Imagine the following situation. You work in a company, and you want to have a discussion with your CEO. You express this desire to your Manager. He or she takes it up with the Director, who goes to your CEOs secretary. Finally, after all this dangling about, you get to meet your Main Man. In the meantime, your message gets distorted because it went through three people. This is just one of the many barriers to effective communication which employees encounter every day. Let’s take a look at the rest.
Types of Barriers to Effective Communication
Since we’re talking about communication more so than about anything else, let’s get right to the point. We live in the digital age, where most of our communication is done, you guessed it, digitally. In fact, we’ve taken this type of interaction to such extremes that you can now see employees who share a desk but talk on Skype and life partners who are both at home but IM each other to come to the dinner table.
The diminution of verbal or even face to face communication has led to more misunderstandings and conflicts than ever. In this sense, it might be critical for people to be aware of all the types of barriers to effective communication there exist. Knowledge is power. The more you know the better. And the more you are aware of regarding barriers to effective communication, the better you will be at avoiding them.
#1. Language barriers
This idea can have two meanings. First of all, it is more than evident that two or more people who do not speak the same language cannot understand each other in a productive manner. They might have an inkling about what the other is saying thanks to internationally accepted signs and gestures. However, it’s safe to say their communication will not be effective. The same goes for people who do speak the same language, but different idioms. Others cannot understand all the regional colloquialisms.
However, a language barrier can also appear when the two interlocutors do speak the same language. If the terminology you use in your message is new or unknown to your interlocutor, then you have a problem. This situation can happen if, for example, you use a lot of technical or specialty-related terms which non-specialists do not understand. It can also happen when the people who are talking have different levels of education or are at opposite ends of the age spectrum.
Keep in mind that a language is organic and almost alive. It is constantly changing. Therefore, there is a good chance that a 12-year-old child does not use the same words as his 80-year-old grandfather.
#2. Psychological Barriers
Here is how this type of barriers to effective communication works. People hear what they want to hear, not what you tell them. The sooner you understand that, the better. When you engage in a conversation with someone, they already have an expectation of some sort of how that dialogue is going to go. If they believe it will be awkward or funny, then that’s most likely how they will perceive your messages.
In the same way, when someone is very stressed, they might not be as receptive to what you have to say. Hence, they have created a psychological barrier to communication. The personal problems that they have are constantly pressing the back of their mind. You can be sure that whatever it is you have to say will not be as important as that.
In fact, the stress factor, as opposed to effective communication, is very important. The person you were talking to might not even remember having that discussion with you altogether.
Anger can be another perfect example of barriers to effective communication. We all know that, when we get angry, we say things we do not mean or that we later regret.
Then there is also social anxiety and having a poor opinion of one’s self. People who feel this way often find it difficult to engage in conversations. Moreover, even if they do, they feel strange and are often prone to reading negative subtexts even when there are none.
#3. Physiological Barriers
This type of barriers to effective communication result from one or more of the participants having physical problems. Therefore they will either be incapable of hearing, speaking or comprehending what you are saying to them.
Physiological barriers also include background noise, loud music or other people talking at the same time. They may even consist of a movie playing simultaneously with the conversation or a show of any type.
#4. Systematic Barriers
These ones happen mostly in professional environments. They appear in organizations where there is a defective structure for communicating put in place. A very good example is the situation we asked you to imagine in the introduction of this piece. When you want a private meeting with your CEO, you have to go through many other people to get to him or her.
It can also happen if said organizations do not have enough channels for communication. Another instance is when the management has not defined or delegated in a clear way the persons in charge with communication in the office.
In these corporations, it is often that the employees do not know whom to address to. They also cannot figure out what is their role in the communication. A simple example is an employee who receives an email about a project he is involved in. However, he cannot figure out if he should say something or not. Tne reason is that the email was also sent to five other people. This is how barriers in communication begin.
#5. Barriers of Attitude
Some people’s personal attitude can create a real barrier when it comes to effective communication. They can result from a previous personal conflict which now prevents the participants from communicating effectively or from poor management. Some other causes include resistance to change, or maybe a lack of motivation.
However, if you discover that the barriers to effective communication in your company or private life are due to inappropriate attitudes, you should work on that.
#6. Differences in culture
Needless to say, we are all different. The various countries, continents, and even states have separate views and beliefs. Some people are not aware of these distinctions and can, therefore, make mistakes that lead to ineffective communication. Apart from that, there are also the stereotypes.
Do not judge. Do not assume something about someone just because you read it on the internet or this is what you’ve ‘heard.’ Maintaining a level of polite and appropriate conversation is always the best way to go in this case. Remember you can always ask a person if this or that is alright with them or not. It is far better than making stereotypical mistakes.
#7. Lacking a common experience
Many people, when trying to explain something or make a point, tend to refer to their personal experience. They want to ‘tell a story.’ That is indeed, an excellent communication technique. But only when the other participants to the conversation can truly relate to what you are telling them.
However, if your stories are far-fetched and they could never imagine themselves in that position or understand the underlying reasons, then you have created a barrier to communication.
#8. Being ambiguous or overusing abstractions
One can also create barriers to effective communication if one is scarce about a subject. If you leave things only half-said, use a lot of proverbs or sayings or generalize a lot, then your interlocutors might have a hard time grasping your ideas. The best way to broach any topic is by speaking openly and plainly about anything.
#9. Too much information too fast
At the other end of being ambiguous and abstract is the idea of introducing too much information in one conversation. As far as barriers to effective communication go, this one is just as bad as the others. Moreover, you need to pay attention because people tend to do this without noticing. When you talk about something which you love or find interesting, it’s easy to get lost in the topic. It’s also easy to share an overload of information.
#10. Jumping to conclusions too easily or making assumptions
Another barrier to communication is provided by those who tend to make assumptions ahead of time. The same goes for jumping to conclusions without having heard all the information. Evidently, this is not a wise thing to do. The other participants to the conversation might feel offended when you do this and then jump to conclusions of their own.
#11. Not communicating face to face
Surely, this is the easiest way to misinterpret someone. It is true that we now have a lot of emoticons, emojis, likes, photos, gifs and all sorts of other knick knacks and whatnots. They are there to help us express ourselves as best as possible in writing. Still, nothing will ever come even close to speaking to someone face to face.
You must understand that, even though we do attribute these symbols and emojis a general meaning, they might have distinct representations for different people. For example, you might add an emoji of a palm tree at the end of your message. Still, who knows what your interlocutor makes of that?
Do you need more proof for that? Here’s an article from April this year which explains that we don’t understand some of the emojis we use. Therefore, we might be sending the wrong message. For example, there’s the emoji now known to everyone as ‘sassy girl.’ It is the depiction of a blonde, young woman. Apparently, she is tossing her hair to one side. Hence, the sassiness. However, it seems as though this emoji, in fact, represents a girl working at a customer service desk. She is answering the phone.
The same goes for the two emojis with a tear dropping on their cheek. Even though people use them as interchangeable when they want to express feelings of sadness, only one of them is used correctly as such. The one with the tear falling right from the eye. The other one, with the tear below the closed eyes, was meant to represent a snot bubble. Since its eyes are closed, it is safe to assume it means ‘sleep.’
Therefore you send the emoji to someone and trying to say you are sad and that person fails to respond. Why? Because he or she thinks you are sleeping. What do we have? Barriers to effective communication.
The only way in which two or more people can communicate in an efficient manner is by trusting each other. If the trust doesn’t exist, then it is very easy for the person receiving the message to derive the complete opposite of what you are trying to say. Therefore, the communication in itself may become meaningless.
#13. Personal behavior
Here is another major barrier when it comes to effective communication – the way we behave, especially at work. Some of us are relaxed and friendly. Others like to keep their distance while even more are socially anxious. All of these things can easily become hindrances in trying to convey a message.
This is one of the reasons why we are all asked to have a particular way of conducting ourselves when at work.
#14. The inappropriate
Yes, we are talking about jokes, innuendos, and generally, all types of impolite pieces of conversation one engages into. There is a time and a place for everything and your office is definitely none of those. Not only will keeping within the boundaries make for a better conversation, but it will also help you preserve your integrity.
As a solution, and to help break down the barriers to effective communication, you can always stop being too informal. You may also refrain from gossiping and from brushing upon particular subjects. Examples include religion, race, beliefs, appearance, politics, health, or the personal finances of someone.
Remember that you must also keep these boundaries away from the office as well. If you happen to be in the bathroom, in the hallway or elevator, that doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t mean the other people participating in the conversation will feel less awkward talking about their weight with you just because you are now in the elevator.
As previously stated, knowing as much as you can about the barriers to effective communication will help you. You can prevail them and not make mistakes. Yes, we now live in a world where freedom of speech is one of the main things we fight for and enjoy. Still, there are some boundaries.