10 Obstacles to People Listening

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The obstacles to people listening - 10 factors to be aware of and strategies for overcoming them     


Creating a psychological space where people can be receptive to new ideas involves understanding the dynamics of force and resistance.

Traditional approaches to change often rely on increasing force and seeking to persuade people by providing more information, stronger arguments, or more compelling reasons. However, the very act of pushing creates the resistance we are trying to overcome. This instinctive pushback is known as reactance.

Below is a short guide to help you ask questions as to why people are not listening to your message, and to better craft your communication so that it takes hidden motivations into account including steps to mitigate them.


  1. dentity / Group dynamics - an individual may align their sense of self with belonging to a group, and so ideas running counter to the group’s core tenets are perceived as a threat to the notion of self. One who questions these ideas will be challenged by other group members seeking to protect themselves from the contagion of the foreign idea. This may involve performing acts of group allegiance, such as excluding the offending member (cancelling/boycotting), or attacking their reputation (mobbing on social media). The implicit system of reward and punishment is understood by all members, for this reason care must be taken to preserve, or put to one side, an individual’s sense of identity in relation to the information being shared.

Until we establish common ground, information will mostly fall on death ears. Make sure to create the common ground before moving on in the conversation.

  2) Reactance - Reactance, as seen above, is an uncomfortable state of mind that arises when people feel their freedom to choose is restricted. This can happen when they are told what to do or not to do, leading them to push back against the perceived threat to their autonomy. By understanding and addressing reactance, catalysts can more effectively facilitate change by allowing individuals to persuade themselves rather than feeling coerced. This approach reduces resistance and fosters a more cooperative environment for change


3)      Endowment-  People are attached to what they already have or do. To ease endowment, an effective communicator will highlight the costs of inaction and make the status quo less appealing.

4)      Distance - If new information is too far from what people currently believe, they reject it. To shrink distance, we can break change down into smaller, more acceptable steps that feel incremental and reduce the amount of friction generated by new information.

5)      Uncertainty- Change involves risk and uncertainty, which makes people hesitant. Uncertainty avoidance is a strong factor of resistance to novelty. To alleviate uncertainty, communicators can make it easier for people to try new things with low risk, such as through trials or freemium models when making purchasing decisions. For communicators, we can also use uncertainty as a lever for change by creating information gaps (there is something others know that you don’t know), creating the desire to know in order to relieve the discomfort of uncertainty. Fear of change is replaced by fear of not knowing.

6)      Collaborating Evidence- Sometimes more proof is needed to convince people. To find corroborating evidence, use multiple sources to reinforce the message. Studies also show that information is often accepted in relation to the source and whether that source is perceived as reliable by the group orthodoxy. Finding evidence in sources close to the person’s identity group helps facilitate the integration of new information.

7)      Ease- As Tali Sharot writes in The Influential Mind, people are motivated not only to gain rewards and avoid pain but also to believe that they will gain rewards and avoid pain, however it can be demonstrated that a crisis of faith can be salutary, where unconscious confusion or cognitive dissonance can be replaced by clarity and chosen ignorance for resilience. This leads to the next factor…

8)     Emotions- Emotional friction encompasses the feelings and emotional responses that can act as barriers to change. Negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, or distrust can prevent people from embracing new ideas. Addressing these emotional concerns and building positive emotional connections can facilitate acceptance. The message is reframed to highlight the possibility for progress rather than doom and the best case scenario is provided as an alternative to a feared outcome.

9)      Inertia- Inertia refers to the resistance to change due to the comfort and familiarity of the current state.  People tend to stick with what they know and are used to, even if a new idea or product offers significant improvements. This resistance is often due to the effort required to change habits or routines. In relation to giving ‘bad’ news, “inertia is only the dominant instinct only as long as bad news can be reasonably ignored, when that is no longer the case, then knowledge seeking is compulsive.“1

10)   Dynamics- By focusing on reducing friction rather than applying more force, change agents can more effectively catalyze change. This approach involves understanding and addressing the specific barriers that prevent people from changing, and rendering the process of assimilating new information frictionless, well paced and natural. It may even activate a will to know and avoid future uncertainty, creating a knowledge seeker.

To find out more about how you can use proven behavioral psychology to get your message across in a potentially hostile environment, please go to www.reaching people.net 

© David Charalambous, Joanne Henderson

1 The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals about Our Power to Change Others,  Tali Sharot, Little Brown Book Group, 2017

Other resources for this data Catalyst by Jonah Berger, The Human Element by Loran Nordgren, David Schonthal,