Seven Barriers to Communication

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Effective communication in business is vital to success. Communication takes place daily among employees, prospects, customers, the media, retailers and other external stakeholders. Communication helps individuals and groups to understand one another and meet business goals. However, there are seven barriers of communication of which organizations should be aware. Identifying and actively avoiding these barriers helps businesses to successfully communicate its message.

Physical Barriers to Communication

Physical barriers of communication happen as a result of the surroundings in which the communication takes place. Elements such as loud background noise or flickering lights can cause distractions and affect how people communicate. Closed doors and walled-in offices can also hinder communication in the workplace. In addition, physical distance between employees can also be a barrier to communication.

Physical barriers such as geography or office setup are often unavoidable. It’s not always feasible to change the layout plan of an office or remove doors and walls in certain areas of the building. Ways to work around physical barriers that cannot be changed include implementing open-door policies in the workplace and encouraging employees to communicate freely by visiting colleagues in walled offices. Some companies choose to build more collaborative work spaces with an open-concept layout to encourage communication.

Some physical barriers like noise, for example, can be avoided. If you and a colleague are having an important business conversation in the lunch room where it is loud and boisterous, a simple solution would be to move the conversation to a quieter location like in the hallway or at your desk.

Perceptual Barriers to Communication

While physical barriers are easy to spot, perceptual barriers are more complex. These kinds of barriers to communication take place in the mind. They include preconceived notions about the person with whom you’re talking. Perceptual barriers often cause misunderstandings and tension.

For example, if you’re going to speak with a colleague who you think does not value your ideas, you might be tempted to talk to him in a defensive or dismissive tone. If that person doesn’t harbor negative feelings about you, he may be taken aback and begin to feel uncomfortable, not listening to the conversation taking place.

Due to the perceptual barrier in this situation, the message is not conveyed clearly. In order to avoid perceptual barriers, it’s important to communicate with an open mind and get rid of any preconceived notions that can harm the conversation.

Emotional Barriers to Communication

One of the seven barriers of communication is emotion. Fear, vulnerability and mistrust often take over when people are communicating due to a lack of self-confidence. Often, people are taught from a young age to carefully watch what they say. As a result, some individuals lack the confidence to speak clearly and confidently.

Emotional intelligence is a valuable quality in the business environment. Not only is it important to be in touch with your own emotions and how they affect the way you communicate, it’s vital to empathize with others while communicating. Paying attention to how your communication partner feels while having a conversation can help to ensure that the message is being sent accurately.

Cultural Barriers to Communication

In today’s global economy, it’s commonplace for employees to interact with people from all over the world. Some companies have offices in different countries, while others work with partners and resellers from different cultures. Often, customers purchase goods and services from businesses across the world. As a result, many businesses face cultural barriers when communicating.

People from different cultures have unique ways of conversing. Sometimes, when people aren’t aware of the cultural differences, communication issues can take place. In some countries, for example, making eye contact is considered rude and forward, while in others, it’s a way to establish trust and show honesty.

When dealing with peers from other cultures, it’s important to conduct research beforehand to understand communication and cultural norms. Businesses that operate globally often offer training on different communication styles to enable employees to converse effectively.

Language Barriers to Communication

Communicating with people who speak different languages can post barriers as well. While English is used as the language of business in many parts of the world, other languages are also used. Some organizations offer introductory language classes for employees who frequently travel to and work in other areas of the globe where English is not the only language spoken.

Sometimes, communicating with people who speak English as a second language can pose issues as well. Literal translations from other languages to English can cause confusion. Similarly, regional differences in the way English is spoken can also introduce barriers. For example, Australian English differs from American English as does British English and Canadian English.

Industry jargon and overly technical language can also act as communication barriers. When dealing with people from outside of the industry, such as a customer, it’s important to use plain English to convey the message rather than insider terms.

Gender Barriers to Communication

The way men and women communicate varies greatly, which can lead to gender barriers in communication. Women often speak double or more the amount of words that men speak each day. The way each gender thinks also differs, which leads to different styles of communication.

In order to avoid gender barriers in communication, it’s important to create a safe and nurturing environment in the workplace so people from any gender and those from the LGBTQ+ community are comfortable communicating in a way that is natural for them.

Interpersonal Barriers to Communication

Interpersonal is a kind of communication barrier that is one of the most difficult to overcome because it is largely rooted in personality. Many people suffer from poor self-esteem and lack the ability to make connections with others. This affects their ability to communicate effectively.

As a result, people may withdraw from everyday business activities because they are unable to overcome their own feelings in order to communicate with others. Some people fear speaking to large groups of people, while others aren’t able to have conversations one on one. It’s important to identify what kind of interpersonal barrier you’re dealing with and take small steps to begin communicating with colleagues.

If an employee is shy and lacks the self-confidence to present to a large group of colleagues, for example, she may need additional support in order to communicate. The company could enable her to present her findings to a smaller group rather than to the entire executive team. Conversely, the company could allow her to communicate her findings in writing rather than giving a verbal speech.

Removing the Seven Barriers of Communication

Businesses need to actively reduce the seven barriers of communication to enable employees to communicate effectively with each other, customers, prospects, partners and other external stakeholders. By identifying the most common barriers experienced in the workplace and developing plans to remove the barriers, organizations can ensure that employees are successfully communicating.

Solutions may include developing introductory communications training programs to help those with perceptual, emotional or interpersonal barriers overcome their challenges with communication. Other options include offering introductory language and cultural classes to engage employees who face language and cultural barriers. Inclusivity workshops may be necessary if your workplace faces a high amount of gender barriers when communicating.

Businesses with physical barriers may have limited options if they are unable to change the layout of the office space to encourage communication. However, something as simple as creating an open meeting space in the lounge area or putting a bench in the hallway can encourage employees to move from their offices to locations where they can communicate without physical barriers.

References

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 www.anamahmed.ca.