You are on page 1of 7

Common Barriers to Effective Communication:

 The use of jargon. Over-complicated, unfamiliar and/or technical terms.

 Emotional barriers and taboos. Some people may find it difficult to express their emotions and some topics may be
completely 'off-limits' or taboo. Taboo or difficult topics may include, but are not limited to, politics, religion, disabilities
(mental and physical), sexuality and sex, racism and any opinion that may be seen as unpopular.
 Lack of attention, interest, distractions, or irrelevance to the receiver. (See our page Barriers to Effective
Listening for more information).
 Differences in perception and viewpoint.
 Physical disabilities such as hearing problems or speech difficulties.
 Physical barriers to non-verbal communication. Not being able to see the non-verbal cues, gestures, posture and
general body language can make communication less effective. Phone calls, text messages and other communication
methods that rely on technology are often less effective than face-to-face communication.
 Language differences and the difficulty in understanding unfamiliar accents.
 Expectations and prejudices which may lead to false assumptions or stereotyping. People often hear what they
expect to hear rather than what is actually said and jump to incorrect conclusions. Our page The Ladder of
Inference explains this in more detail.
 Cultural differences. The norms of social interaction vary greatly in different cultures, as do the way in which emotions are
expressed. For example, the concept of personal space varies between cultures and between different social settings. See
our page on Intercultural Awareness for more information.

A Categorisation of Barriers to Communication

Language Barriers
Language and linguistic ability may act as a barrier to communication.
However, even when communicating in the same language, the terminology used in a message may act as a barrier if it is not fully
understood by the receiver(s). For example, a message that includes a lot of specialist jargon and abbreviations will not be understood by
a receiver who is not familiar with the terminology used.

Regional colloquialisms and expressions may be misinterpreted or even considered offensive. See our page: Effective Speaking for
more information.

Psychological Barriers
The psychological state of the communicators will influence how the message is sent, received and perceived.
For example:

If someone is stressed they may be preoccupied by personal concerns and not as receptive to the message as if they were not stressed.

Stress management is an important personal skill that affects our interpersonal relationships. See our pages Stress: Symptoms and
Triggers and Avoiding Stress for more information.

Anger is another example of a psychological barrier to communication. When we are angry it is easy to say things that we may later
regret, and also to misinterpret what others are saying.

See our pages: What is Anger? and Anger Management for more information.
More generally people with low self-esteem may be less assertive and therefore may not feel comfortable communicating - they may feel
shy or embarrassed about saying how they really feel, or read unintended negative sub-texts in messages they hear.

Visit our pages on Improving Self-Esteem and Assertiveness for more information.

Physiological Barriers
Physiological barriers to communication may result from the receiver’s physical state.
For example, a receiver with reduced hearing may not fully grasp the content of a spoken conversation especially if there is significant
background noise.

Physical Barriers
An example of a physical barrier to communication is geographic distance between the sender and receiver(s).
Communication is generally easier over shorter distances as more communication channels are available and less technology is required.
The ideal communication is face-to-face.

Although modern technology often helps to reduce the impact of physical barriers, the advantages and disadvantages of each
communication channel should be understood so that an appropriate channel can be used to overcome the physical barriers.

Systematic Barriers
Systematic barriers to communication may exist in structures and organisations where there are inefficient or inappropriate information
systems and communication channels, or where there is a lack of understanding of the roles and responsibilities for communication. In
such organisations, people may be unclear of their role in the communication process and therefore not know what is expected of them.

Attitudinal Barriers
Attitudinal barriers are behaviours or perceptions that prevent people from communicating effectively.
Attitudinal barriers to communication may result from personality conflicts, poor management, resistance to change or a lack of
motivation. To be an effective receiver of messages you should attempt to overcome your own attitudinal barriers to to help ensure
more effective communication.

Read more at:

Ten Principles of Effective Listening

1. Stop Talking
Don't talk, listen.

If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.
Mark Twain
When somebody else is talking listen to what they are saying, do not interrupt, talk over them or finish their sentences for them. Stop,
just listen.

When the other person has finished talking you may need to clarify to ensure you have received their message accurately.

2. Prepare Yourself to Listen

Focus on the speaker. Put other things out of mind. The human mind is easily distracted by other thoughts – what’s for lunch, what time
do I need to leave to catch my train, is it going to rain – try to put other thoughts out of mind and concentrate on the messages that are
being communicated.

3. Put the Speaker at Ease

Help the speaker to feel free to speak.
Remember their needs and concerns. Nod or use other gestures or words to encourage them to continue.

Maintain eye contact but don’t stare – show you are listening and understanding what is being said.

4. Remove Distractions
Focus on what is being said.
Don’t doodle, shuffle papers, look out the window, pick your fingernails or similar. Avoid unnecessary interruptions. These behaviours
disrupt the listening process and send messages to the speaker that you are bored or distracted.

5. Empathise
Try to understand the other person’s point of view.
Look at issues from their perspective. Let go of preconceived ideas. By having an open mind we can more fully empathise with the
speaker. If the speaker says something that you disagree with then wait and construct an argument to counter what is said but keep an
open mind to the views and opinions of others.

See our page: What is Empathy? for more.

6. Be Patient
A pause, even a long pause, does not necessarily mean that the speaker has finished.
Be patient and let the speaker continue in their own time, sometimes it takes time to formulate what to say and how to say it. Never
interrupt or finish a sentence for someone.

Our page on Patience has more information.

7. Avoid Personal Prejudice

Try to be impartial.
Don't become irritated and don't let the person’s habits or mannerisms distract you from what the speaker is really saying.

Everybody has a different way of speaking - some people are for example more nervous or shy than others, some have regional accents
or make excessive arm movements, some people like to pace whilst talking - others like to sit still.

Focus on what is being said and try to ignore styles of delivery.

8. Listen to the Tone

Volume and tone both add to what someone is saying.
A good speaker will use both volume and tone to their advantage to keep an audience attentive; everybody will use pitch, tone and
volume of voice in certain situations – let these help you to understand the emphasis of what is being said.

See our page: Effective Speaking for more.

9. Listen for Ideas – Not Just Words

You need to get the whole picture, not just isolated bits and pieces.
Maybe one of the most difficult aspects of listening is the ability to link together pieces of information to reveal the ideas of others. With
proper concentration, letting go of distractions, and focus this becomes easier.

10. Wait and Watch for Non-Verbal Communication

Gestures, facial expressions, and eye-movements can all be important.
We don’t just listen with our ears but also with our eyes – watch and pick up the additional information being transmitted via non-verbal

Examples of culture-specific non-verbal communication

1. The popular stereotype of Italians, involving big gestures, lots of hand-waving, and plenty of loud
and excited shouting, may be a stereotype, but it exists for a reason. In the Italian culture,
excitement is shown a lot more obviously than in the UK, for example, and non-verbal
communication tends to be a lot more obvious. This can make it much harder for Italians to
interpret non-verbal communication in the UK or USA, where it is more subtle. However, even in
Italy, there are geographical variations.
2. The thumbs-up gesture, which generally signals approval in English-speaking countries, is
considered offensive in other countries, including apparently Greece, Italy and some parts of the
Middle East.


Making a circle with your thumb and forefinger like this means OK in Western cultures. It is used
in particular by divers in this way. In Japan, however, it is reputedly the sign for money, and in
Arabic countries, it is a threat.

It’s worth being careful how you use gestures and body language!

Comparison Chart

Meaning ability to perceive sounds, Listening involves the

by receiving vibrations analysis and understanding
through ears of the sounds you hear

What is it? An ability A skill

Nature Primary and continuous Secondary and temporary

Act Physiological Psychological

Involves Receipt of message Interpretation of the

through ears. message received by ears.

Process Passive bodily process Active mental process

Use of senses Only one More than one

Reason We are neither aware nor We listen to acquire

we have any control over knowledge and receive
the sounds we hear. information.

Concentration Not required Required

Definition of Hearing

The natural ability or an inborn trait that allows us to recognize sound through ears by catching
vibrations is called the hearing. In simple terms, it is one of the five senses; that makes us aware of
the sound. It is an involuntary process, whereby a person receives sound vibrations, continuously.

A normal human being’s hearing capability ranges from 20 to 20000 Hertz, called as audio or sonic.
Any frequency above and below the given range is known as ultrasonic and infrasonic respectively.

Definition of Listening

Listening is defined as the learned skill, in which we can receive sounds through ears, and transform
them into meaningful messages. To put simply, it is the process of diligently hearing and interpreting
the meaning of words and sentences spoken by the speaker, during the conversation.

Listening is a bit difficult, because it requires concentration and attention, and the human mind is
easily distracted. People use it as a technique to comprehend, what is being said, through different
verbal and non-verbal signs, i.e. how it is being said? What type of words is used? Tone and pitch of
voice, body language and so on.

Active listening is the key element; that makes the communication process effective. Further, it
encompasses making sounds that show listener’s attentiveness and providing feedback. It had a
greater influence in our lives and used to gain information, learn and understand things and so on.

Here are 10 tips to overcome communication barriers:

1. Use Simple Language: Simple and clear words should be used while communicating. Use of ambiguous words
and jargon should be avoided.
2. Eliminate differences in perception: The business organizations should ensure that it is recruiting the right
individuals on the job. It is the responsibility of the interviewer to ensure that the interviewee has command over the
written and spoken language. Proper training should be given to employees.

3. Active Listening: Always listen attentively and carefully. Active listening means hearing with proper understanding
of the message that is heard. The speaker must ensure by asking question that whether his/her message is
understood or not by the receiver in the same terms as intended by the speaker.

4. Avoid Information Overload: The managers must know how to prioritize their work. Never overload yourself with
the work. The managers should spend quality time with their subordinates and should also listen to their problems
and feed backs actively.

5. Reduce and eliminate of noise levels: The main communication barrier is noise, which must be overcome on
priority basis. Therefore, it is essential to identify the source of noise and then eliminate that source.

6. Emotional State: While communicating, one should make effective use of body language. You should not show
your emotions while communication as the receiver might misinterpret the message being delivered.

7. Proper Media Selection: The managers should properly select the medium of communication. Oral
communication is preferred for conveying simple messages. Written communication should be encouraged for
delivering complex messages. And for significant messages, reminders can be given by using written means of
communication such as notices.

8. Simple Organizational Structure: The organizational structure should not be complex, and the number of
hierarchical levels should be optimum. If the organizational structure is simple, then communication will be more

9. Flexibility in meeting the targets: The managers should ensure that the individuals are meeting their targets
timely without skipping the formal channels of communication for effective communication in an organization.
Employees should not be much pressurized to meet their targets.

10. Give Constructive Feedback: Don't give negative feedback. If the contents of the feedback is negative, then
deliver it constructively. This will lead to effective communication between the superior and subordinate.