Common Barriers to Effective Communication

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Cultural differences. 

The norms of social interaction vary greatly in different cultures, as do the way in which emotions are expressed. For example, the concept of personal space varies between cultures and between different social settings. See our page on Intercultural Awareness for more information.

Language Barriers

  • Language and linguistic ability may act as a barrier to communication.
  • However, even when communicating in the same language, the terminology used in a message may act as a barrier if it is not fully understood by the receiver(s).  For example, a message that includes a lot of specialist jargon and abbreviations will not be understood by a receiver who is not familiar with the terminology used.
  • Regional colloquialisms and expressions may be misinterpreted or even considered offensive.

Psychological Barriers

The psychological state of the communicators will influence how the message is sent, received and perceived. For example:

  • If someone is stressed they may be preoccupied by personal concerns and not as receptive to the message as if they were not stressed.
  • Stress management is an important personal skill that affects our interpersonal relationships. See our pages Stress: Symptoms and Triggers and Avoiding Stress for more information
  • Anger is another example of a psychological barrier to communication. When we are angry it is easy to say things that we may later regret, and also to misinterpret what others are saying.
  • More generally people with low self-esteem may be less assertive and therefore may not feel comfortable communicating – they may feel shy or embarrassed about saying how they really feel, or read unintended negative sub-texts in messages they hear.

Physiological Barriers

Physiological barriers to communication may result from the receiver’s physical state.

For example, a receiver with reduced hearing may not fully grasp the content of a spoken conversation especially if there is significant background noise.

Physical Barriers

  • An example of a physical barrier to communication is geographic distance between the sender and receiver(s).
  • Communication is generally easier over shorter distances as more communication channels are available and less technology is required. The ideal communication is face-to-face.
  • Although modern technology often helps to reduce the impact of physical barriers, the advantages and disadvantages of each communication channel should be understood so that an appropriate channel can be used to overcome the physical barriers.

Systematic Barriers

Systematic barriers to communication may exist in structures and organisations where there are inefficient or inappropriate information systems and communication channels, or where there is a lack of understanding of the roles and responsibilities for communication. In such organisations, people may be unclear of their role in the communication process and therefore not know what is expected of them.

Attitudinal Barriers

  • Attitudinal barriers are behaviors or perceptions that prevent people from communicating effectively. 
  • Attitudinal barriers to communication may result from personality conflicts, poor management, resistance to change or a lack of motivation.  To be an effective receiver of messages you should attempt to overcome your own attitudinal barriers to help ensure more effective communication.
  • To improve the overall communication skills you need to be aware of, and attempt to minimize, any barriers to communication that are present.
  • By developing your emotional intelligence you will become more aware of how to communicate with others in the most appropriate and effective ways.

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