Barriers to Effective Communication

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Barriers to effective communication can retard or distort the message and intention of the message being conveyed which may result in failure of the communication process or an effect that is not desirable. These include filtering, selective perception, information overload, emotions, language, silence, communication apprehension, gender differences, and political correctness.

This also includes a lack of expressing “knowledge-appropriate” communication, which occurs when a person uses ambiguous or complex legal words, medical jargon, or descriptions of a situation or environment that is not understood by the recipient.

  • Physical barriers: Physical barriers occur due to the nature of the environment.
  • System design: System design faults refer to problems with the structures or systems in place in an organization.
  • Attitudinal barriers: Attitudinal barriers come about as a result of problems with staff in an organization.
  • Defensiveness or premature assumptions: A defensive listener will be less able to “hear” what the speaker is saying.
  • Ambiguity of words/phrases: Words sounding the same but having different meanings can convey a different meaning altogether.
  • A distracting environment: An environment that is crowded or noisy tends to be distracting, and this can prevent effective communication.
  • Individual linguistic ability: The use of jargon, difficult or inappropriate words in communication can prevent the recipients from understanding the message.
  • The display of inappropriate body language or the misreading of body language: Body language helps us pick up visual clues from people’s reactions to what we are saying to them.
  • Physiological barriers: These may result from individuals’ personal discomfort, caused—for example—by ill health, poor eyesight, or hearing difficulties.
  • Cultural differences: These may result from the cultural differences of communities around the world, within an individual country (tribal/regional differences, dialects, etc.), between religious groups and in organizations or at an organizational level – where companies, teams, and units may have different expectations, norms, and idiolects. Families and family groups may also experience the effect of cultural barriers to communication within and between different family members or groups.


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