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Barriers to Effective Communication

I was prompted to write this after what was a rather amusing attempt at communication during last week. The amusement was actually at my expense, due to the fact that my Spanish can only be described as “a work in progress.” Thankfully there was no lasting damage to my pride or to my relationship with the people I was attempting to communicate with.

Language barriers aside, it caused me to think about how easy it is to fail during our daily communicative interactions and the compounding consequences of those failures.

Recognizing and understanding how to get around these barriers is something that skilled communicators do in oder to make sure that their message is understood clearly. 

Take a look at the things I have identified below and see if any of them resonate with you.


Noise can be referred to as anything which distracts your focus from the conversation. It does not necessarily have to be background noise of external conversations, although that itself is certainly a barrier. Noise can also be internal. Getting side tracked by thinking about tasks you may need to complete later, will result in ineffective communication.

If you do need to speak with someone about a pressing matter, find a quiet place and time, free your mind of all distractions and concentrate on the here and now.

Organisational Culture

Some organisational cultures are very flat and support communication across different departments and varying levels of superiority. Others are structured more hierarchichal, top down and communicative input from the ´lower ranks´ is not something that is tolerated or even encouraged. This causes two main problems in the communication process.

  1. Junior staff members are reluctant to share important information with superiors as they feel that their input is not valued and will be overlooked.
  2. Staff members communicate the information that they believe they are supposed to and not necessarily what they believe.

Implementing a non judgmental and without repercussions feedback process will encourage people to provide what may be useful information in streamlining an outdated procedure or increasing the value of service.

Unclear Job Roles

Poorly defined, unclear roles are detrimental to effective communication processes. Unless all employees throughout the organisation have clear expectations about their roles, how are they to understand fully how they fit into the overall organisational objective?

Furthermore, poorly defined job roles are a catalyst for a stressful workplace. If employees are operating under constant excessive stress, they are unlikely to communicate effectively.

Clearly defined job roles and regular constructive on how employees are meeting the criteria and their role will eliminate ambiguity and reduce stress levels in the workforce.

Halo or Horns Effect

Halo or horns effect to decisions

Whether we choose to admit it or not, many of us fall to the prey of biases one way or another. Often these biases are results of a preconceived idea we have about the people we meet for the first time. We believe that someone who went to a particular school, lives in a certain area or is a friend of someone that we know, are people who can be trusted. Often the opposite is thought of someone who may not fit that criteria. Or at the very least our judgement on them is suspended until, ´we prove ourselves right. All too often we are proved wrong on both counts.

Keeping an open mind until you have gathered sufficient information about the background, actions and motives of the other person enables you to base your judgement on a more solid foundation.

Cultural Differences

The modern workplace is a wonderful culturally diverse melting pot. However, that diversity can cause problems through lack of understanding or just plain old disrespectful prejudice against another person's cultural beliefs.

Problems may arise when we stereotype people from other cultures. Although people in a given culture may share general characteristics, labelling individuals based on false assumptions will surely cause problems.

It's vital that we embrace this diversity if we are to be able to truly practice effective communication in our daily interactions. It's absolutely amazing how much you can learn from someone who has been raised in a different culture to yourself.


Barriers to communication

Communications that are not clear are open to misinterpretation. This can happen just as easily during face to face encounters as it can during telephone or email communications. If the intended message is unclear, the receiver may jump to conclusions based their opinion of what you said. These misinterpretations shape our responses and as the distortion compounds as it is disseminated. Following the 7 Cs model of communication helps eliminate misinterpretation.

The best way to avoid misinterpretations in your communications is to ask for clarification that your messsage has been understood clearly.


This is a complicated one, for no other reason that we are complex individuals and our communications are affected by our daily experiences as they are a volatile fusion of emotions, different personalities and feelings. Little wonder they don't always run smoothly. Interpersonal barriers to effective communication require tact and diplomacy on behalf of the sender.

I have identified two interpersonal barriers below.


These are often difficult to identify as not everyone wears their heart on their sleeve. Some people display emotions easily, while others either find public shows of emotion difficult, or they are very good at hiding their feelings. However, one thing's for sure, our emotional state largely determines how we interact with others. Think about it. A bad night's sleep, feeling a little under the weather, job role stress and relationship problems all affect our daily interactions. With the benefit of hindsight, most of use would choose to handle communications on those difficult days a little differently.

Closed Mindset

It's difficult to communicate with someone who has closed all channels to the process. I've chosen to use the word “closed” but you may have other terms for this such as stubborn, vacant, undemonstrative or reticent. Call it what you will, attempting to engage with someone who has no interest in being responsive is frustrating at the very least.

Breaking through the Interpersonal barriers


This is key to breaking through interpersonal barriers to communication. Sometimes it's clear that someone is acting or speaking completely out of character. Firing back with what may seem like a clever retort, is not the answer to mending the cracks in this communication breakdown. Taking great lengths to finding out why this unusual behaviour has surfaced and becoming aware of the external influences that are driving or contributing to it may provide a solution.


solutions to barriers to communication

The ability to see things from different perspectives affords the opportunity of a holistic approach to removing barriers in the communication process. In the immediacy of the situation you may not have time to sit down and write out a mind map. However, by taking a step back and trying to see the issue from the other person's perspective may shed new light on an ongoing problem.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Has the person been unusually quiet and subdued recently?
  • Has their timekeeping been tardy of late?
  • Has their physical appearance changed for the worse?
  • Do they appear worried, withdrawn or preoccupied?
  • Do they have a stressful work routine?
  • Are there rumours of cutbacks and redundancies?
  • How does this communication affect them in their work or homelife?
  • Have they encountered similar unpleasant or unnerving situations before?
  • What was the outcome for them?

Taking this approach enables you to separate the problem for the person. It enables you to get to the root cause of the problem and at the very least gives you a chance to clear any blocked communication channels.

What are your thoughts?

Please leave a message in the comments box and share anyother barriers to communication that you may think of


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