Planning, preparation and practice of communication will be incomplete and unsuccessful unless one identifies and understands the barriers to effective communication. These barriers are physical, sociological and psychological obstacles that interfere with the planning, organization, transmission and understanding of the message. There are a number of such obstacles that can occur in the process of communication. The natural result of such obstacles or interfering factors is the misunderstanding of the message. These factors interfere with the self-confidence, self-disclosure and self-consciousness of the communication senders and receivers. The barriers to effective communication are dangers to any organization if they are not removed on time. When the communicator transmits the idea in an unchanged and un-distorted form to the receiver and the receiver responds to it, then, the process of the communication is supposed to have been perfect. But this process of ‘perfect’ communication can never exist due to the number of factors, which stand in its way as the barriers. The communicator has to identify and understand the reasons for poor communication in order to communicate effectively. Understanding the process of communication is the first step towards improving the abilities and skills of communication, but understanding the factors that prevent us in transmitting the exact meaning is very essential for effective communication.
Types of Barriers to Effective Communication
Effective communications will only happen if information is sent, received and them understood. It occurs when the clear message is sent by the sender through an appropriate medium who then gives feedback which shows that the message has been understood. Several factors called barriers can lead to communication bring ineffective.
Firstly, failure could occur in any of the stages of the communication. It may be that the message is sent through an inappropriate media. E.g. explaining technical diagrams and graphs and technical language over telephone is most likely going to lead the receiver to make mistakes in understanding it. Also using jargon which is words or phrase with specialized meaning may be misunderstood. They are usually understood by a certain group of people but not by others (e.g. technical computing language). This is definitely going to lead to confusion over the meaning of the message by the general employees. E.g. technical information about a product not understood by the marketing department may lead to misleading advertisement and poor sales. Also sending long messages orally may result in the message being forgotten or jumbled up by the receiver. So the form of the message may be barrier if it is nuclear or unexpected for the receiver or it lacks the information which was intended to be conveyed. E.g. asking for goods to be sent is an incomplete message. It may be that goods were required immediately but the receiver not understanding the urgency sends goods the next day resulting in poor satisfaction of customer. Also if there is too much information perhaps more than is actually required by the receiver to respond in the right way then this may result in information overload or noise. This is unnecessary data that actually prevents the receiver from grasping the important elements of the message. If information has to pass through a long chain of command due to too many levels of hierarchy, then it may get distorted. Also the delivery of messages may be so slow that by the time they reach the receiver, the time of action has already passed or messages may change their meaning over the way. The other barriers are due to poor attitudes of either the sender or the receiver.
Some of the most important barriers to effective communication in business are explained below.
- Lack of common language: Language uses oral or written symbols to transmit meanings from one person to another. Every human language has its own vocal symbol system and its own grammatical structures. If the communicator and the receiver belong to different language groups, their ignorance of each other’s language or the lack of common language will be a barrier to communication between them. It is not possible for them to communicate with each other unless they know some common language, which is properly, understood by both of them. An English speaking person and a German speaking person will not be able to communicate without a good knowledge of each other’s language. If both of them know a common language, say French their knowledge of French word, phrases, clauses and sentence-structure should be adequate to express their thoughts and feelings.
- Semantic Barrier: Words are said to have no meaning but they represent arbitrary meaning associated with it. A word may have a variety of meanings and the meaning attributed to a word by the communicator may not be the same as that of the receiver’s attributed meanings of that word. A word can have different meaning to different people at different occasions. It is found by the experts that people attributes 14,000 different meanings to 500 commonly used English words. Therefore, the sender and receiver are many a time likely to attribute different meaning to the same word. Sometimes, they may use different words to communicate the same meaning. There are many words in English such as light, cheap, etc. which can be used with favorable as well as unfavorable connotations. A word can stand for its positive or negative connotations. Sometimes, the receiver wrongly enters the intended meaning of the sender’s word by attributing negative meaning to it.
- Poor vocabulary: Poor vocabulary makes our message more difficult and less effective. Our pen falters and tongue fumbles when we probe into our brain for a suitable word or phrase. The words have different connotative and denotative meanings. The communicator needs to know them clearly in order to use them with clarity and precision. Words stand not only for their meanings but they are also charged with action and emotions. When the communicator and the receiver understand these word-associations, they are capable of using them as living entities. Poor vocabulary does not allow the communicator to write or speak effectively. If does not allow the receiver to understand the message clearly. If the receiver does not understand the words, he cannot properly comprehend the sentences.
- Poor grammar and punctuation: Poor knowledge of grammar and punctuation is a barrier to verbal communication. A good vocabulary is useless unless the communicator acquires the knowledge of how to use it in a sentence. More than ever before, the people involved in written and oral communication today must have superior grammar skills because an understanding of grammatical structures provide excellent basis for effective writing, speaking, listening and reading skills. If the communicator is not able to choose the correct verb form that agrees with a given noun or pronoun, if he is not able to select exact adjective or adverb, or to join the words properly, he will not be able to communicate his ideas, thoughts and feelings fully and correctly. In addition to a good grammar, knowledge of punctuation is essential for effective communication. Many of us do not pay adequate attention to it. But it must be remembered that the faulty and improper punctuation can change the intended meaning of the sentence. The absence or misplacement of a ‘comma’ can prove to be misleading to the reader.
- Roundabout Verbiage: Roundabout Verbiage consists of the usage of overworked, troublesome and exhausted words and phrases, which usually cause a considerable amount of misunderstanding and confusion. It is a long-winded way of saying the meaningless padding. By avoiding such roundabout verbiage, we can add a good deal of liveliness and simplicity of expression to our written as well as our oral communication. For example, instead of saying ‘in the majority of cases’ or ‘ in a number of instances’, we can say ‘some’ or ‘ usually’ instead of saying ‘ commence’ we can use ‘start’ or ‘ begin’. By omitting such words and phrases, we can save the message from hollow pomposity.
- Noise: It interferes with the transmission of the signals. It also refers to the ‘unwanted’ signals of messages, which interferes and disturb the reception of the wanted signals. This disturbance is usually in the form of sounds, but it need not be always the sounds. It can be in visual, audio-visual, written, physical or psychological form also. There are many people who communicate with a little signal and much noise. In fact, they communicate extraneous matters, which may diminish the interest in the receivers or may even annoy them. Anyway, they tell the receiver something more than they are required to communicate. Their extraneous distracting signal can be the result of their wandering minds-it can be because they try to communicate something more about themselves. Technical or physical noise refers to loud noise of the machines or blaring noise of the stereo and such other noises, which makes it difficult for any listener to receive the ‘wanted’ message. Visual noise can be experienced when a committee member arrives late at the meeting hall and all the committee members are distracted by his arrival. Poor telephone connection which interrupts conversations, smudged typescripts and bad handwriting are some examples of the technical noise.
- Time: The frequency of communication encounters affects the human relationships and the intensity of human relations is affected by the amount of time that passes between these encounters. If the employee does not communicate with their superiors for a long time, or if husband and wife stay away from each other for a ling time, it may create a communication gap between them, which may affect their relationship. Time can act as a barrier to communication in some other ways also. A guest who arrives at midnight will not be able to communicate well with the host who might feel embarrassed or disturbed in his sleep. Time will not allow two communicators to talk to each other if they work in different shifts. A phone call at midnight can irritate or embarrass the receiver. A husband who keeps his wife waiting for a long time will not find it easy to communicate with her.
- Distance: The distance between the communicator and the receiver can be a strong barrier to communication, if the technical devices of communication such as telephone, telefax, etc are not available to link them. Faulty sitting arrangement in the office can create a kind of communication gap, which can be eliminated by adjusting the distance. Distance between the workbenches in the offices or in the modern production departments and half partitions between them are the distance barriers, which severely limit the communication among the employees. By minimizing the physical distance down to the personal distance that ranges from 1.5 to 4 feet. The boss can minimize the status difference between himself and his employees. A friend or a colleague who ceases to maintain the personal distance, i.e. 1.5 to 4feet, and keeps himself always beyond the distances of 12 to 25 feet is a friend who keeps communication gap.
- Age: The age, maturity, educational background and the eras in which a person grows up make a generation, which inevitably comes in the way of human communication. The generation gap becomes obvious in their use of vocabulary and style of speeches and the values of life to which they stick or adhere. Considering his age and maturity, we tend to apply different standards of judgment to judge the statements of the speaker. For example, in an organization older workers gradually form their social group, which often remains apart from the younger workers. Their likings and interests are different and they take less interest in sports, cocktail parties and movies. Gradually, the older workers feel socially isolated and insecure because of the widening gap of communication between the older workers and the younger workers.
- Sex: Men and women communicate with one another according to their sex. When they work together in a group, men tend to be more assertive, acquisitive, self -confidence and aggressive than the women. This may be because a five year boy is encouraged to ‘hit back’ by his father, but the boy’s sister is told that girls ‘don’t fight’. Thus, sex stands as a barrier to a direct, honest and appropriate expression of a female’s thoughts, opinions and beliefs. On the other hand, man is more assertive of his thoughts and opinions. It is found that women are more likely than men to express their emotions and feelings about a situation. But, it must be remembered that these are general tendencies of sex-typed communication behavior and not the rules. The girls tend to be less aggressive because they receive negative results such as rejection, criticism for such behavior. They are brought up with the feeling that aggressiveness is unfeminine. A girl, who is brought up with such feminine conceptions about her, may try to avoid a frank eye contact with the interviewer and may even speak in a voice that is almost inaudible.
- Status barrier: Statue is a position or social rank of a person in a group. It depends on the person’s abilities, amount of pay, job-skills, seniority; type of work assigned, age, etc. statue reflects the degree of power, authority, importance and responsibility placed on an individual by the other people in the society. The people at the lower status are usually afraid of communication unpleasant and unfavorable information to the high-status people. They get scared of entering into the air-conditioned cabins with runs on the floor and a number of telephones on the table. They become conspicuous of their own status in relationship with the status of their superiors. This status consciousness is harmful in the process of upward communication. People fear that the unpleasant facts communicated to their superior might bring adverse effects on them, if the information displeases the superiors. They are reluctant to communicate their problems, shortcomings, mistakes and other unfavorable information to the higher-ups because of their fear that the superior might consider them incompetent and unworthy to do their jobs. They do not show courage of offering suggestions and plans of improving the organization and its procedures for the fear of being called arrogant by their superiors. The high-ups too are strongly conscious of their status. In order to safeguard the dignity of their status, they avoid accepting suggestions from the subordinates and presume that their higher status stands for better knowledge and competence than any of their subordinates. These assumptions prove serious barriers to effective communication between them.
- Attitudes and values: The attitudes serve the personal needs of the people. They provide need satisfaction to the individuals. When the message is unfavorable to the receiver, he cannot be easily persuaded by it. The people in terms of their attitudes and values interpret the message. Their attitudes and values are different not merely because they are physically different but also because they have different backgrounds. They deal with the individuals and events according to their attitudes and assumptions. Their personal attitudes, values and opinions are the barriers to an effective communication. The most agreeable information for anybody of us is the one, which is favorable and palatable to our opinions, values, norms and attitudes. The message, which runs contrary to our views and beliefs, is not easily acceptable to us even when it is factual and true. We promptly accept the government policy if it is favorable to our business, but we express our strong resentment towards it if it adversely affect our business. Even the process of interpreting the message is consistent with the existing attitudes and values. It is due to the fact that our thinking is colored and characterized by our attitudes and values. Sometimes, these attitudes and values can have emotional basis. Such attitudes are extremely difficult to change.
- Different perception of reality: Francis Bacon has said, ‘Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true’. The individual experiences and their interpretations are never identical because their perceptions are different. If two friends see a movie together, their interpretation, of the events and the characters in it will certainly be different. The communication barrier arises as a result of different selective perceptions of the same object or idea by two or more people. Our physical senses like hearing, sight, taste, touch and smell are our contacts with the physical world. Some people have limited range and power of their senses, whereas some people have very acute and strong senses. These physical differences are also responsible for different perceptions of the existing things. Human needs are strong motivating factors, which can very easily alter his perceptions. Poor children tend to estimate a coin of 50 paise to be physically larger than the children coming from the rich families. We create our own reality through selective perception, which hides certain things that are there and see certain more things than which are present there.
- Inference: Our everyday life is full of various activities based on inference. When we get up from bed at 8.00 a.m. we infer that mummy might have already started her housework. When we sit down at a table to write, we infer that the chair will support our weight and ink will flow from the pen. Thus, the statements, which are based on the facts and go beyond the facts, are inferences. We may have good reason to expect that our inferences will be correct, but they may prove incorrect due to some unpredicted probability. As inferences go beyond the facts in making certain statements, they can give wrong signals too. We are to interpret symbols on the basis of assumptions, which usually prove correct, but we must be aware of the probability that they may sometimes prove incorrect. When we travel in the state transport bus, we infer that we may reach safely at our destination, but this inference may not prove correct if the bus is caught in some accident. The inferences drawn by the specialist are many a time reliable because they are based on verified facts, but the inferences of the non-experts should be accepted after receiving more feedback from the concerned people.
- Abstracting: We use language to communicate our experiences and feelings, but we cannot communicate every detail of it. We cannot communicate every detail of our experience to others. Also, we focus our attention on some details and do not bother about the rest. We prepare a business report on our observations of the various events in the market. While preparing it, we abstract the reality and report only the valuable characteristics of the market. We observe partially and communicate partially because our experience of the event is also partial. When we try to convert our experiences and observations into words, we further abstract it by using selected words, which involve leaving out the details. If we try to completely describe a simple object like a ‘shoe’ we would require several volumes for it, which would still be insufficient to describe the object.
- Closed-Mindedness: A person may close his mind to communicate receptions, if he considers himself to be a person who knows ‘all’ about a particular subject. It is very difficult to communicate with a man who has deeply rooted prejudiced mind. Such a man is not prepared to receive any message on a subject about which he assumes to know everything. His mind is closed to new ideas, facts and suggestions. If an employee approaches his closes-minded boss with some suggestions to improve the work of a business unit, the boss would retort the employee by saying that he knows better than the latter regarding what should be done for the betterment of the organization. Perhaps, he may further warn the employee that the latter should never try to teach him again. Thus, he completely rejects the information and recommendations of the communicator even before he knows the real facts. The reason behind his closed-mindedness is his deeply rooted prejudices.
- Distortion, filtering and editing: When a message is transmitted through translations, interpretations, explanations and simplifications, some part of it gets distorted or lost. The accuracy of the message is lost and the transmission becomes imperfect as the message goes through the filters of translations and simplifications. The upward communication also tends to be distorted and filtered. The negative effects of the informal channel like grapevine are due to distortions and filtering. The message in grapevine receives fresh additions with every repetition until it gets worst. Thus, often the original information communicated through formal and informal channels gets lost or distorted to a large extent and very little of it is retained.
- Bad listening: Bad listening is one of the major communication problems. Misunderstanding and conflicts can be reduced if people would listen the message with enough attention. Most people do not listen very well due to various distractions, emotions, excitement, indifference, aggressiveness and wandering attention. One of the major reasons for bad listening is an individual’s continual thinking about his own problems and worries. The poor listeners always feel that the thought in his mind is more interesting than what the speaker is saying. A college student involves himself in thinking about his girl friend rather than listening to the lecture of his professor. Bad listening can also be due to some strong reason for worrying. An employee may get engrossed in worrying about the sickness of his daughter rather than listening to the instructions given by his manager. Some listeners mentally argue with the speaker before comprehending the complete message. This usually leads to misunderstanding and conflict. Their impatience to talk out their thoughts and their lack of interest in the message contents are strong barriers to communication.
- Emotions: Negative emotions are obstacles in the communication. Emotions are our feelings about the world around us. Usually, the positive emotions such as joy, love or affection do not interfere with communication, but the negative emotions act as strong barriers to effective communication. Emotionally excited communicator is unable to organize his message properly. His excited or nervous state of mind does not allow him to think clearly. He expresses his blurred thoughts with gesticulations and keeps on repeating the same words. He cannot even grasp the message sent by the communicator in its true sense. This is especially true when one’s negative emotion is uncontrolled and misdirected. It makes him blind for reason. Almost anybody who comes across such an irritated person becomes a victim of his unfocused negative emotions. The perplexed, nervous and excited state of mind never allows smooth flow of communication.
- Resistance to change: If we receive a message, which proposes a new idea, we tend to be inattentive to it. The new idea is rejected consciously or sometimes unconsciously if it conflicts with our beliefs, morals, values, attitudes and opinions of the receiver. The average adult human mind ignores the new idea, especially when he feels insecurity and uncertainty about its aftermath. He feels that the things go along just fine with him and he would be insecure if the changes are introduced. He is also suspicious about its success in future. Because of its uncertainty, he hastily concludes in his mind that the proposal would not be successful. He even further feels that the proposal would make things worse for him. The new idea is considered as a drastic proposal, which is not needed. Thus, the average human mind, which resists change, does not accept the new ideas from the communicator.