BARRIERS TO COMMUNICATION

Communication barriers are interferences or obstacles which limit the receiver’s understanding of the message.
Barriers may have the effect of entirely preventing communication, filtering part of it, or giving it an incorrect meaning.

WHY BARRIERS OCCUR
Barriers occur if any of the essential elements of communication (sender, message, medium or receiver) become faulty or defective. They may be caused by:
• Deficiencies of sender • Listener’s lack of responsibility • Inappropriate means of communication

TYPES OF BARRIERS

Physical (External) Semantic (Language)

Personal (Psychological)
Cross Cultural

PHYSICAL BARRIERS
Physical or External barriers are environmental factors which prohibit or limit the sending and receiving of messages.

PHYSICAL DISTRACTION
Noise from outside, such as honking of cars, ringing of telephones, loud blaring music, or the sound of planes may distract people.
One may also be distracted by visuals – eg. Posters on the wall, clothes, jewlellery, make up of the speaker etc.

INFORMATION OVERLOAD
Communication may be ineffective when too much information is transmitted at one time, or if complex information is presented within a short span of time.

COMPLEX ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE
Complex organization structure may result in filteration, distortion or loss of messages, besides delay in transmission.

TECHNICAL FAULTS
The failure of the machine being used for communication (eg. telephone, internet, mike etc.) may result in miscommunication.

GEOGRAPHICAL DISTANCE

Geographical distance between the persons communicating can affect the process of communication.

SEMANTIC BARRIERS

Semantic or language barriers are obstructions caused in the process of receiving or understanding of the message during the process of encoding and decoding ideas and words. These barriers arise from the linguistic capacity of the parties involved.

WORD MEANINGS
• Words have multiple meanings (eg. Fair, right, run, interest, burn, mouse, out etc.) • Similar sounding words (eg. Accept/ except, principle/principal, their/there etc.)
• Adjectives & adverbs convey different meanings to different people (eg. Late, early, beautiful, handsome etc.)

POORLY EXPRESSED MESSAGE
• Excessive use of technical jargon and difficult terminology may hinder the understanding of a message
• Incorrect and poor choice of words, long sentences, awkward sentence structure, grammatical errors and poor organization of ideas may distort the message.

SPEAKER’S STYLE
• The speaker may have a distinct accent, may mispronounce certain words, use jargon, difficult words and words with double meanings, or frequently repeat words which may distract a listener.

PERSONAL BARRIERS

Personal or socio-psychological barriers are problems of understanding, interpretation and response to communication which arise partly from our socially learned attributes and partly from our personal attributes.

EMOTIONAL BARRIERS
• Sad memories such as a personal tragedy or loss of a dear one may be triggered off by the speaker, creating a barrier. • Anxiety about a personal matter/health issues may keep your mind disturbed. • Anger or resentment about various issues at work may affect an individual’s response.

GROUP IDENTIFICATION
Our values and opinions are influenced by the group to which we belong (eg. Nationality, religion, family etc.)

SELF IMAGE

Self-image is the idea we have about what we are, what we look like and what impression we make on others. It is difficult to accept any idea which goes against our self-image.

RESISTANCE TO CHANGE

People resist new ideas which are against the established opinions, traditions or social customs. This may occur because of feelings of insecurity and fear of changes in the new methods.

POOR COMMUNICATION SKILLS
Lack of skills in writing or speaking prevent a person from framing a message properly, and also result in lack of self-confidence.

FRAME OF REFERENCE
• Failure to understand the mental framework of a speaker.
• There may be a discrepancy between the background of the speaker and listener, thus creating a barrier in understanding.

STATE OF HEALTH
• The physical condition of an individual can affect a person’s efficiency. • Hunger, fatigue, overwork, and physical or emotional pain can prevent a person from paying attention to what the speaker is saying.

ATTITUDES & OPINIONS
• The attitudes and opinions of an individual towards a subject or speaker can act as personal barriers. • Personal prejudices may prevent an individual from clearly understanding a message.

ALLNESS
• An individual believes that what he states about a subject is all there is to know or say about the subject. • This results in arrogance and intolerance of the other’s point of view.

FAILURE TO DISCRIMINATE
• One fails to recognize variations and differences, and applies one’s image of a particular group to any individual he assigns to that group.
• One disregards any differences or distinctions the individual may have which set the individual apart from the stereotyped group.

EMOTIONS
• If the sender is worried, excited, afraid or nervous, his thinking will be blurred and he will not be able to frame the message correctly. • If the receiver is in such a state of mind, he will not be able to understand the message properly and may misinterpret the message.

POLARIZATION

Polarization tends to occur because of the tendency to neglect the middle ground and to treat phenomena as either black or white.

PREMATURE EVALUATION

This refers to the tendency to form an opinion or judgment on what is being said rather than trying to understand the speaker’s frame of reference.

SELECTIVE PERCEPTION
• The receiver selectively sees and hears information based on his needs, motivations, experience, background and other personal characteristics.

• The information that does not satisfy his needs is filtered.

INABILITY TO PAY ATTENTION
• A wandering mind and day dreaming habit may prevent the listener from concentrating on what the speaker says.

LOW CREDIBILITY
• Lack of sufficient trust, confidence and faith between the communicating parties can create barriers to communication. • Distrust may arise because of past experiences, and may further lead to fear of consequences of revealing the truth or expressing oneself honestly.

STATUS CONSCIOUSNESS
• Status consciousness refers to the difference in status and power between the sender and receiver of communication. • The superior may feel reluctant to accept the ideas of his subordinate, while the subordinate may hesitate to express his views for fear of being disrespectful to his boss.

URGE TO DEBATE OR ADVISE
• Some people have an irrepressible urge to contradict the speaker and make a point. • They look for an opportunity to intervene and make their point noted before the speaker has finished.

OVERCOMING BARRIERS
Communication can be improved by: • Empathy: Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes

• Credibility: Can be achieved through honesty and sincerity. • Congeniality: Maintaining pleasant and friendly relations in spite of individual differences • Clarity and precision

OVERCOMING BARRIERS
Communication can also be improved by: • Adopting an audience centered approach: focusing on and caring about your audience, learning about the biases, education, age, status and style of your receiver to create an effective message. • Foster an open communication climate: Encourage employees to contribute honestly, and allow employees to freely confess their mistakes, disagree with the boss and express their opinions.

OVERCOMING BARRIERS
• Modify the number of organization levels: The fewer the links in the communication chain, the less likely it is that misunderstandings will occur (Have a flat structure and wider span of control). • Facilitate feedback: Give constructive feedback
– Focus on particular behaviours – Keep feedback impersonal – Make feedback well timed – Ensure understanding

OVERCOMING BARRIERS
• Commit to Ethical Communication: Ethical communication includes all relevant information, is true in every sense, and not deceptive in any way. • An ethical message is accurate and sincere. • It avoids language that manipulates, discriminates or exaggerates. • No information is hidden, and data is portrayed fairly.

OVERCOMING BARRIERS
• Ethical communication entails being honest with employers, co-workers and clients, and not seeking personal gain by making others look better or worse than they are. • One doesn’t allow personal preferences to influence one’s perception or the perception of others.

OVERCOMING BARRIERS
• Create lean, efficient messages: Don’t give too much or too little information. • Reduce the number of messages. • Minimize distractions as far as possible. • Choose neutral words to avoid arousing strong feelings. • Avoid placing blame and reacting subjectively. • Listeners should resist interrupting or jumping to conclusions, and clarify meaning by asking non-threatening questions.

OVERCOMING BARRIERS
PRIDE model developed by Vardaman & Vardaman (Purpose, Receiver, Impact, Design, Execution):

Purpose: Objective of communication (One must know why one is communicating).
Receiver: Know the psychology and background of the receiver.

OVERCOMING BARRIERS
• Impact: How the desired impact will be achieved (which channel would be most appropriate).

• Design: How message will be organized.
• Execution: Actually carrying out the plan successfully.

CROSS CULTURAL BARRIERS
• Culture is a shared set of values & attributes of a group. It dictates the roles people play, including who communicates with whom, what & how they communicate. • Cross cultural communication is about dealing with people from other cultures in a way that minimises misunderstandings and maximises your potential to create strong cross cultural relationships.

• When you have communication between people of different cultures, even if they share a common language, things can go wrong. In particular, knowledge of a language does not automatically give you the background knowledge that native speakers assume you share.

CROSS CULTURAL BARRIERS
According to Fred Luthans, the causes of breakdown of intercultural communication are:
• Perception: There is a difference in the interpretation of reality by different people. A manager encodes a message using his culture as a background, but a decoder decodes the message according to his culture. • Ethnocentrism: A sense of superiority that members of a particular culture have. An ethnocentric person generally judges other groups according to the standards of his own culture.

CROSS CULTURAL BARRIERS
• Stereotyping: Perceiving an individual as belonging to a single class or category.
– – – – – Differences in religion & value system Cultural differences in language and non-verbal codes Concept of status Concept of time Cultures determine the degree to which communication is explicit or implicit – Cultures differ with regard to how decisions are made and who makes them. – Colours and symbols have different meanings in different cultures. – Rules of etiquette govern how people behave, how and when they may touch each other, when it is appropriate to use first name etc.

CROSS CULTURAL BARRIERS
Differences in culture may occur in various ways: • Basic Personality: The basic personalities of people from different nations vary (eg. Friendly, formal)
• Language: Different countries or states speak different languages, and it is difficult to come up with a translation of a language, especially for proverbs & idioms. Variation of meaning occurs even in the same language (Eg. Japanese use ‘yes’ to mean ‘I am listening’ while Americans use it for ‘I agree’).

CROSS CULTURAL BARRIERS
• Values: Values represent our ideas of what is good & evil. Certain subjects like sex, drugs & homosexuality are taboo in certain conservative societies whereas it is acceptable to have open discussions on these topics. The role of women also differs in societies.
• Social Relationships: There is a difference in social relationships in various cultures (Eg. Respect for parents in Indian culture vs. friendly atmosphere in West), words used for addressing maternal & paternal uncles & aunts in India vs. ‘uncle’ & ‘aunt’ in West).

CROSS CULTURAL BARRIERS
• Concept of time: Can cause problems in cross cultural communication as each culture has its own concept of punctuality. The value of time differs from culture to culture.
• Concept of Personal Space: People in Canada & US stand around 5 feet apart during a business conversation, but this distance is too close for Germans & Japanese, and too far for Arabs & Latin Americans.

CROSS CULTURAL BARRIERS
• Use of Body Language: Differences in body language can be a major source of misunderstanding. – People in the US & Canada say no by shaking their heads back & forth, in Bulgaria, they nod up & down, Japanese move their right hand & in Sicily, they raise their chin. – In some Asian countries, lowering the eyes is a sign of respect, but Americans would perceive it as a sign of dishonesty & evasiveness.

OVERCOMING CROSS CULTURAL BARRIERS
• Recognize your own cultural biases: Learn to identify when your assumptions are different from the other person’s, and be flexible & ready to change your habits & attitudes while communicating with someone from another culture. • Emphasize common ground: Look for similarities to work from. • Avoid using slang & idioms: Use words that have denotative & singular meanings.

OVERCOMING CROSS CULTURAL BARRIERS
• Avoid assumptions: Don’t assume that others will act in the same way you do, and that they will operate from the same assumptions. • Avoid judgments: When people act differently, don’t conclude that they are making a mistake, their way is invalid or that their customs are inferior to yours. • Learn about other cultures: Understand the psychology of the people & their language.