Listening can be hard. There are typically many things vying for your attention while you try to focus on someone else, from the speaker to your own mental and emotional state and even the setting where you receiving the message. 

Here are some factors that make listening difficult at times and what we can do to help ourselves listen better.

Barrier 1: The Speaker

There are many ways that the speaker themselves can be a barrier in order to listen to them effectively. Their speech, dialect, or accent may be hard to follow. Also, the speed, or lack thereof, of verbal communication can be hard to comprehend. 

To tackle this part of the barrier, politely let the person know that you are having trouble following them and ask for any slight adjustments. I recently interviewed someone from the Northern US, where people have a tendency to talk at a very fast pace. People talk at a much slower pace here in the Southern US, and while I could understand him, it was becoming a bit taxing after a while. After a question was answered, I gave us a time check, affirmed their excitement for the role, and asked if they would mind slowing down just a bit for me.  The rest of the conversation went great as a result. 

The speaker’s physical appearance can be a distraction as well. Maybe, it’s the way they are dressed, something in their teeth, or perhaps something entirely inconsequential that’s calling our attention. 

If it’s an easy fix and appropriate to do so, you can help the person and yourself out by letting the speaker know. If it’s something that they can’t be fixed in the moment or perhaps just a personal hangup that you have, mentally acknowledge it and then put extra effort into focusing on what is being said. 

Barrier 2: You, the Listener

It’s been said that when you see a problem, that you need to first look in the mirror to make sure that the problem isn’t you.  Sometimes our barrier to listening is the messenger instead of the message itself. 

If you have an issue with someone or a personality difference that is causing a barrier in your ability to listen, then ultimately the responsibility falls on you in that moment, not the other person. Lean in your Emotional Intelligence skills to set aside personal differences in order to give yourself a good opportunity to listen and truly hear what the other persona has to say. 

Another way that you can be a barrier to yourself is by distractions that you bring along with you on a daily basis. Phones, smartwatches, and computers can all tug at your attention even if it’s just for a moment. Turn off notifications, or shut the device down entirely especially during critical conversations where you need to be at your highest level of listening ability and attention. 

Barrier 3: The Setting and Environment

Even when we are fully engaged with the person delivering the message, the setting and surroundings can be a distraction. Sometimes I find myself susceptible to environmental distractions when either A) The importance of the conversation is low while being in a very public setting with a lot going on. B) A disinteresting lecture in a very quiet setting. 

During a one-on-one, ask to move to a different location if possible when the importance of the message is high. This will not only help you be a better listener in the moment but will also show the other person that you value what they have to say. 

For those times where there is very little mental stimulation, create your own! Take notes, listen to what is not being said, ask questions if possible and mentally sort info to keep engagement high.

Understand the main factors that hinder your ability to listen to others at times. Mentally acknowledge them, adapt and overcome the barrier to keep your engagement and knowledge transfer with the other person.

Make a better tomorrow.