How to Reduce Barriers to Communication

by Billie Nordmeyer; Updated September 26, 2017

For communication to occur, the listener must understand what the sender means -- a process that’s easier said than done. Communication is muddied by a number of issues, including the misuse of words and nonverbal messages such as tone of voice and facial expression.

The complex, multilayered, dynamic communication process can be effective in conveying meaning if the sender recognizes the numerous barriers to communication and takes steps to overcome them. For example, the sender must understand that the listener’s interpretation of a message will depend on his personal frame of reference.

Recognize Perspective

Listeners view any discussion from their personal frame of reference, which includes their priorities, personal and cultural values and educational, professional and familial backgrounds. It’s up to the speaker to recognize this and create a message that the receiver can decipher effectively.

Avoid Stereotyping Your Audience

It’s necessary to consider the listener’s actual frame of reference, rather than what you assume it is based on your stereotype of him. Each person’s frame of reference is unique. Consequently, assuming the listener reflects a common stereotype due to his age, gender or culture is inappropriate and problematic.

Be Aware That Listeners May Receive a Different Message

When a listener hears a message that doesn’t coincide with his personal beliefs and assumptions, he’ll have trouble understanding it or taking action in response to it. Therefore, it’s important that a speaker repeat the message frequently and rephrase it when necessary.

Form a Relationship, and Then Communicate

If a listener doesn’t know a speaker or have confidence in her credentials or expertise, the listener is likely to ignore the message or minimize the probability that the message is valid. It’s a good idea for the speaker to attempt to form a relationship with a listener before she tries to persuade the listener to take any action.

Accept That Jargon May Be Negative Communication

People who aren’t familiar with or don’t use particular terms may consider the use of those terms insulting or believe the speaker is attempting to be deceptive. Use jargon only when you are confident it will be well understood by the listener. Otherwise, limit your speech to concise and clear language.

Time Your Message Appropriately

To ensure you’ll have a listener’s attention, convey your message when there’s little probability that her attention will be interrupted by other noise. Make sure she is paying attention to maximize the possibility that she will retain the information.

Practice Full Disclosure

An audience may be aware that a speaker is withholding certain information to avoid dealing with the possible negative effects of sharing it. Done often enough, withholding information destroys trust and damages relationships. It’s best to speak honestly and convey any bad news directly and uniformly to all listeners, regardless of their role in an organization.

About the Author

Billie Nordmeyer works as a consultant advising small businesses and Fortune 500 companies on performance improvement initiatives, as well as SAP software selection and implementation. During her career, she has published business and technology-based articles and texts. Nordmeyer holds a Bachelor of Science in accounting, a Master of Arts in international management and a Master of Business Administration in finance.