Environmental-based Barriers to Effective Communication
Environmental-based communication barriers often result due to certain factors which lie outside the communication thread—in the surroundings or external environment where communication takes place.
They may be related with:
- noisy (or non-conducive) communication climate,
- a rigid hierarchy in an organization,
- a physical or chronomatic (time-related) issue pertaining to a particular society/culture,
- an ethical or social concern,
- a technological glitch, etc.
These factors may be caused by various elements both within and beyond control, such as:
- stuffy rooms with poor seating arrangements,
- a huge and unmanageable audience,
- a screeching microphone or excessively interruptive telephone/mobile phone,
- incompatible computer software or snail-paced Internet connection.
For instance, a sender who wants to send urgent messages about his ill health barring him from going to work tries to call his colleague whose cell phone has been switched off and whose landline telephone is out of reach, thus preventing him from sending messages to desired destinations.
Environmental communication barriers include but not limited to the following seven types:
- physical barrier,
- technological barrier,
- chronomatic barrier,
- organizational (hierarchical) barrier,
- gender-related barrier,
- cultural barrier and
- ethical barrier.
1. Physical barriers
Physical barriersOpens in new window are made up of the environmental and natural conditions that interfere with the communication process—the sending and receiving of message between the sender and receiver.
A non-conducive surrounding may include insufficiently ventilated rooms, poor infrastructure, incompetency in dealing with new technology, sounds related to physical disturbances and distractions.
These factors can interfere with the smooth flow of information. For instance, if a place is noisy, the sender will be distracted from messaging and whatever little he communicates is unlikely to be received in the same way by the receiver.
2. Technological barriers
In today’s organizations, technology is largely used to mediate communicationOpens in new window. Gone are the days when doing even the easiest task required the hardest labour.
Now, with the proliferation of smart computers in organizationsOpens in new window, we can perform any task at the click of a mouse, our dependence on technology is all the time high.
A technical breakdown or even a small technical glitch may ruin the entire process of communication. Technological barrier is discussed further hereOpens in new window.
3. Organizational (Hierarchical) barriers
Organizational barriersOpens in new window pertain to hierarchical factors—problems with structures or systems in place in an organization, such as:
- inefficient information systems,
- lack of supervision or training,
- lack of clarity in roles and responsibilities, and
- other deficiencies in organizational design which make it unclear and confusing to know who to communicate with.
In organization Opens in new window, if the chain of command is not established or there is a lack of proper management/supervision, it is quite possible that there will be a lack in clarity regarding roles and responsibilities.
Common types of organizational barriers are discussed hereOpens in new window.
4. Chronomatic barrier
Chronomatic barriers refer to problems related with time, such as delay caused in receiving the message due to physical distance between the sender and the receiver, different time zones of the sender and receiver of the message, etc.
For example, people in Germany and the USA see time as way to plan the business day effectively, focusing on only one task during each scheduled period and viewing time as a limited commodity. However, executives from Latin America and Asia see time as being more flexible.
Meeting a deadline is less important than building a relationship. For such employees, a workday is not expected to follow a rigid, pre-set schedule.
5. Gender barrier
Communication between men and women is affected by gender related barriersOpens in new window. It is found that male and female brains are structured to process information differently. This makes relations between women and men complex posing many communication challenges.
Each gender has a distinctive communication pattern and often mistakenly assumes that the opposite gender thinks and acts as they do.
This is where miscommunication arises because each side believes that they are communicating clearly based on their own communication patterns but they are not.
6. Cultural Barriers
Culture Opens in new window is the relatively stable set of inner values and beliefs generally held by a group of people in a country or region and the noticeable impact those value and beliefs have on the peoples’ outward behaviours and environment.
Effective communication in a multi-cultural environment requires the ability and willingness to manage workplace diversity to overcome cultural barriers.
The differences in cultural values cause socio-cultural barriers.
When we interact with a cross cultural group and wish to associate with it, we need to adopt the behaviour patterns of the group. When we are not able to adjust to the new setting, cultural barriers crop in.
7. Ethical barriers
Ethical barriers pertain to those situations built into the system of competition that cause ethical dilemmas.
Since all firms in a competitive market seek to protect themselves from competitors while still maintaining their market share, they are under constant pressure to adapt or perish.
An obvious example of ethical barrier to communication can be of a salesperson in a retail sector, who is under constant pressure to keep his job going as his paycheck derives from the commission, which means he must sell or suffer financial hardship and even lose a job. This precarious situation prompts the salesperson to constantly promote products to everyone and anyone who is ready to listen.
Since sales is always under pressure to achieve, the salesperson is bound to exaggerate the usefulness of a product to make a quick sale. He might even resort to unethical practice like lying for the sake of a sale!