Communication Barriers

Barriers Hindering the Process of Communication

In the communication processOpens in new window, when the senderOpens in new window transmits the messageOpens in new window and it reaches in an unchanged and undistorted form to the receiverOpens in new window and the receiver responds to it, then the process of communication is supposed to have been perfect. However, this process of perfect communication is often unattainable due to a number of factors, which stand in its way as barriers.

The word barrier simply means a thing or condition that stand in the way of free flow of the communication process. Thus, anything or condition that disrupts smooth transmission (sending) or comprehension (receiving) of a message, either at the sender’s end or receiver’s end, is a barrier to communication.

Anything that pose barrier causes communication failures. Failure to communicate effectively may cause serious blow in our personal and professional relationships. From the personal view point, communication failures may result in low self-esteem. As one’s self-confidence sags, so does one’s level of productivity. On the professional level, communication gaps may not only thwart an individual’s career growth but also cause serious blow to organization’s goodwill.

In organizationsOpens in new window, communication failures may cause disruptions or delays in attaining goals. From the aspect of finance, a communication failure may cause higher project costs, thus, resulting in low profitability. For example, a failure to explain terms clearly to the clients may result in called orders. There may be a loss of goodwill if an aggrieved customer is not handled tactfully.

Intentional or unintentional, factors that cause communication barriers may be many.

Factors Causing Communication Barriers

  1. Lack of planning
    Every message is composed with a purpose in mind. Planning a message means you must contemplate on purpose of message, hence, you will be able to select the appropriate form of message. In oral communication, words are comparable to arrows—once released, they do not return.

    Apart from considering one’s own abilities to express the message well, one should also analyze the limitation of the receiverOpens in new window, as there can be no two receivers alike. Senders should consider how a particular receiver thinks and feels, in general and with respect to the situation about which the communication is based. A message communicated without adequate planning may not obtain the desired result.
  2. Lack of trust
    A slight lack of trust or understanding between the sender and the receiver of a message may cause a communication barrier. The relationship between the sender and the receiver plays an important role in a communication situation. Transfer of information is meant to have a reciprocal effect on both. Distrust and suspicion between a superior and subordinate can serve only to increase defensiveness and decrease the frequency of open expression, thereby making communication ineffective. One or both parties may have to put their prejudices aside to be able to communicating effectively.
  3. Ambiguity
    Ambiguity refers to the difficulty of understanding or explaining a message because of its capacity to exhibits different meanings. Therefore, it is quite possible that the receiver does not correctly understand the meaning intended by the sender. AmbiguityOpens in new window is one of numerous causes for lack of clarityOpens in new window and precision in messages. Words with ambiguous meanings are chiefly useful to enable the sophist to mislead his hearers. But it is a barrier to effective communication or even to clear thinking.
  4. Distortions
    Distortion refers to twists or changes in facts or ideas in a message such that they are no longer correct or true. A message may lose its originality and become distorted when it is transmitted through translations, interpretations, explanations and simplifications.

    Much of communication does not succeed because the receiver distorts the sender’s original ideas to suit own convenience. While the sender believes that the message has been delivered correctly and the desired action will follow, the truth is that the receiver has not taken it in its original form. A communication that passes through the grapevineOpens in new window has higher tendency to get distorted.
  5. Implied meanings
    If the socio-economic and cultural backgrounds of the sender and the receiver are not similar, then it is possible that the receiver does not uncover the implied meaning. Messages may not always convey a meaning in a straightforward manner. For example, a reference to the weather in the middle of a conversation on another topic is often indicative of the sender’s desire to change the topic of discussion. But not everyone on the receiving end would uncover the implied meaning. To guard against this communication barrier, senders should always use specific language, and receivers should clarify meaning by asking questions.
  6. Drawing inference
    What we directly see, hear, feel, taste, smell or can immediately verify and confirm constitutes a fact. However, statements that are conclusions based on facts, but not themselves facts, are called inferences.

    Experts in specialized fields (advertisers, architects, engineers, etc) all draw inferences. Being expert in their own fields, their inferences are often sound enough to be relied on. However, when non-experts draw inferences without trying to verify facts, they tend to make errors causing further communication problems.

    In a hypothetical situation, a manager observes that a particular worker has been leaving the office one hour late every day for the last two weeks. What can be inferred from this observation? Is the worker extremely conscientious and does not mind even staying overtime? Is the worker inefficient and unable to finish the work in time and decides to stay back after office hours? Is the worker burdened with immense work pressure and deserves relief? Is the worker in search of company secrets which can be grabbed after everyone else has left the office? Is the overstaying aimed at impressing the superiors? Obviously, not all of these inferences can be correct. An incorrect inference will be a barrier to perfect communication.
  7. Noise
    Noise is used to describe the unwanted signals of messages, which interfere and disturb the reception of the wanted signal, usually in the form of sounds. Noise is a major barrier to communication, as it causes the receiver to be unable to understand useful information clearly. The noise generated by an air-conditioner, music playing in the background, people talking and a telephone ringing can all hinder the communication process. Understanding and then trying to minimize the element of noise is extremely important in any kind of communication.
  8. Time and distance
    Time and distance also act as barriers to the smooth flow of communication. Use of telephone, fax, e-mail, along with computer technology, has made communication very fast and has, to a large extent, overcome the space barrier. However, technical glitches sometimes may make these facilities ineffective.

    In such cases, the physical distance between the sender and the receiver becomes a strong barrier. Even where the physical distance does not matter much, such as a closed room, a faulty seating arrangement in the office may become a barrier to effective communication. The distance between the workbenches in the offices or in the modern production departments and half partitions between them create distance barriers, which severely limit communication among employees.
  9. Wrong choice of medium
    From the array of media available at our disposal—oral, written visual, audio visual, computer-mediated communication, etc.—it is important to choose the medium judiciously to suit the message’s context, the time of delivery and the receiver’s level of understanding.

    A poor choice of the medium of communication may also act as a barrier in the successful transmission of a message. Let us consider the following situations:

Classification of Communication Barriers

Whether messages are being transmitted along formal or informal channels, communication barriers can prevent understanding. To study communication barriers systematically, the factors that cause them may be broadly classified as intra-personalOpens in new window, inter-personalOpens in new window, and environmentalOpens in new window. Each are discussed in unique designated entry. Click on each below!