Communication is one of the secrets to life. Everything communicates – from humans to animals down to the cells that keep your body functioning correctly. When you boil it down to basics, communication is just the passing of information from one source to another. But often, things interfere with this transfer. Here are some common barriers of communication and how to resolve them.
Types of Communication
When you communicate with someone, you are sharing information in some way. You can do this by talking, writing something down, or even just using body gestures. Some things are universal, meaning they are the same throughout cultures, such as a wave or a smile. Other methods are limited to a specific group, such as flipping the bird when frustrated.
When you want to tell another person something, you have to find a method to transfer this data. Humans have developed four different types of communication: verbal, non-verbal, visual, and written.
As you may have guessed, this type of communicating is done when you use words to express your thoughts. You can use any language for this form – even if it’s a made-up one that only two people know. As long as it is spoken. Verbal communication can be further broken down into subgroups.
This form of communicating is private. This is what goes on in your head. When you find yourself debating over a decision, and that little voice decides to throw in its two cents, you officially have an intrapersonal conversation. Most often, these ideas stay to ourselves, although you might choose to share it with a trusted outside source.
When you have a one on one conversation with another person, it is considered interpersonal communication. You exchange ideas back and forth, but you don’t expand the conversation to include other sources. Children, parents, your partner, and friends are all examples of people with whom you might have interpersonal communications.
For some of you, you might find that you have to communicate with small groups. If you belong to an organization that has group meetings, weekly staff meetings, or even the PTO can be examples of when you might have small group communications. For this situation, you are talking with more than two people at one time.
There might be times in your life when you have to face some people’s (including mine) worst nightmare – public speaking. Public speaking is when you have to address a large group of people. Maybe you’re running for public office, or you have to talk in a courtroom. You might have to give a presentation at a work conference. Or you could be a teacher who has to address dozens of students (shudder!).
You don’t always have to use the spoken word to communicate your thoughts to someone. My boyfriend has gotten exceptional at being able to read my facial expressions. He can tell what’s on my mind without me having to say a word.
You can wave your hand or nod your head as a signal for hello. A firm handshake or a smile can mean “nice to meet you” or “good to see you again.” Narrowed eyes and crossed arms often says, “I’m mad. Stay away.”
People shrug their shoulders to say, “I don’t know” and lift their eyebrows as a silent question of “What in the world are you doing?” or “Wow.” Making eye contact with someone shows that you’re serious. If you look away when you’re talking to someone, you could be trying to hide the truth.
You can even listen to a person’s tone of voice. If they’re yelling, they might be scared, excited, or angry. If they’re whispering, they could be trying to be cautious or secretive. Even a person’s wardrobe can be considered a form of communication. A uniform inspires respect (for most of us) while a three-piece suit reflects power.
Before the invention of the internet and cell phones, written communication was letters, notes, and telegrams. Some people have even used pigeons and hawks to send written messages. Now, it can be Facebook messages, Instagram posts, memes, texts, emails, notes, even emojis. You can communicate with people around the world using any sort of written communication you could imagine.
Magazines, newspapers, even websites, can be considered forms of written communication. If it requires you to read to learn information, it’s a type of written communication. Books are one of the most powerful communication tools in existence – whether they’re electronic or paper.
If you need to learn how to do something, there’s going to be a book for it. While you’re in school, you use textbooks to learn all the materials you need to advance to the next level. Back in the old days, if you wanted reliable information, you cracked open the Encyclopedia, which was a series of thick, heavy books that retained the knowledge of the world. For you younger people, it’s called Wikipedia. Except for the information in our version was 100% correct.
I’m sure you’ve heard someone say that they are visual learners. What they’re saying is that they learn better by watching the instructions in action. If you hand them a book and tell them to follow the directions, they may struggle. Show them how to do it once, and they can figure it out in no time.
Our eyes are drawn to visually stimulating material. Think about when you’re driving down the interstate, and you pass all the advertisements on the billboards. Whether you mean to or not, you end up noticing a few. It’s a bit hard to avoid seeing a large plastic cow hanging on a large sign advertising a chicken restaurant.
Advertisers use visual communications to get their point across. Banners, logos, infographics, and photography are all examples of ways to use visual communication to get your point across. Meme wars – visual communication. Every time you watch a movie, you’re receiving a form of VC. Using Google Maps? You guessed it – VC.
Barriers of Communication
As you can see, there are tons of ways to communicate with another person. But with that many possibilities, there’s bound to be times when you experience problems with your communication. I’m sure each of you has a story of a time when the recipient misunderstood something you said, and conflict occurred.
There’s a logical reason why this could be happening. One thing you should remember about communicating with other people is that they can’t read your mind. They might not think of things in the same way that you do. So if you present an idea and someone disagrees, it could be because they see a different side. They might have a different opinion.
Miscommunication is one of the most significant barriers to communication. A skilled communicator is aware of common pitfalls and uses caution to avoid making these mistakes. Being able to communicate effectively can be useful in all areas of your life, whether it’s personal or professional. Here are some common barriers of communication.
Fifty years ago, physical barriers were a more prevalent barrier than they are in today’s society. Cell phones and social media have made it easy to have access to a person, no matter where they are; back in the old days, you had to be standing next to a corded phone in the same spot while you talked to someone.
However, in the workplace, physical barriers are still common communication pitfalls. Many companies are starting to realize the benefits of using an open office plan, where everyone has their own defined space. Yet, there are no walls or closed doors to restrict sharing information amongst each other.
Closed doors and walls can also impede communication with family. What parent hasn’t tried to fight with their child through a closed door? Teenagers! They’ll be the death of me. When a conflict occurs in your relationship, one person might close themselves off in a separate room, making it harder to have a face to face conversation.
How to Resolve Physical Barriers
Industrial and organizational psychology – the study of employees in the workplace – has determined that an open floor plan improves employee morale, cooperation, and efficiency. Being surrounded by walls can make a person feel closed off from the rest of the company, which can reduce their productivity.
When it comes to your relationships, it can be harder to avoid physical barriers because you can end up in separate rooms. When you’re in the middle of a conflict, it can be complicated trying to communicate when you’re yelling. But many people make it worse by trying to fight through text.
Use physical barriers as a chance to give everyone time to calm down. Once you’ve had some time apart, meet in a neutral, open zone and communicate openly and calmly. Keep your emotions out of conflicts if you want them to get resolved.
Perceptual barriers are a person’s bias. Our experiences throughout life shape our attitudes and opinions about things. If you’ve always lived in the city, you may expect a person from a small town to be simplistic and homely rather than trendy and modern.
The stigma of Millennials is another example. Many Gen-X and Xennials – those born between 1977 and 1985 – often assume that anyone born later than the 90s is entitled and obsessed with social media. Think of vegans, new-age hippies, and hipsters. And the 90s and up generations often see those over the age of 30 as ancient dinosaurs who lived a primitive life without Instagram and Google. We had to socialize and learn the old fashioned way.
Each person has their own ideas and opinions about people, and it can affect the way you communicate with people who match these expectations. It can be challenging to communicate with someone without letting your opinions show through your tone or body language. You might be snarky, sarcastic, or talk down to someone without realizing it.
Avoiding Perceptual Barriers
It’s not fair to judge a book by its cover, and it’s not fair to treat someone differently just because you have already formed an opinion about them. The fantastic thing about life is that you never know how things will turn out. People will always surprise you. Learn how to see the world with an open mind.
Be cautious of your words, your body language, and your actions if you feel like you’re going to be uncomfortable around someone. If you don’t keep your guard up, you can unconsciously let your feelings come through. Try and find something you can relate to with the person. Even if you’re entirely different, the odds of probability say there’s one thing you have in common.
If you can’t find yourself with something nice to say to someone, it’s easier just to keep quiet. Although the silent treatment is still considered rude, it is the lesser evil compared to saying something that could be offensive to someone.
Emotional barriers can be challenging to overcome. It requires a lot of self-control. You have to learn how to manage your emotions. Three of the hardest emotions to manage are anger, shame, and fear. These negative feelings can cause conflicts to occur.
When you’re angry, it’s easy to say things that you don’t mean. In the heat of the moment, it’s hard to remember that words pack a powerful punch. What you say can cause pain. Words have the power to break hearts and ruin relationships if not used properly.
Anxiety is one of the worst things to experience. You become hyper-alert and jumpy — your heart races. Muscles get tense. Your breathing gets fast. Sometimes you hyperventilate to the point of passing out. Many people experience these problems in social situations. Learning how to become comfortable talking to other people can require a lot of work, and sometimes, the help of a trained specialist.
Different cultures have different societal norms. In the South, it’s common to call everyone “darlin'” or “sweetie,” whereas this would be considered inappropriate and unacceptable in other places. Being aware of cultural differences is essential for communicators.
It’s essential to understand the appropriateness of things like making eye contact, standing too close to someone, and shaking hands when communicating. In some cultures, actions such as these are a sign of disrespect. Know your audience. Research so you’re familiar with how to interact so no one gets offended.
When in doubt, let your companion take the lead. If meeting for the first time, don’t reach out to shake hands until you see them do it first. Offer a slight smile, but don’t be too friendly. Follow your partner’s cues on formality. If they address you as Mr. or Mrs, you certainly shouldn’t call them by their first name.
Avoid Taboo Topics
Different cultures also have varying opinions on the appropriateness of some topics. Then again, some people may be the same culture as you but still, find issues with taboo subjects. Taboo subjects are topics that might be deemed inappropriate or off-limits.
Sexuality, sexual acts, religion, politics, abortion, disabilities, addiction, war, and racism are examples of taboo topics that should typically be avoided in regular conversations. These are certainly not subjects that are appropriate to address in work situations unless you work in a field that is involved in one of these areas.
America is a melting pot of different people from around the globe, learning how to co-exist. These foreigners may come to a new country, but they often bring along their culture, their beliefs, and their language. Trying to communicate with someone when you can’t understand what they are saying can be difficult and frustrating.
But that’s not to say that you’ll be able to communicate with someone in your language without problems. Even when you’re speaking in the same tongue, misunderstandings often occur. Maybe there was too much topic-specific terminology used that confused the listener.
Think of how you feel when you have to read the terms and conditions on a product before using it. Do you really understand all that legalese, or do you just click “I accept” like the rest of us? When communicating, it’s essential to make sure that your vocabulary matches the topic and your audience. Big words may make you feel smart, but it can make you look like a moron to someone who doesn’t understand.
Men and women communicate differently. Women are known for being more emotional. They find it easier to make connections with strangers. Females can be more empathetic, meaning they can understand a person’s plight and want to help. My dad likes to tell me I’m a sucker for a lost cause. I always want to help people who are in trouble, even if it’s not my problem.
Men, on the other hand, are known for being stern and aloof. Males are often direct in their communications, saying it like it is, without considering that their delivery might seem harsh and blunt. A typical stereotype about men is that they don’t know how to express their emotions. While this might have been true in the past, today, it’s just as common to see men who open to talking about their true feelings.
Because of the differences between communication styles, men and women can often struggle with communicating. How many times have you and your partner, current or former, fought because something was misunderstood? I’m sure more times than you want to count.
It’s essential to watch for gender barriers in your communications. Actively observe how you conversate with members of your gender; and how you talk to the opposite sex. Once you’re aware of your shortcomings, you can make adjustments so that you communicate correctly with everyone, regardless of gender.
Gender Barriers Can Cause Conflicts in the Workplace
Gender equality is an ongoing issue in many workplaces. It’s essential to be sure that no stereotypes are interfering with company dynamics. Careers like nursing, secretarial work, and party planning used to be fields dominated primarily by females; the military, police, fire department, and race car driving are jobs that are typically male-dominated.
We see more gender balance among these careers, but it can still be a difficult terrain to navigate. Employees might have to learn how to censor their usual way of talking to account for mixed company. Every employee must understand the risks of sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment can be filed over simple misunderstandings in communications. Calling someone “sweetheart” rather than by their name could be filed under SH. When someone gets accused of sexual harassment, it can often cause hostility in the workplace.
Coworkers may take sides. The offending employee might have to be let go, even if they’re an exceptional worker. And the company could be found liable for monetary compensation to the victim. One approved claim can open the door to many new complaints from other coworkers. Whole companies can crumble.
Communication Barriers in the Workforce
When there are miscommunications in the workplace, it can lead to a loss of efficiency and productivity. Workers may be late with completing their assigned tasks, or they may not do their part correctly. If you notice team members struggling at work, it could be that they don’t fully understand their instructions.
Employees should be comfortable enough in their position that they can openly ask questions for clarification and receive a thorough, complete response. As we’ve pointed out, everyone has their understanding of the same thing. Even if the directions seem to be direct, concise, and not open for interpretation, some people might read them wrong.
To ensure that there are no unanswered questions that might affect a person’s ability to do their job properly, it helps to follow up with everyone after they’ve been given their assignments. Ask questions to make sure that they know what is expected of them. If you’re unclear on something, don’t be afraid to seek clarification.
Barriers of Communication in the Workplace
In the workplace, different types of communication problems can arise. It’s crucial to be aware of what goes on in the company dynamics if you want to have maximum efficiency among the staff. There’s an old saying that one rotten apple can ruin a whole barrel. Well, one unhappy employee can poison an entire team.
Misery loves company. It’s a cliche, but it’s true. When a person is in a bad mood, they often take it out on whoever is around, despite if it’s their fault. These people then fall into foul moods as they respond to the hostility. It can become a nasty cycle that filters through the company, infecting everyone.
Unhappy people aren’t fully productive. As we explained about emotional barriers, negative emotions can hinder your ability to communicate effectively. When you try to work while you’re angry or upset, you can accidentally fuel conflicts. It’s important to have emotions under control while working.
How to Reduce Communication Barriers
Some companies have learned to boost employee morale by allowing time throughout the day to decompress. The staff can get up and move about freely. They have the opportunity to spend a few minutes meditating. Maybe they get to use their social media throughout the day, as long as they complete their work. Employees that have time to themselves have better control of their emotions.
There are even places that provide their staff with access to professional counselors or psychologists when they need someone to talk to. It’s crucial to remember that a person’s mental health affects their ability to work. You want them to be healthy in every way, physically and psychologically.
Technology is continually evolving. It seems like as soon as we’re accustomed to one device, here comes the next one. And of course, you must have the most up-to-date technology. For the younger generations, they were born into the technology era, so it’s natural for them to learn how to use it.
But for older generations who grew up without technology, it can take longer to get used to all the new changes. If you struggle with using computers, you might find it difficult if your company suddenly changes all their communications to digital. Your efficiency might suffer, and it could make you look unqualified for your position.
I’m a Xennial – that lovely little generation that has the full life experience of being able to remember life before we became reliant on technology for our every need but also fully embracing the changing times and trends. This generation is pretty accepting of new ideas, so it’s relatively easy for us to learn something new.
How to Solve Technological Barriers
Companies should be sure that all of their staff are comfortable using any required technology. If it’s something new that is being requested, management should offer training classes for the team. It can be challenging to determine how to switch employees to a new system.
Letting the classes be optional can backfire if some employees refuse to admit they need help to learn new technologies. But making them mandatory for the entire staff can be difficult because there might be people who already know how to use the technology. Instead, you can offer a simple demonstration for the whole company and then issue a test that will determine who will need assistance learning.
Be Aware Of Barriers of Communication
As we’ve demonstrated, there are plenty of barriers of communication for you to be wary of if you want to be an efficient speaker. One of the best tips we can offer is to be an active listener. Learn how to pay attention to the word choice, body language, tone, hand gestures, even a person’s clothing. These cues can help you learn enough about the situation to communicate better and avoid fewer misunderstandings.