Physical Barriers

Physical Barriers Interfering in the Communication Process

Physical barriers are the communication barriersOpens in new window which result from the physical distraction or any external element from the surrounding environment which may hinder the smooth flow of communication—the sending and receiving of messageOpens in new window between the senderOpens in new window and receiver.Opens in new window

A noisy machine in an area where a supervisor is trying to speak with an employee can become a distracting environmental condition. In this case—as a result of the noisy machine—the employee would not be able to hear what the supervisor is trying to say.

Likewise, the supervisor would be unable to transmit the message he intends to send, thus, resulting in communication breakdown.

Factors that cause physical barriers may result from noise or a non conducive surrounding, different time zones of the sender and the receiver, and distance.

1.   Noise

NoiseOpens in new window refers to the unwanted signals of messages, which interfere and disturb the reception of the wanted signal, usually in the form of sounds.

The noise generated by an air-conditioner, music playing in the background, people talking and a telephone ringing can all hinder the communication process. 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.   Non-conductive Surrounding

A non-conductive surrounding may include filthy, smelly, dark or inadequately ventilated venue, poor infrastructure, out-dated equipment, inadequately trained personnel, incompetency in dealing with new technology, overstaffing or understaffing at the workplace, distractions like background noise, poor lighting or an environment which is too hot or cold—all affect both the sender’s and the receiver’s concentration, which in turn interferes in the free flow of communication.

Senders Opens in new window have the responsibility to eliminate these problems which can usually be eliminated or reduced, often before communication begins.

If the communication venue is too warm, the sender should try to get the thermostat turned down or to have the windows opened. If the receiver cannot see to read a message because of limited light, the sender should arrange for more light.

3.   Time

Different time zones of the sender and receiver not only cause a problem in communication, there is also a concept of time separation that takes place. Coordination can breakdown over as little as differences in lunch times and work hours across teams.

Time can act as a barrier to communication in some other ways too. A guest who arrives in the wee hours of the morning will not be able to communicate well with the host who might feel embarrassed or disturbed in his sleep.

Overlapping and non-overlapping work hours should be managed as carefully as calendars and schedules across teams.

4.   Distance

Distance can be a damaging barrier to effective communication, especially if the technological devices of communication—telephone, fax, e-mail, webpage—and other communication gadgets are not available to link them.

Faulty sitting arrangement in the office may also create distance barrier and end up causing communication gap. The distance between the workbenches in the offices or in the modern production departments and half partitions between them can severely limit communication among the employees.

By minimizing the physical distance down to the personal distance that ranges from 1.5 feet to 4 feet, the manager can minimize the hierarchical differences between himself and his subordinates. Open offices are the current norm where the dividing partitions are short enough to allow conversation while standing in office.