What Are Communication Barriers? (And Ways to Overcome Them)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 10, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Communication is an essential part of all group interactions at home or in the office. Communication includes various means of conveying messages from the sender to the receiver and vice versa. Knowing the barriers to communication and how to overcome them can help you become a better communicator and professional. In this article, we discuss communication barriers, define what communication entails, review some common barriers to communication, and outline ways to overcome them.

What are communication barriers?

Communication barriers refer to those factors that render interpersonal communication ineffective. To properly understand these barriers, it's essential to know the factors that facilitate effective communication. For communication to be effective, the message the sender conveys reaches the recipient precisely as the sender intended. Effective communication requires both the sender and the receiver to have good listening skills. This is because the roles are interchangeable, as feedback is part of communication.

Communication requires the active participation of more than one party to be effective. This enables the message to be understood correctly. Receivers can also provide useful feedback to the sender. It's essential to identify these barriers in all forms of communication to enable you to convey messages effectively and receive feedback.

Related: Four Types of Communication (With Examples)

What is communication?

The act of transferring information from one place, person, or group to another is called communication. Every communication has three components: the sender, the message, and the receiver. The sender encodes the message, using a combination of words and nonverbal cues to do so. It can be in various forms, such as speech or writing, and the recipient decodes it accordingly.

There might be multiple recipients, and two individuals may interpret the same words or body language in completely different ways. It's also possible that recipients struggle to comprehend the message in the same way that the sender did. This is why employers greatly value accurate, effective, and unambiguous communication. A wide range of factors can influence the message's transmission from sender to recipient. These factors include our emotions, cultural context, communication medium, and even geographic location.

Common barriers to communication

Here are some common barriers to effective communication:

Language barriers

These are barriers that occur because of language differences. There are many languages in the world, making a universal language impossible to achieve. Even within the same language, differences in spelling, accent, and dialect may be a barrier to effective communication. As employers hire people from different geographical and cultural backgrounds, the workplace becomes more diverse, making effective communication necessary to negate any misunderstandings.

Psychological barriers

These are barriers that emanate from the emotions of the sender or recipient. Effective communication typically requires an optimum balance of emotions and facts. When participants engaged in communication experience negative emotions, their judgment and decision-making abilities may be impacted. One area where psychological barriers are present is information processing, which is critical to communication. Senders or recipients can prioritize understanding the contents of the message efficiently to ensure there isn't any miscommunication that may hinder workflow.

Read more: 7 Ways to Communicate Effectively (Plus Benefits and Tips)

Physical barriers

Any physical object or sound that hinders effective communication is a physical barrier. Physical barriers also encompass the effect of distance between the sender and the receiver of a message. The modern work environment has resulted in a distribution of employees across wide geographical areas, making face-to-face communication difficult. Even with advances in technology, some aspects of communication, such as gestures and nonverbal cues, may not always be possible to convey effectively. This is why it is advisable to minimize the effect of physical barriers, such as communicating in an environment where there is minimal background noise.

Cultural barriers

Different cultures have their own way of conveying messages. Besides language, people convey messages using gestures and symbols, which may not be universal. When these gestures and symbols are a part of the communication, recipients with different origins may not always be able to decipher the message. Likewise, they may not provide meaningful feedback to the sender, which can further impact the exchange. Critically, failure to recognize cultural differences may deter the other person and lead to miscommunication. This makes team-building exercises instrumental, helping to remove cultural hindrances efficiently among team members.

Organizational barriers

Communication within an organization is essential for smooth workflows. An unsystematic organizational structure may lead to ineffective communication. For instance, when managers shut avenues for receiving information from employees, they create barriers, making it harder for employees to convey important information to the higher management. Similarly, the organizational structure may prevent smooth information flow from the top management to the middle and lower levels of the company. This may lead to poor implementation of policies. To avoid such situations, employers and team members alike can prioritize effective communication to ensure efficiency.

Related: 12 Communication Skills Interview Questions With Tips and Example Answers

Attitude barriers

Personality differences may also get in the way of effective communication. For instance, introverted people may communicate differently from extroverted personalities, which can impact the efficient exchange of messages between them. Also, displaying a negative attitude towards others or other disrespectful actions may impede the transfer of information. To mitigate attitudinal barriers, it's essential to learn more about other people, such as their preferred methods of communication. Maintaining a respectful working relationship can also enable the exchange of messages effectively from the source to the receiver and vice versa.

Perception barriers

Different individuals may not perceive information or messages in the same way. Perceptions become ingrained in people from childhood and into adult life and may become difficult to overcome. When people perceive things differently from you, it can create a barrier to effective communication. This is because people typically listen to messages that confirm their belief system and affirm their perceptions while discounting what goes against their beliefs. Learning about your belief system, along with that of others, can help you negate the possible detrimental effects of your perceptions of communication.

Physiological barriers

Certain physiological issues may also limit effective communication. For instance, hearing difficulties may prevent a person from hearing the message, which also affects the feedback loop. A shaky voice may also prevent the speaker from articulating themselves audibly. Some conditions, such as dyslexia, can also be physiological barriers to communication. Using hearing aids and seeking medical attention can help mitigate this barrier. Speech therapy can also assist in enhancing voice projection, clarity, and audibility to ensure effective communication.

Read more: How to Improve Communication Skills

Lack of trust

When there is a lack of trust, it becomes harder to convey information. For instance, if a person believes you're withholding something, they're likely to be anxious, while others may speculate or misunderstand. In such situations, any effort to communicate is likely to be difficult for them to process. Being trustworthy and credible can help others believe in your message. You can provide regular updates and maintain transparency to avoid speculation and the spread of misinformation.

Workplace conflict

While some conflicts can be constructive, unresolved conflicts can become a hindrance to effective communication and an impediment to smooth working relations. Unresolved conflicts may lead people to miscommunicate, which may not be in the best interest of an organization. This can further deteriorate the work environment and threaten key company activities. Resolving workplace conflicts in a timely manner can help overcome this barrier among employees.

Read more: What Is Interpersonal Communication and How Can You Use It in the Workplace

Ways to overcome barriers to effective communication

Here are some ways that you can overcome communication barriers:

  • Be clear. Before conveying a message, ensure your ideas are clear and consistent. Also, establish the goal of your communication to enable you to clarify the subject.

  • Choose the best time. Time your communication to get the most out of the exchange. For instance, you can assess the mood of the receiver to determine the best time to initiate communication.

  • Use appropriate language. Use language that the receiver can easily understand. Technical language, overly complex vocabulary, and idioms may confuse certain listeners.

  • Get feedback. After conveying a message, you can follow up to ensure the receiver has understood your intended message. Answer their questions and clarify areas again if necessary.

  • Check your body language. Body language conveys a lot of information, both intended and unintended. Ensure your body language is appropriate and matches your verbal communication.

  • Practise active listening skills. Listening is an important aspect of effective communication, as it enables you to decipher the content of the message. Practise active listening habits, such as avoiding interrupting others while they are speaking.

  • Develop your cultural competence. Learning about the different cultures of people you interact with can help you communicate with them more effectively.

  • Avoid giving too much information. Conveying too much information to the receiver can lead to communication breakdowns. Instead, release only the important information and wait for feedback before sending more.

  • Monitor your emotions. Evaluate your emotional state before sending or replying to communications. Ensure your emotions don't cause you to misconstrue the message or communicate unclear information.

Explore more articles