How to Identify Barriers to Communication

Effective communication happens when the people involved in the communication exchange understand the message the way it is intended to be heard. When the sender and the receiver of the message are on the same page, the information comes across clearly. However, several different factors can affect communication, and cause barriers leading to confusion or a lack of understanding.

Identify Barriers to Effective Communication

The barriers to communication are categorized in several different ways. Some common ones include language barriers, psychological barriers, physiological barriers, physical barriers, systematic barriers and attitudinal barriers. When trying to improve interpersonal communication, it’s important to understand how and why the communication is being affected. Clarity helps both the sender and the receiver to figure out how they can both improve their communication skills.

Some barriers may have simple solutions. Sometimes, a physical barrier can affect a conversation when something in the conversation's surroundings affect how the message is received. For example, two people may be trying to hold a conversation from different sides of a large office. Due to the large physical distance between them, they may not be able to hear each other. There may be too much background noise, or the speakers may not be able to project loudly enough for the other to hear. A simple solution to this type of barrier would be to move closer together or to utilize a phone while communicating.

Other barriers, such as language, require more complex solutions. Language barriers are caused when the words used by the sender are not understood properly by the receiver. With the globalization of business, it's common for businesses to work with people from other countries. If the sender and receiver don’t speak the same language, for example, they may need a translator. This kind of solution can take time and be difficult to implement. Even if they do speak the same language, the sender may use jargon or localized phrasing with which the receiver may not be familiar. Similarly, there could be an issue in translation which would make the message difficult to understand and relate to.

If the sender and receiver acknowledge they have a communication issue, they can then work together to identify the barriers to effective communication and find a solution.

Understand Interpersonal Communication Examples

Communication with others is important in all aspects of life: at home, in business and at school. The stakes of communicating effectively are high in certain work environments, such as health care. It’s important to identify the barriers to communication in care so that the health professionals can safely look after their patients. In some cases, it can be a matter of life and death.

Properly monitoring someone’s health requires the health professional to ask the patient many questions regarding their condition. In this example, the sender and the receiver may experience physical barriers, such as too much background noise at the hospital, and physiological barriers, such as the receiver’s health. Physiological barriers can be particularly hard to overcome in a health care setting. This communication barrier’s definition is that the receiver’s physical condition affects how well they can understand the message that has been sent. In this case, the receiver may have poor hearing or may be too physically distressed to understand the questions.

Simple solutions, such as using a family member as a conduit for communication, are potentially problematic due to patient confidentiality issues. To solve this issue, the health care professional may have to communicate using a variety of techniques. Using simple, easy-to-understand language, moving to a quiet room free of background noise, using visual prompts, smartphone translation technology and even recording the consultations for the patient to watch within a secure, HIPAA-compliant portal, can all reduce the barriers to communication and improve patient recall.


About the Author

Anam Ahmed is a Toronto-based writer and editor with over a decade of experience helping small businesses and entrepreneurs reach new heights. She has experience ghostwriting and editing business books, especially those in the "For Dummies" series, in addition to writing and editing web content for the brand. Anam works as a marketing strategist and copywriter, collaborating with everyone from Fortune 500 companies to start-ups, lifestyle bloggers to professional athletes. As a small business owner herself, she is well-versed in what it takes to run and market a small business. Anam earned an M.A. from the University of Toronto and a B.A.H. from Queen's University. Learn more at