5 Stumbling Blocks to Good Listening

5 Stumbling Blocks to Good Listening

5 Stumbling Blocks to Good Listening

from the soon-to-be-released book The Culture of Empowerment

by Steve Backlund

(this teaching is a chapter written by Steve’s brother, Phil Backlund)

Listening is probably the most over-estimated personal communication skill. So what mistakes do people make in listening? Below are 5 listening stumbling blocks that most of us have seen or experienced (or have done ourselves). They are not the result of conscious choices – they usually are things we really don’t think about consciously. 

1. Not staying focused on the speaker – Since many things in communication situations compete for your attention, it is very easy to lose focus. It takes work to keep your attention on a speaker. Check yourself on occasion. Ask yourself, “Am I really paying attention?” “Do I really understand what they are saying?”

2. Not eliminating noise and distractions whenever possible – Noise is anything that impacts your listening behavior. This could include physical or external noise (cell phones, side conversations), physiological noise (like being tired or hungry), and psychological noise (biases or prejudices). It takes energy to pay attention, and we are prone to be easily distracted by other noises.

3. Daydreaming – The average person talks at a rate of about 125 to 175 words per minute, but you can listen at a rate of up to 450 words per minute. This means that you think faster than you listen, so it’s easy for the brain to attempt to multitask. When you daydream, you come in and out of the listening process, lapsing into fantasy thoughts. Not daydreaming becomes especially difficult when you are not particularly engaged in what the others are saying.

4. Jumping to conclusions – This happens when you think you know what’s about to come next. It’s easy to make assumptions in order to predict what follows. Once your mind gets moving in a direction, it tends to keep going.

5. Focusing on the perceived negative attributes of the speaker – Sometimes you are unable to hear the message when you can’t get past different physical, cultural, or ethnic characteristics of your speaker. Have you ever instantaneously judged a person by the way she looks or the accent he has? Have you decided that you can’t possibly listen or learn from this person? Listening takes practice! Awareness of these common mistakes in listening can help prevent you from making them.


Phil Backlund received his Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Master’s degree in Speech Communication from Humboldt State University, and he earned his PhD in Speech Communication from the University of Denver. He had an academic position at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, taught at Utica College, and recently retired as a Professor of Communication Studies at Central Washington University. Phil loves teaching, and firmly believes that as a teacher, one of the most important gifts he can give his students is the ability to communicate effectively in public and in small groups, both in interpersonal and intercultural contexts. He values building international goodwill and has worked and taught in Hong Kong, Macau, Tanzania, South Sudan, and Pakistan. Phil and his wife, Judy, have three children – Shane, Ryan, and Matthew – and are involved in their community, serving on a number of boards over the years. Family is important to Phil, and he very much enjoys his wonderful children and grandchildren. He is very pleased to be involved with this project with his brother Steve.

For more, check out Steve’s iTunes podcastYouTube ChannelFacebook pageTwitter, and Instagram.