Eastern Michigan University

Barriers to Listening

The following tends to shut other people down, as they do not feel heard or understood:

  • Advice-Giving: You’ve already solved the problem for them, so why do they need to continue to talk?
  • Moralizing or Judging: This gives two messages, one, that you think there is something wrong with the other person, and two, that you are better/superior/wiser than s/he is. This is not conducive to getting someone to open up to you.
  • Interrupting: This gives the message that you really don’t think what they are saying is all that important.
  • Psychologizing or Psychoanalyzing: This involves making the assumption that you know more about what’s motivating the other person’s behavior than s/he does, and is demeaning. (E.g., you’re just acting this way because you’re mad at your mother.) People don’t feel respected and either get angry or withdraw.
  • Taking Over: Talking over the other person and dominating the conversation, thus not allowing him/her to express important thoughts and feelings.
  • Going Off on Tangents: Again, this gives the message that you really don’t think what they are saying is important enough to listen.
  • Scapegoating: Immediately labeling or classifying the other in a negative way. Men tend to scapegoat women as “nags” or “bitches,” while women scapegoat men as victimizers or insensitive and unable to express feelings. Either way, you’re dismissing what the other is saying. After all, you tell yourself, why should you have to listen to a nag? You’re justified in ignoring her!
  • Competition: Entering every discussion with the mind set that you must win, no matter what. You’re too busy plotting your next move to really pay attention to what the other is saying.
  • Blaming: Telling the other it’s his/her own fault for being in this situation. This may or may not be true, but either way it will not encourage the other to want to continue to talk to you.
  • Mr. or Ms. Perfect: You are always right and everyone else is always wrong. What more is there to discuss?
  • Defensiveness: Jumping to the conclusion that you are being blamed or criticized, and responding defensively. This makes it difficult for others to talk with you about anything important.

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