Barriers to Effective Listening

Why do we sometimes fail to understand a well-crafted and well-delivered message? Aside from contextual factors, such as hearing problems and the different kinds of noise that affect the transfer of message, there are also several factors within the listener that influence the success of the communication event. The following are listening behaviors that prevent people from listening effectively and comprehending the message of the speaker (Adler & Rodman, 2006).


This refers to the act of appearing to be listening, demonstrated by nodding or giving appropriate reactions, without exerting effort to understand the message. When listeners are thinking of something else while being talked to, they often resort to pseudolistening.

Selective Listening

This is demonstrated by listeners who only listen to parts of the message, particularly about certain topics that interest them. They also generate responses only to the parts that grab their attention or specific topics that intrigue them; and ignore the rest of the message.

Defensive Listening

This refers to listening that takes offense in innocent remarks. For instance, parents who get defensive by when listening to their children’s requests reflects insecurity in terms of their ability to provide for the needs of their family.


This is listening to gather information that will then be used against the speaker. Debaters and lawyers are often observed to demonstrate this listening behavior.

Insulated Listening

This is tuning out or avoiding listening to specific topics. For instance, when a friend opens a topic you feel uncomfortable talking about, you avoid listening by changing the topic and forgetting what was said.

Insensitive Listening

This occurs when listeners fail to perceive the hidden meaning of a message by ignoring nonverbal cues or the speaker’s use of language.

Stage Hogging

This is demonstrated by people labeled as conversational narcissists. These people often interrupt the speaker to turn the focus of the conversation on themselves. At times, they show boredom or annoyance.