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Environmental factors


Techniques Listening > Environmental factors

Sensory factors | Physiological factors | See also


There are a number of factors that affect listening and the ability of the speaker to speak and the listener to listen. In particular, in more sensitive situations when attention and privacy are important, then external elements that distract or interrupt become increasingly significant.

Sensory factors

Any factors which affect the senses can either support or hinder listening. In particular, sudden changes in sensory factors create a contrastive effect that can be very distracting.


What you can see can be very distracting or not. Anything moving and people in particular are distracting, even when they are not known. On the other hand, sitting by a window can be both relaxing and also distracting when interesting events are unfolding outside.


A noisy room provides much distraction, as sound is an important element of listening. People interrupting and asking questions or even talking nearby are a particular distraction and can put talkers off.


The human nose is a very sensitive instrument and smells can be very evocative and distracting. For this reason, listening in a cafeteria or restaurant may or may not be a good idea. A good chat over dinner can be very helpful, but sitting in the company cafeteria whilst luncheon smells waft past may be less desirable.

Temperature and humidity

It is difficult to talk comfortably if it is too hot, too cold or too humid. If you are sweating profusely it is not easy to talk or listen.


The decoration of a room can be relaxing, with pastel shades and subdued lighting, or it can be fussy, loud and generally distracting.

Physical comfort

The comfort of seating, carpeting and other elements also helps with encouraging talk. Particularly if you are going to be talking for a while, a comfortable environment can be important.

Physiological factors


If the listener is uncomfortable in any way then their discomfort acts as a distraction and reduces their ability to talk or listen. Pain is an even more extreme version of this, and if somebody is hurting they will not be able to talk or listen for long.


Related to distraction is illness. Someone who is ill in some way may first be more interested in getting better than talking or listening. Illness also may affect the mind and the ability to focus.


When somebody is tired, either after physical exercise or perhaps a hard day's work, they will likely lack the ability to concentrate on listening or be less ready to talk, particularly about important topics.


Any form of stress is likely to put the person into a state where they are less comfortable and are unwilling or unable to talk or listen. Stress should thus be treated either by an initial winding down to reduce stress or by putting off the discussion until a place and time can be found that is less stressful.

See also


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