Communication barriers

The material in this series of 22 x blogs (of which this is number 14) with this similar format were originally published by the now late Ivan Sokolov and his wife Jacquie Pearson under the auspices of The Parent Network.  They are re-published with the permission of the authors for which I am most grateful.

More about communication barriers

We need to get as much insight as possible into communication barriers … We all put up barriers of one kind or another which get in the way of good communication with others. These are developed in our childhood as a response to not being listened to and not being allowed to speak freely.

We learned to worry what others might think about us if we said what we really felt and thought!

We learned that people often weren’t honest and straight with us, so we had to make our own assumptions about was really going on.

We discovered we had to compete for speaking time, so we learned to rehearse what we wanted to say whilst another was speaking, thereby missing what was being said.

We learned that often people did not mean what they said, so we learned to tune out their voices and tuning out became a habit.

We learned to label and judge what others said. For example: “Don’t listen to him, he is stupid!” or “No one in the Government knows what they are talking about”.

Genuine contact with other people is made very difficult by these judgements and labels.

What do we do instead of listening?

Poor listening develops into a habit in much the same way as slouching or poor posture.  We have many ways of occupying our minds when we are not really listening to what someone is saying to us:-

  •  we compare ourselves with the speaker, hoping that we will come out favourably.
  • we “mind-read”: not fully trusting the words they are speaking, we try to work out what we think they are really thinking and feeling.
  • we rehearse what we want to say in reply.
  • we filter the communication, maybe filtering out the things we don’t want  to hear or only listening for the things that may affect us. We prejudge the person, write them off and cease to listen.
  • what is being said triggers off a daydream of our own which we pursue privately unknown to the speaker.
  • we relate everything that is being said to our own personal experience and get involved with reliving that instead of listening.
  • Some or all of these things can be going on in a listener’s mind while apparently listening to what is being said, although the speaker usually senses that they are not being attended to fully.

Can you identify what it is that you do when you are not interested in listening to what is being said, when you do it and who with?

NB :  Avoid beating yourself with a big stick about it, just become more aware of your own personal patterns.


Why no-listening listening?

Much of the behaviour that goes under the guise of listening has another purpose entirely.

For example:-

  • Pretending to be interested so that others will like you.
  • Half-listening because it is the polite thing to do.
  • Pretending to listen because you don’t know how not to without offending.
  • Listening because you want to be listened to.

People listen fully when they really want to understand someone, to learn something, or to give help and caring to another.

Everyone pretends to listen at times but as long as you have the choice (that is, you are capable of real listening) and are aware that you can choose, it isn’t a problem.  The more real listening you do, however, the closer you will get to people.  Because real listening says “l care about you”.

Stock responses

In much the same way that we learned listening blocks as a child,  we also developed patterns for “helping” a person who is experiencing stressful and emotional problems.  Many of these patterns are the stock responses our parents used when we had a problem that they had difficulty coping with.  Like pretending to listen, these patterns go under the guise of being helpful when really they are unhelpful, because they don’t allow people space to find their own solutions.

The following are examples of these unhelpful responses: they block the conversation and come between the person and their problem.

  • Criticising – making negative comments, “you should” or “you ought” statements, fault finding.
  • Name-calling and labelling – putting the other down, labelling them and thereby making them feel less of a person.
  • Diagnosing – playing amateur psychiatrist: “I can read you like a book”.
  • Praising – a positive judgement about another is still a judgement and makes you a higher authority over them.
  • Ordering, threatening, moralising, advising and questioning – all ways of providing your solution to another’s problem.  Only their solution can promote their growth, no matter how helpful yours are.
  • Diverting – pushing the other’s problem aside as if it were of no consequence, “taking their mind off things”.
  • Logical argument – focusing on facts when it is usually the feelings that need consideration.
  • Reassuring – attempting to stop the other from feeling the negative emotions they are experiencing.  This may appear to be comforting but in fact it is stifling.

Using your new understanding of these barriers to communication to point a finger of blame at yourself or another is also a barrier to communication and is a most unhelpful response. Use your increased knowledge to encourage yourself and others.


Being there

Allowing people the freedom to fully experience what is happening to them can be the greatest gift that you can give them.  All people struggle with their internal thoughts, feelings and emotions and it is through doing this that they grow – the struggle may or may not be painful for them but they need the freedom to do it.  Too often we feel that we have to do something or say something in order to help another when all they really need is the open caring contact with another human being.

After all, we don’t feel that we have to do something to help a person when they feel happy or in love. We just let them get on with it!

Using reflective listening instead of the stock responses is a good way to begin to break the pattern.


The next time someone close to you is hurt or upset,  try meeting them where they are without saying anything.  Just be there, letting them go through whatever is happening to them.  Be aware of your urges to speak, make better or avoid and just keep them to one side. Be there quietly and wait for them finish.

Doing this takes trust: trust in yourself and trust in the fact that you, being 100 per cent present and loving, are all that is needed.  You don’t need to do anything except open your heart to the child – they will know.


There are many things that will help you in Sue’s book “Peace of Mind – Pathways to Successful Living”.  Download chapter 1 free now!

There are helpful free downloads at:

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