Barriers to Effective Listening and Strategies to Overcome Them

As an Accident Benefits Specialist, active and effective listening is essential. Listening to a group with a broad range of competing interests, including clients, adjusters, health care providers and colleagues, can be challenging. However, it can help provide the foundation for understanding, learning, problem solving, and relationship building.

In order to be an effective listener, a person needs to ensure that they engage in active listening. An active listener encourages communication in verbal and non-verbal ways. This can be done by reiterating what the speaker has said, asking questions for clarification or providing feedback, and through facial expressions, posture and gestures.

Unlike active listening, passive listening can cause communication to shut down as it results in a one-sided conversation. When a person is only passively listening, the speaker does not feel heard, and will ultimately be unwilling to engage in further communication. 

Various barriers can hinder our ability to listen effectively. These barriers tend to come up when we are tired, stressed, distracted or rushed. Understanding these barriers will help us become aware of them when they come during conversation.

Internal barriers to effective listening:

  • Engaging in non-specific responses
  • Thinking of a reply before the other person has finished speaking
  • Interrupting
  • Refusing to accept what the speaker is saying
  • Feeling a sense of superiority
  • Lack of empathy
  • Daydreaming or thinking about something else
  • Losing concentration
  • Anxiety
  • Being influenced by personal prejudices.

External barriers to effective listening:

  • Objects (such as a cellphone or an item one can fidget with like a pen)
  • Noise (people talking loudly nearby)
  • Environment (perhaps the room is very hot)
  • Visual distractions (staring out the window)
  • The speaker (they may have a loud voice or make lots of hand gestures).

By recognizing these barriers, we can change our behaviour or situation. It is easier to remove external barriers as one can simply close their office door if it’s too loud or take objects off their desk that are distracting. It is much more difficult to overcome internal barriers but it is possible with self-awareness and practice.

Strategies to overcoming barriers to effective listening:

  • Practice mindfulness – be focused and present in the moment.
  • Remove distractions – create an environment conducive to listening.
  • Avoid passive listening – it should not be a one-sided conversation.
  • Seek clarification – ask questions if something is unclear.
  • Show empathy and respect – be understanding of the other person’s feelings and perspective.
  • Be genuine – this fosters trust and open communication.
  • Reserve judgment – set aside personal prejudices.
  • Take notes – this will help with information retention.
  • Process non-verbal cues – observe facial expressions, posture and gestures.
  • Show engagement – use positive body language such as making eye contact and nodding.
  • Self-awareness – reflect on and assess our listening skills.

We can harness the power of effective listening by recognizing and actively addressing these barriers. Effective listening is a fundamental skill that can lead to better decision making, conflict resolution, and relationships in both our personal and professional lives. 

About the Authors

Prior to joining Oatley Vigmond in 2020, Lisa worked in the insurance industry for 12 years with a focus on accident benefits claims. She has experience in adjusting complex and catastrophic claims, team leading, mentorship and alternative dispute resolution. With the knowledge and insight of how an insurance company operates, Lisa acts as the primary liaison with the accident benefits insurer and is effective at obtaining benefits from insurance companies.

To learn more about Lisa, please click here.