icon Overcoming Barriers to Active Listening | HRDQ Skip to content
HRDQ will be closed on Friday (5/24) and Monday (5/27) for Memorial Day
HRDQ will be closed on Friday (5/24) and Monday (5/27) for Memorial Day
Overcoming Barriers to Active Listening - HRDQ

Overcoming Barriers to Active Listening

Communication isn’t just about speaking. It’s also about listening. A transfer of information can’t occur unless the receiver has the listening skills to understand and process that information. Active listening, in particular, requires plenty of training and practice to perfect due to some of the challenges the skill presents. Learn more about overcoming barriers to active listening so you can improve your communication!

HRDQ offers a fully customizable virtual training library, so you can provide specialized training content to your team no matter where they are. Explore the Reproducible Training Library.

What is Active Listening?

We listen every day of our lives. From the television and podcasts to conversations with peers, bosses, and more, you’d think we’d have this skill down pat, right?


Research suggests that we only recall 25-50% of what we hear. So, if you have a 20-minute conversation with your neighbor, they will only remember about the first 10-minutes of what you said.

Active listening significantly changes how much we remember from what we hear. This is because it requires you to not just focus on the words that are being spoken, but the message that’s being conveyed. You have to consciously make an effort to focus only on the speaker. However, as you might imagine, there are many barriers that make it difficult to give someone your full attention.

Barriers to Active Listening

Below are some of the barriers to active listening. These make it hard for the listener to pay attention and grasp the complete message of the speaker:

Internal Noise

The first barrier to active listening starts with the self. Internal noise is defined as distractions from the brain, like thoughts, that prevent the listener from focusing on the message being sent by the speaker.

For instance, as the speaker talks, you might begin to form a counter-argument in your head so you can respond to a point they’re making. Perhaps your mind drifts to the big presentation you have coming up later in the day, or you simply start to get bored and lose focus.

To overcome internal noise, it helps to be aware that it’s a problem you’ll likely face as you practice active listening. When your mind starts to drift, recognize your loss of attention, and consciously realign your focus on the speaker. With practice, you’ll be able to expertly manage and diminish internal noise.

External Noise

External noise refers to anything outside of the body that causes distraction. This may include people talking nearby, noisy traffic outside a window, background music, and more.

There are several ways to overcome external noise. If the listener is having a hard time hearing the speaker, the first option is to remove the source of the noise. To do this, the speaker can request to move the conversation to a quieter area, close the noisy window, or remove the source in another way. If this isn’t possible, the listener might ask the speaker to talk more loudly. Finally, through practicing active listening, the listener can eventually learn to block out external noise to focus only on the speaker.

Information Overload

When presented with a large volume of information, it’s quite easy to become overwhelmed and lose sight of the overall message. This is information overload. When given too much information at once, it’s nearly impossible to digest.

So how do you overcome this problem? Consider using the following tactics:

  • Ask the speaker to slow down their speech. This way, you can give yourself more time to process what’s being said.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you believe you missed something, nicely ask the speaker to repeat what was said.
  • Write down important information as the conversation progresses, jotting down the key points to review later on.


Oftentimes, people simply agree with the speaker to wrap up the conversation. Think nodding yes repeatedly, giving casual “uh-huh’s” here and there, and simply checking out to move onto the next task of the day. When this occurs, you’re likely not hearing anything at all.

To overcome this, consider why you engaged in the conversation. There’s a specific reason you’re listening to the speaker and giving them your time. Don’t cut them short. See the conversation all the way through, and you’ll get more value out of every talk you engage in.

Start Virtual Training with HRDQ

Overcoming barriers to active listening is important for effective communication. If you’re ready to train your team in this important skill, get started with HRDQ today. Our live, instructor-led virtual training allows your employees to complete sessions and workshops no matter where they are. If you’re ready to experience the power of online training, view our virtual classes to get started!

Explore HRDQ Virtual Training

Related Products of Interest

Previous article Intercultural Management Guide: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

Leave a comment

Comments must be approved before appearing

* Required fields

About our author

Bradford R. Glaser

Brad is President and CEO of HRDQ, a publisher of soft-skills learning solutions, and HRDQ-U, an online community for learning professionals hosting webinars, workshops, and podcasts. His 35+ years of experience in adult learning and development have fostered his passion for improving the performance of organizations, teams, and individuals.