Link: Eight Barriers to Effective Listening

On the Retrospectives Yahoo Group, Michael Webb posted a link to his article Eight Barriers to Effective Listening. This article provides practical advice on how to improve communication. Since one of the basic practices of Agile Work is to maximize communication, this article is essential reading!

Barriers to Effective Listening

Just in case you don’t go follow the link from my introduction, here is a bit more info to help convince you:

As a process facilitator, one’s responsibility is to remove obstacles. This is a list of obstacles to communication and includes for each barrier a strategy to overcome the barrier. Therefore, anyone who is a process facilitator (agile coach, scrummaster, etc.) should look this over and incorporate it into their skill set.

Here is the list of the eight barriers to effective listening:

  • Knowing the Answer
  • Trying to be Helpful
  • Treating Discussion as Competition
  • Trying to Influence or Impress
  • Reacting to Red Flag Words
  • Believing in Language
  • Mixing up the Forest and the Trees
  • Over-Splitting or Over-Lumping

Mr. Webb ends his article with a very nice self-referential comment:

We can make a difference in the world by learning to listen better and by telling others about better listening. But only if they listen.

Update 20070911:

Interestingly, I believe there are two more barriers to effective listening:

1. Distraction! I know that I have a hard time listening if I am tired, if I am worried about something, if I have sensory overload from another source, or (to my embarrassment) even if I just have my email open while talking on the phone.

2. Poor communication tools! It is much easier to listen effectively if I am face-to-face with the other person. Any type of technology that is used to communicate between two people becomes a barrier to effective listening: email, telephone, chat, etc.

Here is an interesting online quiz/presentation about the barriers to effective listening. In this presentation, there are seven barriers to effective listening listed:

  • Content of the message
  • Appeal of the speaker
  • External distractions
  • Emotions
  • Clarity of language
  • Selective perception
  • Inappropriate feedback

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