Communication Barriers

Classifying Communication Barriers to Effective Communication

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-personal, inter-personal, and environmental. All these will be examined within the remainder of this entry.

1.   Intra-personal Communication Barriers

Intrapersonal factors refer to the elements within the individual’s own self which pose a hurdle from within the individual’s communication both in sending and receiving messages. They may be caused due to broader factors such as specific socio-economic and cultural backgrounds of the individual. They are usually within the individual's control.

Intrapersonal barriers are grouped under five broad categories, namely:

  1. Physiological barriersOpens in new window, caused by the individual’s own personal discomfort such as sensory dysfunctions.
  2. Psychological barriersOpens in new window which occur due to the emotional character and mental limitations of a person.
  3. Perceptual barriersOpens in new window are due to mental blocks that result from each individual’s unique experience, cultural background, educational level, and value system.
  4. Attitudinal barriersOpens in new window result from the individual’s own attitude and assumptions that built up over the years based on one’s socio-economic and cultural background.
  5. Emotional barriersOpens in new window are due to mental limitations created by one’s own self.

2.  Interpersonal Communication Barriers

Interpersonal barriersOpens in new window are the ones present outside an individual’s own self—in the external environment between the senderOpens in new window and receiverOpens in new window of the messageOpens in new window, and are relatively outside the individual’s control. They may either be related with the other person(s) one is communicating with (receiver-centricOpens in new window) or they may be due to the individual’s own shortcomings (sender-centricOpens in new window), or both.

These interpersonal communication barriers may surface due to various known or unknown external elements such as:

2.1   Lack of credibility or reputation

Credibility makes the message or the sender worthy of consideration. Credibility, both of the content and the person (sender as well as receiver) is a prerequisite to any successful communication.

2.2   Wrong medium

Selecting the wrong channelOpens in new window or medium often result in communication breakdown. It can be risky to discuss issues via e-mails because it lacks the capacity for rapid feedback and multiple cues. On the other hand, e-mail is highly efficient for routine messages.

2.3   Semantic problem

Semantic problem is caused by vague words or excessive use of technical termsOpens in new window or jargonsOpens in new window. To avoid semantic barriersOpens in new window, senders should take care to select appropriate words that will accurately convey the intended sense.

2.4   Inconsistent cues

Sending inconsistent cues between verbal and nonverbal communications can confuse a receiver and negatively influence the way an oral message is received. For example, if you smile when you sympathetically give bad news, your motives may be suspected.

Important Hint! 

Inter-personal communication barriersOpens in new window are further classified into two broad categories (which we can't address here as they exceed the scope of this entry):

3.   Environmental-based Communication Barriers

Environmental-based communication barriersOpens in new window often result due to certain factors which lie outside the external environment where communication takes place.

These factors may be caused by various elements both within and beyond control of a person, such as stuffy rooms with poor seating arrangements, a huge and unmanageable audience; a screeching microphone or excessively interruptive telephone/mobile phone, etc. For instance, a senderOpens in new window who wants to send an urgent messageOpens in new window 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 his message across.

Environmental communication barriers include but not limited to the following seven types:

3.1   Physical barriers

Physical barriersOpens in new window are made up of the environmental and natural conditions that 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.

3.2   Technological barriers

In today’s world organizations, technology is largely used to mediate communication. 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.

3.3   Organizational (Hierarchical) barriers

In organizational settings, if the chain of command is not established or there is a lack of proper management or supervision, it is quite possible that there will be a deviation in clarity regarding roles and responsibilities. Some common types of organizational barriers are discussed hereOpens in new window.

3.4   Chronomatic barrier

Chronomatic barriersOpens in new window 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. Learn more hereOpens in new window

3.5   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.

3.6   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. The group reverts back by showing recognition and approval. When you are not able to adjust to the new setting, cultural barriersOpens in new window crop in.

3.7  Ethical barriers

Ethical barriers pertain to those situations built into the system of competition that cause ethical dilemmas.

  • An obvious example of ethical barrier of 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 kind of situation prompts the salesperson to constantly promote products to everyone and anyone who is ready to listen. Since ‘sales’ is always under pressure to perform, 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!