Triumph over Barriers to Your Success

Anything that hampers listening sets up barriers that prevent understanding and closes the door to the ultimate goal of communication – producing constructive action. Barriers to listening are found in physical situations, in attitudes, and in behavior. Awareness of barriers allows you to take appropriate action to keep the door to communication open.

Physical Barriers

Environmental barriers are the easiest to overcome. You can close a door to reduce distracting noise. You can schedule a conversation at a time when interruption can be controlled. You can arrange to be in a comfortable physical environment before attempting an important communication session.

Perhaps the most difficult physical barrier to overcome is the rate of speed with which the human mind thinks. Average conversation proceeds at approximately 125 words a minute – less if the information is complex. But you can think at a rate of 400 to 600 words a minute. The listener’s brain has quite a bit of leisure time available; as a result, the mind of the listener may take a side trip and fail to get back on track in time to capture information being presented. The speed at which the brain generally processes information presents a significant physical concentration and attention barrier.

Two excellent tools are available to overcome this physical barrier and focus the brain’s processing power:

Organizing. Everyone whose work involves more than one basic task is accustomed to organizing activities, ideas, and objects. Apply this same skill to listening. Mentally organize what you hear as you listen. Follow the speaker’s logic, taking notes if that helps your concentration.

Analyzing. As you listen, analyze the ideas you hear. Compare them with information you already know; look for logical cause and effect relationships.

Attitude Barriers

Attitudes that block communication are often easily detected, but sometimes they are not all that apparent. Sometimes it is possible just to look at certain people and tell that they are only pretending to listen, or that they feel no real concern for the topic. In contrast, some people convincingly pretend to be interested when they actually have already made up their minds and are closed to new ideas. Other similar attitudes lead to tuning out the speaker, discounting the worth of a speaker on the basis of appearance, voice, or other external attributes.

One of the most prevalent attitude barriers in communication is selective listening. Because we would like to hear only what pleases us or fits into our preconceived plans and ideas, it is easy to discount or filter out messages we find unpleasant or disagreeable.

Because selective listening is so devastating to relationships, become aware of any areas in which you practice it. Devise a plan for changing your attitude and, as a result, your behavior.

An attitude barrier that is just as devastating as selective listening is overreacting. Making snap judgments, losing control of emotions, and other inappropriate reactions – especially when they occur before the entire message has been delivered – destroy any hopes to mutual understanding and cooperation.

The best tools for overcoming attitude barriers to communication are a strong, secure self-image and a belief in the worth of other people. Recognize that communication is more than sending; it is also receiving. Explore strategies for strengthening your self-esteem, and put them into practice. Decide to treat others with respect in spite of what they may say, think, or do. Demonstrate genuine empathy in all your interpersonal relationships. These commitments promote understanding and result in constructive action.

Behavior Barriers

Behaviors that reduce the power of communication include both verbal and nonverbal actions that cut off listening. One of the most frequently observed listening barriers is interrupting the speaker. When people interrupt the speaker, their actions may be perceived as lack of understanding, impoliteness, or rejection.

Other verbal barriers to listening include criticizing and attempting to control. Habitual criticizers stop the flow of creative ideas from others. Nonstop talkers and those who attempt to manipulate or control other people and situations send the message that they consider communication as one way – from them to everyone else. They do not stop to ask themselves or others, “What do I need to know?”

Nonverbal behavior barriers to listening are often seen in the posture. Slumping down in a chair, avoiding eye contact, obvious preoccupation with other matters, and nervous handling of objects all telegraph the message, “I’m not listening and you can’t make me.”

Actively Listening

Effective listening is active, not passive. Listening demands conscious activity and concentration; it is more than maintaining a polite silence while mentally rehearsing what to say at the speaker’s next breath or silently searching for flaws in the speaker’s ideas that you can attack. Like any important skill, effective listening requires adequate preparation, careful execution, and continual monitoring. This means that preparation for good listening begins with adopting certain attitudes that support effective listening.

One of the basic attitudes for listening is readiness to learn or understand. Closely allied is willingness to learn from a particular source. Those who believe they already know everything of importance are functionally unable to listen.

A second important attitude for listening is belief in the value of others as individuals and in the possibility that they have ideas and information worth hearing. This attitude is expressed through empathy – the ability to communicate that you value other people even when you do not necessarily agree with or condone their attitudes and actions. Empathy is the ability to understand what people feel, to acknowledge their right to feel it, and to communicate for win-win solutions even though you differ.

Listening also is being alert not only to the actual words spoken, but also to what is not being said. Listening is being acutely aware of the attitudes of others, their viewpoints, their body language, and their emotional states.

Fortunately, listening is a skill that can be learned. Listening opens the gateway to personal and professional success through the vast dividends it pays. Listening does the following:

• Keeps communication channels open

• Provides opportunities for learning

• Enhances relationships

• Increases productivity by saving time and effort

• Reduces friction, misunderstandings, and conflicts

• Alerts you to opportunities

• Enlists the support and favorable responses of others

• Enables you to reach professional and personal goals

• Develops insight into people’s needs and desires so you can communicate better.

Everybody wants to be appreciated. Listening is one of the highest forms of appreciation anyone can show another person. Listening and trying to understand the other person’s point of view develops rapport and trust. When people feel appreciated, when they sense an attitude of respect, and when they know that others are trying to understand their situation and how they view it, then they tend to reflect these same attitudes of appreciation and respect. This, in turn, fosters mutual understanding and cooperation, both essential.



Leadership Management® International
Reprinted with permission
Strategic Essentials is a Managing Partner for Leadership Management® International, Inc.

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