Physiological Barriers to Effective Listening

Jupiterimages/ Images

Active listening promotes healthy conflict resolution, meaningful relationships and good interpersonal skills. However, there are a number of physiological barriers that can hinder good active listening. If you know that you may be put into a situation that requires active listening, it's best to make sure that you address any potential hindrances.


Communication and active listening involve higher-order brain functions that cannot be supported without proper nourishment. If you skip lunch before meeting with a friend, chances are that you won't be able to really listen to what she's saying.

Needing to Use the Restroom

Always use the rest room before entering a situation in which you may need to use active listening skills. Otherwise, you'll have difficulty focusing. It's better to interrupt the interaction for a quick bathroom break than to continue without the ability to really listen.


A headache, upset stomach or injury can inhibit your ability to process information and listen to someone when they speak. Find a way to control your pain as much as possible if you cannot postpone a conversation or meeting that requires your full attention.


When you're sick, it's a bad idea to become involved in a conversation that requires you to actively listen. You won't be able to concentrate and you'll be too focused on how you feel to care about what the other person is saying.


Fatigue undermines your ability to concentrate and make important communication judgments. Even though you may do your best to actively listen, chances are you'll find yourself dozing off while the other person is speaking.

Emotional Distress

Extreme grief, anger, anxiety or fear alter the chemical balance of your brain, making it physiologically impossible to engage in rational, intentional communication. Active listening shouldn't be attempted until after you've calmed down.

Poor Hearing

Hearing loss or partial deafness can severely impede a person's ability to actively listen. Poor hearing can cause you to incorrectly perceive what someone is saying, making communication difficult. Age-related hearing loss, an ear infection or even a plugged ear canal can all interfere with active listening. If you find it difficult to hear what people are saying to you, visit your doctor to test for hearing problems.

Most recent