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Courageous Conversations: Barriers to Listening

As a manager preparing for a courageous conversation, it will serve you well to understand that there are common physical barriers that can get in your way.  Know these – prepare for them, and assure that they don’t interrupt your conversation.

Some common barriers to active listening during a difficult conversation include:

  1. External Noise: Background noise or distractions like equipment running, phones ringing, or other conversations can hinder effective listening[5].
  2. Visual Distractions: Being visually distracted by things like scenes outside a window or activities nearby can divert attention from the speaker[5].
  3. Physical Discomfort: Uncomfortable temperature, poor seating, bad odors, or physical discomfort can be distracting and impede active listening[5].
  4. Objects: Fidgeting with items like pocket change, pens, or jewelry while listening can detract from focusing on the speaker[5].
  5. Personal Appearance or Mannerisms: Being distracted by the speaker’s appearance, mannerisms, voice, or gestures can interfere with active listening[5].
  6. Internal Barriers: Internal barriers such as anxiety, self-centeredness, mental laziness, boredom, a sense of superiority, and cognitive dissonance can also hinder effective listening during difficult conversations[5].