If you have been to a live music concert, then you know how difficult it is to hear what others are saying. You need to entirely focus on the person’s words and volume if you have to make sense of what they’re trying to communicate. This is known as the ‘cocktail party effect’ that allows you to filter out unwanted noise and focus your auditory attention on something particular.

The cocktail party effect is indicative of how selective attention and hearing play out. We often exist in environments full of multiple auditory inputs (i.e., sounds and noises) and we’re forced to prioritize what we want to listen to. However, there are several drawbacks of selective listening, especially in professional settings. Read on to understand the meaning of selective listening and the dangers that come with it.


  1. What Is Selective Listening?

  2. The Dangers Of Selective Listening

  3. How To Practice Effective Listening

What Is Selective Listening?

Selective listening is a type of listening that allows you to hear what you want to hear. It encourages mental filtering and helps tune out the information we don’t want to entertain. In reality, it isn’t possible to hear everything every time. However, not paying attention to important details may lead to miscommunication.

Let’s look at some of the features of selective listening and see how they can become barriers to effective communication.

  • You listen to more than one conversation or sound at a time—not giving your full attention to someone or something

  • You’re preoccupied with various thoughts and have a difficult time focusing on what’s being communicated

  • You’re likely to interrupt the speaker without fully understanding their problems or concerns

The Dangers Of Selective Listening

The definition of selective hearing often extends to tuning out information or opinions that don’t align with ours. This is especially harmful in professional settings as it can lead to confusion and conflict.   Selective listening is considered a bad habit. Here are several examples of selective listening gone wrong. Beware of its disadvantages.

  1. It shows a lack of interest in the topic being discussed and you may get bored quickly, losing focus from the individual you’re interacting with. Your body language is extremely crucial when you’re interacting with someone. You don’t want to come off as rude or unprofessional.

  2. Unconscious selective listening can form the wrong impressions about people. It’s likely to make you close-minded and undermine interpersonal relationships. You may jump to conclusions and make the wrong judgments. Your relationships will get affected and you’ll find it difficult to network and build connections.

  3. Empathy is a key leadership skill in the workplace. Selective listening prevents you from paying attention to the finer details and keeping an open mind about things and people. You’ll find it difficult to relate to others and put yourself in their shoes. You may end up rejecting their perspectives, opinions and thoughts.

How To Practice Effective Listening

Breaking out of selective listening patterns isn’t easy but here are a few strategies that’ll teach you how to be a better listener.

  • Give your complete attention to someone when they’re talking; it isn’t restricted only to their words but also includes their facial expressions and body language

  • To check whether you’ve understood everything that someone just shared, summarize the key takeaways; this is useful in business meetings and presentations, where briefly summarizing the main points avoids confusion

  • Don’t hesitate to ask questions whenever in doubt; it’s common to miss out on information or zone in and out of conversations, which is why asking the speaker to repeat will minimize any potential misunderstanding

  • Always keep your biases in check and prevent your personal judgments from affecting your impressions of people; preconceived notions can change the way you communicate and connect with someone

  • Selective listening isn’t limited only to hearing someone but also extends to keeping an open mind and being welcoming of new ideas and outlooks; be patient with people and try being more self-aware


Listening is an underestimated aspect of communication. Harappa’s Listening Actively course will show you why and how ‘listening’ is not the same as ‘hearing’. Well-designed frameworks will teach you everything about overcoming barriers to listening so that you learn to listen to others without judgment and be an empathetic and appreciative colleague. Learn to keep an open mind and listen attentively!

Explore topics such as Active ListeningTypes of Listening, What is Empathic Listening, Understanding the Listening ProcessListening Barriers from Harappa Diaries and develop skills to become a better listener.

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