Barriers to Effective Communication

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There may be various barriers to proper communication. These barriers prevent the information from properly reaching the targeted receiver. If the information does reach the receiver, it may be altered and useless. Some of the various types of barriers are:

1. External Barriers:

Caused by external factors other than internal factors such as organizational and personal.

a. Semantic Barriers:

These barriers cause the incoming message from being accurately decoded, ie., the incoming message is misunderstood. The sender may be trying to communicate something different from what is being understood. These errors are caused due to:

i. Language:

Language is a very important of communication in written and spoken communication. Words in spoken communication may be different from written words. It is very important that language communication may be carried out in the right context, ie., it is more important to relay the right idea than the words. This is the reason why it may be difficult to engage in professional communication with technical, scientific or medical personnel.

ii. Picture:

As the saying does - a picture is worth a thousand words is indeed true in terms of business communication. Pictures may include graphs, charts, maps, movies, etc. It should be noted that pictures work best as supplements to text (or vice versa). Pictures alone may confuse the viewer.

iii. Action:

Actions may include a pat on the back. This is a great way to encourage employees. Actions may be used consistently. Body language is another powerful communication technique. Body language may include eye contact, a handshake, hand-movement, etc. Again, actions have to be communicated correctly and in the right context.

b. Emotional or psychological barriers:

People tend to use emotions and personal values such as attitudes, judgments, etc. during communication. These qualities may hinder clear communication and may even offend the receiver, and cause miscommunication. Some of these barriers include:

i. Premature evaluation:

This may involve misunderstanding due to jumping to conclusions too quickly instead of taking time to evaluate the communicated message.

ii. Loss in transmission and retention:

When a message is passed through various departments within an organization, the original message is often altered from the original form. 30% of the message is most during each transmission. Employees retain 50% of the information while managers retain 60% of the original information.

iii. Distrust of communicator:

Some communicators don't have leadership skills; hence, they cannot effectively communicate with subordinates. The weak leader may lack self-confidence and a weak judgment, thus, subordinates may not comply with his or her instructions.

iv. Failure to communication:

Some managers may fail to communicate. This may be done unknowingly, procrastination, or on purpose.

v. Undue reliance on written words:

Some employees tend to overly depend on written communications. They don't trust verbal communication with their superiors because verbal orders may be different from written communication, causing unnecessary confusion. Verbal communication may work only if a certain level of mutual understanding exists between the staff. It is always best to supplement verbal communication with written instructions.

iv. Inattention:

Proper communication cannot be conducted if the listen is inattentive. The mind should always be focused when receiving instructions.

2. Organizational Barriers:

The functioning of an organization depends upon proper functioning of the internal structure of the organizational grid. A variety of rules and policies have been laid out for maintaining the integrity of the organizational grid. Some of these include:

a. Organizational Policy:

Organizational communication guidelines are based upon a policy. This document may be continuously be referred to by senior management.

b. Organizational rules and regulations:

There may be rules and regulations to communicating within an organization. These rules may be very rigid in come cases, and may even prevent open communication. Some rules have established a very formal and channeled way to communicate upwards. Organizational rules are strictly adhered to in the Indian public sector.

c. Status Relationship:

Close relationships between mid-level managers and their subordinates may prevent bottom-up communication because the mid-level may be worried about their reputation with senior management. Thus, mid-level managers may not openly communicate with senior managers.

d. Complexity of organizational structure:

Communication is hindered as the organizational structure becomes more complex with various departments and levels. Information is distorted as it passes through various managerial levels.

e. Organizational facilities:

If facilities that promote open communication within an organization do not function, they may prevent proper flow of information.

3. Personal barriers:

Communication begins and ends at the person. Thus, there are barriers to communication that are personal in nature.

a. Barriers in superiors:

Superiors act as barriers in these ways:

i. Attitude of superiors:

Communication may be a complex process when the superior is acting as a middleman between senior management and lower level employees. A superior may be selfish in his/her intentions and may alter or modify the flow of communication originating from senior management or lower-level employees. This may create unfavourable barriers between senior management and lower-level employees.

ii. Fear of challenge to authority:

Some superiors may modify feedback going from lower-level employees. This may be done especially if the feedback is a complaint directed against the superior. The dishonest superior may block complaints from lower-level employees from reaching senior management in order to prevent challenge from authority.

iii. Insistence to proper channel:

Sometimes, it may become necessary to transmit information using unorthodox means and some superiors may fail to recognize this. They stress on usage of proper channel of communication - which may not always work and may even hinder communication.

iv. Lack of confidence in subordinates:

Some superiors ignore the requests of lower-level employees. They feel that lower-level employees lack the understanding of corporate functionality, and that their demands are not worth listening to.

v. Ignoring communication:

Sometimes, superiors may filter a piece of information and prevent it from going through to senior management or lower-level employees. This may be done so as to maintain an important image in the eyes of senior management.

b. Barriers regarding subordinates:

Some qualities of superiors may hinder proper communication. These qualities may include a busy schedule, an unhelpful attitude, etc.

i. Unwillingness to communicate:

Some superiors, with a conflict of interest, prevent feedback from lower-level employees, from reaching senior management. These superiors may have selfish intentions, and may prevent any negative information that threatens their reputation.

ii. Lack of incentive:

Companies are always looking for new ideas. Many of these new ideas originate from mid-level management or even lower-level employees. If a novel suggestion originates from lower-level employees, it is the job of mid-level management to relay the message to senior management. Sometimes, however, this never happens because mid-level management is not rewarded for good ideas.

Additional Readings:

1. Definition and Characteristics of Communication
2. Principles of Effective Communication
3. Reasons why Communications is a Two-Way Process
4. Effective Communication and People Management
5. Categories of Organization Communication
6. The Benefits of Written Communication
7. Barriers to Effective Communication
8. Overcoming Barriers to Effective Communication
9. Types of Business Communication within an Organization
10. Important Elements of Report-Writing
11. Scope of Communication
12. The Grapevine
13. Communication with Workers’ Families
14. Effective Listening
15. Qualities of a Business Letter

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