PROBLEM: Mind Reading

Mind reading is predicting what the other person is really thinking. For example, we say something like, “I bet that’s not the real reason she came here.”

SOLUTION: The problem with Mind Reading is that you formulate your own ideas instead of absorbing what the other person is saying. When you see yourself doing this, consciously shift your attention to the speaker. You’ll be surprised how your perceptions of people change when you start truly listening to them.

PROBLEM: Rehearsing

Rehearsing is practicing what we will say next — preparing a clever or witty response and missing what is being said.

SOLUTIONCrafting a response in your mind takes you out of the current conversation, as if your mind were wandering or focusing on your phone. Listen until it’s your turn to talk. You can offer a more accurate and informed response by focusing on listening rather than creating your own script. The answer will come when it’s your turn! Simply stay tuned in to the speaker.

PROBLEM: Cherry Picking 

Cherry picking is listening for a critical piece of information and then switching off.  Hearing only what you want to hear.

SOLUTION: When you multitask during meetings or presentations — only paying attention when it seems necessary — you may think you are operating with efficiency. However, tuning in and out when someone else is speaking only cheats you out of proper understanding. The more effective approach is to listen to everything the speaker is saying and then focus on other pressing matters when you can fully devote yourself to them.

This guest post was authored by Catherine Mattiske

Global business educator and author Catherine Mattiske is the founder of TPC — The Performance Company, a leading training and consulting organization that has worked with Fortune 100 companies worldwide.  Established in 1994, TPC has offices in Sydney, Los Angeles, New York, London, Singapore, and Basel (Switzerland). The author of more than 30 books, her latest is “Unlock Inner Genius: Power Your Path to Extraordinary Success” (September 2021). Discover your team’s Genius Quotient at thegeniusquotient.com.


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Ms. Career Girl

Ms. Career Girl was started in 2008 to help ambitious young professional women figure out who they are, what they want and how to get it.

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