Barriers to communication

Effective communication is often the key to success. It is therefore vital that the words you speak are interpreted to give the same message you intended.

“Nothing is so simple that it cannot be misunderstood” Freeman Teague, Jr.

However, often unknown to the speaker, words can be misheard and the wrong message received. The following are some of the barriers that happen in the communication.

  1. Filtering

    Filtering is the manipulation of the message by the sender to make the message more favourable to the receiver.  What better example than the politicians in the election.  Many staff filter the information that they provide to their managers to what they think the manager would like to hear.  This is extremely common and occurs most often when there are a number of vertical levels within an organisation’s hierarchy. Managers have a responsibility to be aware of this phenomenon and take measures to ensure it does not impact detrimentally on the performance of the organisation.

  2. Selective perception

    A person receives a message subject to their own beliefs, education status, background, motivations, needs and experience. This may distort the original message as the receiver attends to the components of the message that make sense, fit with their expectations and what they would like to hear.  Past experiences can change the meaning of the message.

    At times people can be dismissive of those sending the message such as when we have difficulty following (they are talking too fast or incoherently) or even when the person sending the message is of a low ‘status’.  In contrast those with high status can command uncritical listening from individuals – their message can be accepted without evaluation.

  3. Emotions

    It is common knowledge that you pick the ‘right’ time to deliver your message.  People’s emotions can play a large part in how they interpret a message.  Extreme emotions are most likely to distort the message and can result in an emotional judgment rather than objective thinking about the issue.  Stress is one example where people will see things differently.

  4. Language

    “When you have finished on the jumbo, have crib, do four hours on the bogger, hit the dry mess and then back to the donger by 8pm.”

    “Is that clear?”

    Words have very different meanings to different people.  We may all speak the same language the however meaning we allocate to the same words can be very different.   Many variables affect the language we use including age, cultural background and education.  Someone who did not complete a high school education may get by on as little as 500 words.  Compare this to the vocabulary of a visiting medical specialist.

  5. Focusing on ourselves

    Focusing on ourselves, and our thoughts and feelings about the communication can lead us to miss the major meaning in the message.  Some of the factors that can lead to this are defensiveness, a feeling of superiority and ego.

    These barriers can be thought of as filters.  The message leaves the sender, passes through the filter which are all the barriers looked at above which can result in a message which is very different from the one intended. In order to be an effective communicator it is good practice to remember these filters, either when you are communicating or interpreting what someone is saying to you.

Copyright of The Pivot Institute 2013