Barriers to Communication in the Workplace

Every conversation happens only once in life. So do not miss your chance.

Communication plays a vital role in our day-to-day life. It is not just an act. It is a process. Now, the question that comes to mind is…

What is the Role of Barriers in Communication?

Think about yesterday in your office, college or that conversation with your friend. Do you believe you expressed your thoughts accurately? More importantly, were most of your words loud and clear to the receiver?

As the famous saying of George Bernard Shaw goes, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

A communication barrier is an unintentional wall that stands between the sender and the receiver and obstructs the free flow of information. It affects people’s personal and professional lives.

“Companies with 100,000 employees cited an average loss per company of $62.4 million per year from inadequate communication to and between employees”

What are the Common Barriers to Communication?

a fence between two people

Communication Barriers At a Glance

Physical BarriersThe environmental and natural condition acts as a barrier in communication in sending the message from sender to receiver.
Perceptual BarriersThey are the assumptions we already have of a certain person or situation in our minds.
Cultural BarriersThe same set of actions or words meaning might differ in another culture.
Linguistic or Semantic BarriersThe semantic barriers refer to the misunderstanding between the sender and receiver due to the different meanings of words and other symbols used in the communication.
Status BarriersDue to the differences between a superior and a subordinate, it blocks the free flow of information.
Emotional BarriersAn emotional mindset can be applied both to the sender as well as the receiver. It holds one down from communicating openly.
Interpersonal BarriersWhen two people are involved and are unable to understand each other’s communication, an interpersonal barrier occurs.
Technological BarriersIf your co-worker is out of range, your message won’t reach them.
Physiological BarriersThey have to do with the limits of the human body and mind (memory, attention, and perception). An individual with poor eyesight, for example, can be unable to see the presentation during a meeting.
Information OverloadIt refers to the excessive transmission of information. Every human being has a limited attention span.
Gender barriersMen and women are built in different ways. Speech, comprehension, creativity, productivity, and style all differ. Women, according to research, have more creative traits than men. Men, on the other hand, are much more involved in logic.

Diving Deep: Communication Barriers and Ways To Overcome Them

Physical Barriers

The physical barriers are the structural obstacles that exist in the natural and environmental conditions that prevent the message from being communicated.

Noise and environment is a basic element of a physical barrier.

communication process model

The communication model presented above, explains how noise can play a part as a barrier between the sender and the receiver.

How to overcome physical communication barriers?

The easiest way to overcome these barriers is to ensure that the external environment does not interfere with your message. By simply choosing to speak in a relatively quiet area, face-to-face will (in most cases) avoid majority physical barriers.

Examples of Physical Barriers

Work spaces in the office

Most people prefer to work in their own space. However, having an open office plan is more conducive to productivity and aids in the development of positive relationships with coworkers.

office area
Structure of conference room

Many people are unaware that the structure of your conference room is extremely important.

If your structure resembles the image below, which shows a rectangular table with edged corners and one chair in the center, with the others following in front of it.

rectangular conference table

Indirectly, it implies that the person at the centre wields more power than the others. Those who occupy the remaining chairs may feel inferior. As a consequence, if a coworker has an idea, he or she will keep it to themselves.

If you have a meeting room like the one below, a circular table and chairs are placed along the curve. It is likely to convey and reflect a feeling of safety and comfort. It takes away the fear of sharing new ideas, and it makes one feel at ease.

This mainly applies to creative environments. 

circular table

Perceptual barriers

Mental blocks are another term for perceptual barriers. They are the preconceived notions we have about a particular person or circumstance in our minds. They are expressed in our speech and body language.

If you go into a situation thinking that the person you are talking to isn’t going to understand or be interested in what you have to say, you may end up subconsciously harming your effort to make your point.

Our perceptions are influenced by factors such as age, status, qualification, and socioeconomic status. The candidness you will exhibit with someone your age may differ from that of someone 20 years older.

perception barrier
“Your perception may not be the reality”

How to overcome perceptual communication barriers?

Our perceptions are quite often deceptive. The most effective way to overcome this barrier is to keep an open mind and communicate frequently.

Example of Perceptual Barrier

Person “A” believes that person “B” has poor habits and manners. “A” had heard a variety of rumors about “B.” So, when “A” had to engage in a conversation with “B” about a project, “A” acted strangely, which was unwelcoming, whereas “B” was the polar opposite. In the end, their communication was ineffective.

Cultural barriers

What is acceptable in one culture may be prohibited in another.

The manner of communication, gestures, phrases, words, and so on, can be very distinctive in the cultural communication barrier. Even the same set of actions or words can have a variety of meanings in different cultures.

When people from different cultures come together, they create a language barrier. In today’s world, a person from a different culture is regarded as a different species.

How to overcome cultural communication barriers?

If you work with people from different cultures at your workplace, it is best if you can become acquainted with their cultural norms.

It is also advisable to both, prevent and deal with potential conflicts in advance if possible.

culture acting as a bridge
“Let culture act as a bridge and not a barrier”

Examples of Cultural Barriers

  • Making a circle with your hand (touching your thumb to your index finger) is considered the universal gesture for OK. Common throughout the UK and the USA to show approval, agreement or understanding. However, in Brazilian culture, this sign is equivalent to a middle finger.
ok sign
  • In Indian culture, Namaste refers to the placing of two hands together near the heart (i.e., the centre of the chest). It is a way to greet someone. Whereas in other countries, it indicates that you are praying to God.
 two hands together near the heart

Linguistic or Semantic barriers

The semantic or linguistic barriers are the misunderstandings that occur between the sender and the receiver due to the difference in the meaning of a word or symbol. To different people, the same words and symbols have different meanings. Understanding may be hampered as a result of this barrier.

Sometimes the receiver does not recognize the accent or jargons that are used to describe something.

Thank you in different languages
“Seek to understand then to be understood”

How to overcome linguistic or semantic communication barriers?

The best way to overcome this is to speak in a manner that is clear, explicit and can be understood by everyone.

Examples of Linguistic or Semantic Barriers

 A conversation taking place in a car between the driver and the passenger.

“I have to take the next left?”

“Right.”

“I will take the right then.”

“No, no take left.”

“You said ‘right’, why can’t you say one thing?”

“What I meant was ‘left’ is right. I mean correct.”

a person explaining to another person

Status Barriers

Status as in position or rank to others. When confronted with some level of authority, it frequently influences our thought process.

When status enters the picture, selective communication occurs, i.e., message filtering. As a result, the free flow of information is obstructed.

There are a lot of instances of downward distortion of information. When a superior gives a piece of information to a subordinate, who then has to distribute it to people around him or her, the authenticity of the messages gets lost. People also tend to modify or manipulate information.

superior person talking to a subordinate person

How to overcome status communication barriers?

The best type of solution is for superiors or heads of an organization to try to make juniors feel more comfortable, for example, by not being too dominant, accepting feedback, and practice good listening skills from the top management.

If you want to learn how to evaluate and provide appropriate feedback to others, make sure to read “how to perfectly evaluate a speech.”

Example of Status Barrier

A subordinate may have something important to say, but a superior may not give him or her the time of day because of his or her position. A superior person will prioritize someone who is above him or her.

Emotional barrier

Emotions can be difficult to manage. Due to this, it might refrain us from speaking up. We may act like this for many reasons. Maybe it’s because something happened in our childhood, or we were taught to stay quiet.

Sometimes strong emotions like anger or sadness can affect objectivity. At times, asserting a need to win a conversation or a personal agenda can affect what you are trying to express.

An emotional mindset can be applied both to the sender as well as the receiver. It hinders the free flow of information.

various types of emotions
“The biggest obstacle in our life is the one that our mind creates”

How to overcome emotional communication barriers?

If you are angry, anxious, or experiencing any other strong emotion, take a few moments to breathe and relax. Take a short walk or go somewhere quiet to relax. One can also try meditation.

Examples of Emotional Barriers

  • Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress. It’s a feeling of fear or apprehension about what’s to come. Due to this, it might constrict you from openly expressing your views.

When your boss summons you to his or her office, you may stammer and overthink why he or she summoned you. You may become so preoccupied with your thoughts that you fail to notice what he or she is attempting to convey.

Anxiety also occurs before giving a presentation.

  • Anger can be a very impulsive emotion. It is possible to act irrationally.

When someone is angry, he or she disregards what others are feeling or saying. Even if a solution is presented, he or she will reject it.

Interpersonal Barriers

As the name implies, an interpersonal barrier is very personal/subjective to an individual. There are times when you will have to disagree with others for a variety of reasons. It could be due to how they handled you in the past, or there could be some lingering bitterness.

When two people are involved, an interpersonal barrier arises when they are unable to comprehend each other’s communication.

a person trying to mend a relation
“Compromise, consistency and communication are needed in all relationships, not just romantic ones”

How to overcome interpersonal communication barriers?

The first thing when it comes to overcoming interpersonal communication barriers is to (ironically) communicate – the earlier this is done the better.

Start by initiating a conversation if you feel something is “off” between you and the other person. You can simply say, “Hey, lately, I’ve been feeling that things aren’t the best with us. I’m not sure if I’m just overthinking things, but I just wanted to voice this out to you. If there, is anything that is bothering you with regard to anything that I may have done, can you let me know about it? I would love to discuss this with you and make things right.”

Make sure you set aside time for this conversation as and when you both are not too occupied.

If there is an issue which pops up during this discussion, give the speaker your full attention and listen with genuinity. Truly try to empathise and understand the problem so that you may try to find an amicable solution.

a person trying to say something but it is not audible to the other person

Examples

  • It can occur when the other individual is not ready to be open-minded. He or she refuses to expect a particular point of view
  • A person who tries to be dominant over the other
  • When a person is internally holding a grudge against the other

CONCLUSION

Removing barriers is a tedious process but not impossible. It is a continuous process that will benefit you in the future. To make sure you never miss a conversation, it is necessary to begin by eliminating the barriers that stand in the way.

Now you know the methods to overcome almost every barrier. Implementing the ways to overcome any type of barrier, can take you a long way.

breaking through the barrier of communication

Consider how much easier it would be to convey your message if there were no miscommunications caused by various barriers. The amount of time and efficiency that can be saved and increased if employees communicate effectively in the workplace knows no bounds.

Hrideep Barot is the founder and chief writer at Frantically Speaking, a portal to help people learn everything about public speaking. The purpose of franticallyspeaking.com is to showcase the lessons that he has learned (and still learning) from his numerous stage experiences and mentors over all these years.