In examining all four communication types – interpersonal, non-verbal, written and oral – experts have determined 7 barriers of communication. These are physical barriers, interpersonal barriers, emotional barriers, language barriers, cultural barriers, gender barriers and perceptual barriers.

Perceptual barriers are often the hardest to detect; they reflect how and what a person perceives internally about what is going on externally. They affect how we communicate with others and how we receive messages communicated by others. Like most other barriers to communication, perceptual barriers act like filters to how we interpret messages we receive and what messages we send to others.

Examples of Perceptual Differences

How we perceive a message depends entirely on our point of view. Our perceptions differ in various ways:

  • Personal Experiences: our experience around things like money, relationships and so on can sour or sweeten our perceptions toward them and anything related to them. If we are in debt, for instance, we may look at a business loan proposal with more apprehension than someone who is asset-neutral or solvent.
  • Beliefs: the ways we look at the world and often think can color how we tend to perceive things. If someone usually thinks or believe that meetings are unproductive, they may perceive any request to join a meeting to be at the least unimportant, bothersome or even threatening at the worst.
  • Preferences: people may communicate, knowingly or unknowingly, according to what they prefer. In some cases, we may communicate with our preferences in mind, expecting one thing, but not communicating clearly enough, assuming the other person may know what we prefer or expect. In this case, in not seeing how our perception influences our lack of communication, we can create a confusing situation.
  • Triggers and cues: nonverbal cues such as body language and tone of voice affect how messages are perceived. For instance, crossing one’s arms may signal to a potential client a lack of confidence in the salesman’s pitch and may thereby produce no sale.

How to Overcome Perception

When speaking on perceptual barriers, we may look to correct positive or negative perceptions that affect how we and others communicate in the workplace. Certainly, overcoming negative perceptions at work allows us to highlight and foster more positive interactions, but looking at positive perceptions as well can help us to view things realistically in order to solve a problem. Here are some ways to overcome perception barriers:

  • Examine and correct assumptions: we must be willing to look at what we assume may happen, what we assume others expect in a situation, and/or what we may assume to be true in our communications in the workplace. In seeking to correct assumptions, we eliminate potential perceptual differences.
  • Seek clarity: if we are unclear about expectations, assumptions, preferences or beliefs of another person in an interaction, confusion may arise. The key to overcoming perceptual barriers is asking questions to gain a sense of clarity and ensure that you and the other person are on the same page.
  • Restate differently: if your words may not provide the context necessary to clear a perceptual barrier, restate your intentions in different terms to provide more dimension to the statement. You can say, “In other words,” to lead into a clarification statement, provide an example of what you mean or even use emphasis on specific words using bold, underline or italics in written communication or through specific intonation in verbal communication.
  • Examine and improve body language: in any interpersonal interaction, it’s important to examine yours and others’ body language. If you feel your body is not underscoring your intent in a situation, find a way to subtly shift into a different posture. If you are unsure of how your body language may be perceived, check in with feelings and sensations that may be tied to how you are orienting your body.

Given the subtlety of perceptual barriers, it’s obvious that any initial attempts to examine and mitigate communication with this aspect in mind may prove difficult. With practice, we come to learn when our perceptions and the perceptions of others influence communication, and we learn to better handle assumptions, seek clarity, offer context and read between the lines.