Everything you need to know about Barriers of Communication. Barriers or obstacles to communication cause breakdowns, distortions and inaccurate information.
In large organisations, there are a number of obstacles which make transmission of message more difficult. In both upward and downward communications, it may happen that some of the persons in the intermediate layers withhold the whole or part of the information because they may feel that by withholding the information they will be better informed than those whom they lead.
The barriers to communication in the organisation can be broadly grouped as: 1. Organisational Barriers 2. Semantic Barriers 3. Psychological Barriers 4. Personal Barriers 5. Mechanical Barriers.
A. Some of the organisational barriers to communication are:-
1. Organisational Policy 2. Rules and Regulations 3. Status 4. Complexity in Organisation Structure 5. Organisational Facilities 6. Inadequate or Improper Policy Guidelines on Communication 7. Inadequacy of Facilities for Face-to-Face Communication 8. Lack of Clarity as also Flexibility in Policies and Procedures for Communication 9. Status Symbols a Roadblock in Communication.
B. The semantic barriers to communication are:-
1. Badly Expressed Message 2. Symbols with Different Meanings 3. Faculty Translations 4. Unqualified Assumptions 5. Technical Jargon 6. Body Language and Gesture Decoding.
C. The psychological barriers to communication includes:-
1. Premature Evaluation 2. Lack of Attention 3. Loss by Transmission and Poor Retention 4. Distrust.
D. Some of the personal barriers to communication are:-
1. Fear of Challenge to Authority 2. Lack of Confidence of Superior or his Subordinates 3. Unwillingness to Communicate 4. Lack of Proper Incentives 5. Lack of Attention or Interest on the Part of Recipient 6. Tendency to Draw Hasty Conclusions 7. Lack of Trust in Communicator 8. Lack of Receptive Frame of Mind 9. Fear that Communication may Result in Disruption of Status Quo.
E. Some of the mechanical barriers to communication are:-
1. Distortion of Message 2. Filtering 3. Overloading.
Additionally, few other barriers to communication are:- 1. Vague Message 2. Distortion in Transmission 3. Carelessness 4. Wrong Assumptions 5. Time Sufficient to Adapt to Modifications 6. Credibility of the Source 7. Fear Psychosis 8. Suppression of Information
9. Barriers due to Organisation Structure 10. Barriers due to Status 11. Filtering of Information 12. Perceptual Efforts 13. Closed Mind 14. Lack of Ability to Communicate 15. Inattention 16. Resistance to Change 17. Situational Factors 18. Miscellaneous Barriers.
Barriers of Communication: Organisational, Semantic, Psychological, Personal and Semantic Barriers
Barriers of Communication – Organisational, Semantic, Psychological and Personal Barriers
It is generally observed that managers face several problems due to communication breakdown or barriers. These barriers may prevent a communication or filter part of it or carry incorrect meaning due to which misunderstanding may be created.
Therefore, it is important for a manager to identify such barrier and take measures to overcome them.
The barriers to communication in the organisation can be broadly grouped as:
1. Organisational barriers,
2. Semantic barriers,
3. Psychological barriers, and
4. Personal barriers.
These are briefly discussed below:
1. Organisational Barriers:
The factors related to organisation structure, authority relationship, rules and regulations may sometimes; act as barriers to effective communication.
Some of these barriers are:
i. Organisational Policy.
ii. Rules and Regulations.
iv. Complexity in Organisation Structure.
v. Organisational Facilities.
2. Semantic Barriers:
Semantic is the branch of linguistic dealing with the meaning of words and sentences; semantic barriers are concerned with problems and obstructions in the process of encoding and decoding of message into words or impressions. Normally, such barriers result on the use of wrong words, faculty translations, different interpretations etc.
These are discussed below:
i. Badly expressed message.
ii. Symbols with different meanings.
iii. Faculty Translations.
iv. Unqualified Assumptions.
v. Technical Jargon.
vi. Body Language and Gesture Decoding.
3. Psychological Barriers:
Emotional or psychological factors act as barriers to communicators. For e.g., a worried person cannot communicate properly and an angry receiver cannot understand the real meaning of message. The state of mind of both sender and receiver of communication reflects in the effective communication.
Some of these psychological barriers are:
i. Premature Evaluation.
ii. Lack of Attention.
iii. Loss by Transmission and Poor Retention.
4. Personal Barriers:
The personal factors of both sender and receiver may avert influence on effective communication.
Some of the personal barriers of superior and subordinators are mentioned below:
i. Fear of challenge to authority.
ii. Lack of confidence of superior or his subordinates.
iii. Unwillingness to communicate.
iv. Lack of proper incentives.
Barriers of Communication – 8 Barriers to Effective Communication: Vague Message, Distortion in Transmission, Carelessness, Wrong Assumptions and a Few Others
We want our communication to be effective. For this, it is necessary to know the barriers to effective communication.
Some of the barriers are listed below:
1. Vague Message:
When the sender frames an ambiguous and vague message, or makes it complex and circumlocutory, or leaves out a vital detail or uses wrong diction or wrong syntax, the communication process is adversely affected.
2. Distortion in Transmission:
When a message is transmitted from one person to the other, and from him to the second person, and from him to the third person, the message may be distorted at each source of origin. Transmission may cause 30% information to evaporate.
When the chain is long, as in a big organisation, and when there is verbal transmission, there is a likelihood of its getting distorted — distorted in content due to memorisation and distorted in meaning due to different understanding at each point.
The bulletins, notices, circulars and reports brought out for employees many times remain unheeded or the employees may be indifferent to these communications. This is true also in case of reports from subordinates to superiors which are not read seriously.
4. Wrong Assumptions:
Sometimes either the sender of the message or the receiver assumes so many things unnecessarily without confirmation. Perhaps a customer may assume that if he informs the factory of his intended visit, the company will arrange for his food, lodging and transport. The company, on the other hand, assumes that the customer is coming casually and doesn’t make any arrangements.
5. Time Sufficient to Adapt to Modifications:
Sometimes the management makes alterations in the message affecting an individual and inform these to the affected individual. But the implementation if it is to be made urgently before realising the significance of the alterations, then the process of communication suffers.
6. Credibility of the Source:
If the source gives a wrong or faulty message more than one, it loses believability. Credibility of a source is a prerequisite for effective communication.
7. Fear Psychosis:
Sometimes, the subordinates while submitting reports conceal real information for the simple reason that they fear adverse effects later on.
8. Suppression of Information:
All the information cannot be divulged to the employees — it is important to decide what to disclose and what not to disclose. Sometimes out of sheer laziness, information is not passed on.
Barriers of Communication – Barriers due to Organisation Structure, Status, Semantic Barriers, Perceptual Efforts, Closed Mind, Inattention and a Few Others
Barriers or obstacles to communication cause breakdowns, distortions and inaccurate information. In large organisations, there are a number of obstacles which make transmission of message more difficult. In both upward and downward communications, it may happen that some of the persons in the intermediate layers withhold the whole or part of the information because they may feel that by withholding the information they will be better informed than those whom they lead. It should be noted that although there is no such thing as perfect communication, yet considerable degree of perfection can be achieved in communication if the barriers to communication are overcome.
The main barriers to communication are discussed below:
1. Barriers due to Organisation Structure:
The organisation structure has an important influence on the ability of the members of the organisation to communicate effectively. These days the organisation structure of most big enterprises is complex involving several layers of supervision, and long communication lines. Organisation structure creates problems because communication may breakdown at any level of supervision due to faulty transmission.
2. Barriers due to Status:
Status of an organisational member is determined by the position he holds in the organisation. This fact is quite apparent when the subordinate talks to his superior. Obstacle in communication occurs when the psychological distance between the two is created because of status symbols of the superior. Status symbols include high quality furniture, separate room, facilities, etc. A sense of inferiority complex in the mind of the subordinate does, not allow him to seek clarifications from the superior.
3. Semantic Barriers:
Semantic is the science of meaning. Words seldom mean the same thing to two persons. Symbols or words usually have a variety of meanings. The sender and the receiver have to choose one meaning from among many. If both of them choose the same meaning, the communication will be perfect.
But this is not so always because of difference in formal education and specific situations of the people. Strictly one cannot convey meaning, all one can do is to convey words. But the same words may suggest quite different meanings to different people, e.g., ‘Profits’ may mean to management efficiency and growth, whereas to employees, it may suggest excess funds piled up through paying inadequate wages and benefits.
4. Filtering of Information:
Sometimes, the sender screens the information for passing only such information which will look favourable to the receiver. This is because of the simple reason that no one likes to show his mistakes to someone else, especially to his boss. The boss, on the other hand, wants to obtain information about what is actually going on, especially those actions which need his attention.
5. Perceptual Efforts:
A person’s perception is determined by his needs, social environments, level of education, cultural factor, etc. Every person tries to interpret the information he receives from his own angle or point of view. This may create complexities in the process of communication. Effective communication requires the willingness to see things through the eyes of others.
6. Closed Mind:
Premature evaluation by the listener also creates a hurdle in communication. If the listener has closed mind, he will always evaluate the things from his own point of view and will not be receptive to new ideas. Similarly, if a listener is suffering from the mirage of too much knowledge, he will be rigid and dogmatic in attitude.
7. Lack of Ability to Communicate:
All persons do not have the skill to communicate. Skill in communication may come naturally to some, but an average man may need some sort of training and practice by way of interviewing, public speaking, etc.
The simple failure to read bulletins, notices, minutes and reports is a common habit of many people. Similarly, verbal communication has the impact on those who are preoccupied or unwilling to listen. If people do not pay the required attention to listening and understanding messages they are supposed to receive, communication will lose its purpose.
Also, some people are too quick in commenting on information as it is being received from the sender, without waiting for full information. This may drive the sender to frustration and into a sense of futility. The sender may then learn to be diffident in transmitting messages to such premature evaluators.
9. Resistance to Change:
It is general tendency of human beings to maintain status quo. When new ideas are being communicated, the listening apparatus may act as a filter in rejecting new ideas. Thus, resistance to change is an important obstacle to effective communication.
Sometimes, organisations announce changes which seriously affect the employees, e.g., changes in timings, place and order of work, installation of new plant, etc. Changes affect people in different ways and it may take some time to understand the full meaning of the message. Hence, it is important for the management not to force changes before people are in a position to adjust to their implications.
10. Situational Factors:
Barriers may also arise due to specific situations, e.g., physical conditions like noise or insufficient light, information overload, etc. When there is a noise or a number of persons are speaking simultaneously, communication can’t be effective. And if an executive is overloaded with information and does not have time to organise the information, he will not be able to communicate effectively.
11. Miscellaneous Barriers:
In addition to the above barriers, there may also be other barriers such as unclassified assumptions by the sender and receiver of message, emotional reactions, irrelevant message, lack of trust, etc.
Barriers of Communication – 3 Reasons behind Distortion of Information: Mechanical, Organizational and Personal Barriers
Communication problems or barriers, whether arising from mechanical, organizational or personal factors, may sometimes result in distortion of meaning or filtering of information by suppression or withholding. In either case, the result will be that the object of communication, i.e., transmission of meaning to others, is defeated.
Broadly, the distortion or filtering of information may be due to the following:
1. Mechanical barriers.
2. Organizational barriers.
3. Personal barriers.
Distortion of message may be due to noise in the transmission process, or because the communicator does not use right words to give desired meaning or precision to his idea. The noise problem can be overcome by correcting the mechanical defects or by resetting the communication system.
The problem of inadequacy or vagueness of the message may be solved if the communicator uses simple, understandable words to convey his thoughts and emotion to communicate. He should draw on words of everyday use and avoid showing his mastery over the language by employing bombastic words and phrases like the sales position is ‘dire’ or the ‘competitors are snapping at our heels’ or that there is need to ‘beef up the sales force’.
Filtering happens when there is distance or layers between the communicator and communicate. As a message passes through different points through the communication channel, it may get altered or twisted by the people in between, whether intentionally or otherwise.
Filtering may usually occur in the case of upward communications because the persons, through whom the message will pass, may deliberately alter or twist it to impress the superiors about work performance at their levels. Accordingly, there may be exaggeration of good points about their performance and playing down or complete suppression of the points that indicate less than desired performance on their part.
Overloading reflects overworking of communication channels because of a large number of messages to be cleared. The solution to this lies in adding new channels and, if this is not possible, for the manager to see that only urgent and important messages are given priority in clearance and routine messages are put on hold until the channel-load returns to normal.
Lack of proper and required number of policies and guidelines as regards communication will also reflect on communication in the organization.
Meetings, conferences, and other mechanisms for communication of orders, suggestions, and grievances will surely affect the efficiency of communication system. An organization may consume reams of paper on written communication but it should keep in mind that oral, face-to-face or telephonic communication holds the key to effective and prompt communication.
Written communication will often take time to reach the persons concerned and defeat the very purpose of communication.
The communication policy should be adequate to meet all present and future requirements of the organization. No doubt, it should be stated in clear terms, but in the process it should not become rigid such that it cannot meet the needs of an unanticipated problem situation.
For example, the rule that all messages should follow the established route is all right in a normal situation but completely unsuitable where a sales representative wants to share details of the strategy of a competitor with the sales director. If most public sector undertakings are making losses, it is mainly because they have to conform to rigid policy guidelines, including those on communication.
Formal organizations generally give undue emphasis to hierarchical ranking of its staff. Managers occupying different positions in the hierarchy are entitled to different status symbols—cabin and carpet size, ACs, number of telephones, personal secretary, car, etc.
Such discrimination is naturally reflected in communication between them—a junior level manager will think twice before communicating with his senior—oftentimes, a junior will even stand up in respect when called by senior on phone.
If the person receiving the message does not pay attention to the message, he will not try to understand or act as required. Lack of attention or interest on his part may be due to various reasons—lost in own thoughts, difficulty in understanding the words and phrases used in message, or his belief that the message is not worth giving attention to or acting on.
The communicate May, by nature, be impulsive or a man always in tearing hurry. Without carefully going through a message, he may interpret it in his own way and accordingly not do what the message required him to do.
If the recipient of a communication distrusts the communicator’s competence, or feels he is not well disposed toward him or is out to play some mischief, he will view the message with doubt and suspicion and may ignore it as far as possible.
At times, communicate may not be an in a proper state of mind to view the message in correct perspective. If he is mentally upset and emotionally not well-balanced, it is likely to adversely affect the reception of the message communicated to him.
If a communication contains an order or suggestion that is feared to upset the existing order of things, it may cause a sense of fear in the mind of the recipient and he may not accord favorable reception to it.
Barriers of Communication – Perceptual Barriers, Differential Assumptions, Personal Weaknesses, Structural Bottlenecks, Semantic Problems and a Few Others
In the process of communication, several extraneous noises occur which act as barriers on effective communication. It is regarded that these barriers to communication are at the base of several human problems in organisations.
1. Perceptual Barriers:
People greatly differ in the way they perceive things and events. Even a single individual has varying perceptions depending on time and circumstances. Perception is a function of one’s own personality, which is itself a complex of several ‘constants’ and ‘variables’. Perception of objects and people is a mixture of ‘facts and prejudices’, which create stereotypes, independent of the physical reality.
Perceptual fallacies and distortions in communication are common and vitiate the entire system. They are the basic barriers to effective communication. People are likely to analyses and interrupt information in terms of stereotypes they have built up in the past.
2. Narrow/Closed Minds:
One of the assumptions implicit in the communication process is that both the receiver and sender have open minds, which enable them to process information in an uninhibited manner. If people limit their ‘agenda’ to their own narrow goals and views, no effective communication is possible because closed minds regard all information as an unnecessary overload.
3. Differential Assumptions:
The information contained in communication is generally backed up by certain assumptions. The sender may have been quite clear about the assumptions but unless they are shared with the receiver, there is likely to be an incomplete communication, leading to different interpretations. Hence it is necessary for the communicator to clarify the assumptions underlying his message.
4. Personal Weaknesses:
Sometimes, sheer fear and distrust may prevent effective communication. The sender may fear that the consequences of transmitting a particular message may destabilize his own position or the position of the receiver even though it is in the larger interests of the system to communicate. Some managers also loose creditability if they are indecisive and inconsistent in transmitting and receiving information.
People who receive from and transmit information to them seldom attach much importance to the content. Also personality clashes among individuals clog the communication channels. Anger, jealousy, hatred, conflicting values etc., which have nothing to do with the objective work requirements interfere with communication process.
5. Structural Bottlenecks:
More often than not, the communication process in organisations is too structured to permit choices. An overly hierarchical organisational structure restricts free of information. Also, too many intermediaries in the communication lines serve as barriers to communication.
6. Resistance to Communicate:
Resistance to communicate is a pervasive barrier to communication. Some people tend to think mistakenly that information need not be or should not be communicated and that people already know about it. Failure to communicate or from superiority-inferiority complexes or due to status differences the people don’t like to communicate. Communication has also no impact on those who are unable or unwilling to listen/read.
This may be a matter of motivation. If people do not play the necessary degree of attention to listening/reading and understanding the message they are supposed to receive, some people are too quick in commenting on information as it is being received from the sender without waiting for full information. This may drive the sender to frustration and into a sense of futility. The sender may then learn to be diffident in transmitting messages to such hasty evaluators.
7. Semantic Problems:
There are several semantic problems in communication. Many languages have a built-in tendency to lose structure. Lack of coherence, sins of omission and commission in sentence construction, use of jargon and such other deficiencies mar the meaning of communication.
8. Other Barriers:
The other barriers to communication have their sources in inappropriate selection and use of communication media, defective mechanical aids used in communication, overloading of communication channels, and lack of creditability and authenticity of the persons who communicate, pressure on time for communication, and so on.
Barriers of Communication – Language, Semantics, Degree of Knowledge, Bypassing, Inflections, Poor Listening Skills, Perception, Frame of Reference and a Few Others
For a communication process to be successful, it is important that the message received by the receiver is the same as that sent by the sender. In reality, that is rarely the case. The message often undergoes distortion through additions, deletions, and modifications. These obstacles are referred to as noise in the communication process.
Language is a system of words, sounds, and symbols that functions as the communication medium between the sender and the receiver. For the message to be decoded accurately by the receiver, it is necessary that both the sender and the receiver ascribe the same meaning to the word, sound, or symbol being transmitted.
Unfamiliar words, for instance, can completely change the meaning of the message being transmitted. Even an incorrect pronunciation of a word can alter the meaning completely. Therefore, the sender and the receiver must pronounce the words correctly and distinctly. They should use the words that are familiar to both of them so that the message and the feedback are decoded correctly.
Semantics refers to the study of the meanings of words and sentences. Every word, in addition to its denotative meaning, has several different connotations. For example, “it is raining men” could mean either (1) that it is simply raining or (2) men abound like falling raindrops. Hence, you may say the same thing to 10 different persons, but keep in mind that to those 10 persons, it could mean 10 different things. Hence, it is important to follow the rules of grammar, sentence construction, and the choice of words and metaphors when encoding a message.
Another barrier to effective communication is the gap between the knowledge levels of the sender and the receiver. While encoding messages, we often assume that the other person either knows or must know as much as we know. Then there is the “ego,” which makes us want to sound smarter than the receiver. Needless to say, this often gives rise to problems, especially, if the other person does not have a similar knowledge base.
Words have both connotative and denotative meanings. In other words, while the denotative meaning may be the same for two individuals, the connotations may be completely different. Bypassing, hence, can be defined as miscommunication that occurs when the encoded message and the decoded message are different in their meaning.
Bypassing can happen in two ways:
(a) Same Word-Different Meanings:
This happens when the denotative meaning is the same but the connotative meaning differs for the sender and the receiver. For example, when a friend asks you for help with a project work, the word “help” could have different meanings for both you and your friend. While you may think that he/she wants to get an idea on how to complete the assignment; your friend, on the other hand, may simply want to copy the assignment. In this case, the same word has been ascribed different meanings by different persons.
(b) Different Word—Same Meanings:
This happens when the denotative meanings of both words are different but the connotative meaning is the same for the sender and the receiver. For example, you are holidaying in Egypt. You get a call from your boss, Mr. Deb. He asks you to bring back a “sheesha” for him. Once you return, you present him an ornate mirror. However, the boss is disappointed! He just wanted a “hookah,” which is also referred to as “sheesha.”
Hence, for effective communication, it is imperative that the sender and the receiver ascribe the same meaning to the words/phrases/sentences being communicated.
In linguistics, inflections refers to the change in the form of the word to express tense, mood, gender, count (i.e., singular or plural), etc. Although it sounds fairly simple, using wrong forms of a word could obstruct the communication process. Even a simple mistake of changing the tense or the gender could spell disaster in the communication process.
Inflection also refers to the change in the voice pitch or tone. Effective communicators use vocal inflections to emphasize, dramatize, and accentuate their messages. A monotonous speech not only is boring but also has the ability to put audiences to sleep.
For effective communication, it is important that we “listen” to the message being transmitted. In reality, however, that is far from the case. Most of us merely hear without bothering to listen. While hearing is restricted to the ears, listening involves the mind as well. Listening helps us accurately decode the message, which in turn helps us properly encode the feedback.
The fable The Elephant and the Six Blind Men is the best example to illustrate how perceptions can cause misinterpretations. Perception is how we derive meaning out of sensory information or in other words, how we perceive or make sense of sensory data. Clearly, perception is highly subjective, varying from person to person.
Psychologists assert that the human brain uses historical data and past experiences to create its own version of reality. Hence, it is important to remember that the perception could be in accordance with or in contrast with the actual reality. For example, look at the following two arrows. Which of them is longer, arrow A or arrow B?
Even though both are of the same size, our brain tricks us to believe that arrow B is longer than arrow A.
The sender uses his/her own perception to encode the message, which he/she then transmits to the receiver. The receiver, in turn, uses his/her own perception to deconstruct the message. It is unlikely that the decoded message will be identical to the encoded message.
We all possess our own individual frame of reference, which is created over time and is influenced by our culture, values, education, experience, etc. The encoding and the decoding of the message are based on the sender’s and the receiver’s frames of reference. Since the two frames of reference are dissimilar, it hampers the communication process.
For example, imagine a business party, where both American and Japanese associates are present. While Americans consider it routine to exchange visiting cards, for Japanese, the business card is a reflection of the person himself and warrants greater care and ceremony.
If we are not aware and conscientious of these two divergent frames of reference, we may inadvertently offend our Japanese associates. For effective communication, it is mandatory for the sender and the receiver to be aware of each other’s frames of reference.
Frame of reference also includes the sender’s and the receiver’s preconceived notions and personal biases. These biases obstruct the way we perceive the message or the feedback.
Research in child psychology has shown that children tend to study and do well in the subjects that interest them. This, too, is grounded on the premise of the communication process. In other words, the teacher encodes the message and transmits it to the students. If a student has no interest in the message, it acts as an obstruction or barrier to the communication. Therefore, the student will not decode the message accurately.
Therefore, it is necessary that we encode the message using the words, phrases, and sentences that will ignite the receiver’s interest. For example, when talking to a sports enthusiast, use words and examples from sports. When explaining matters to tiny tots, use a vivid and graphic language interspersed with examples from their favorite cartoons, books, friends, etc.
Our speed of thought is much faster than our speed of speech. In fact, the rate at which we process thoughts is three times the rate at which we speak. Therefore, it is only natural for the receiver to become bored during a conversation, which allows the mind to wander.
Physical distractions are bodily distractions that obstruct the communication process. Physical discomfort can be caused by unbearable temperatures, uncomfortable chairs, etc. Physical distractions also include hearing impediments, noisy environments, health problems, etc. Such discomfort distracts the sender/receiver from the communication process, which can lead to faulty communication. For example, if you experience ear-ache while talking on telephone, you are more likely to concentrate on the pain rather than the conversation.
Consider the simple case when a child who is being nagged increases the volume of the stereo to drown out the parent’s voice. This is because environmental noise is the surest and the fastest way to obstruct the communication process.
Effective communication is only possible when there is mutual trust and respect between the sender and the receiver. In the absence of trust, both the message and the feedback are viewed suspiciously.
Feedback forms a vital component of the communication process. In the absence of feedback, it is difficult to assess whether the intended message reached the recipient. For example, when a teacher takes a class and the students are extremely quiet, it can mean (a) they understood everything or (b) they understood nothing or (c) everyone in the class is sleeping.
In face-to-face interactions, however, even if verbal feedback is inadequate or missing, you can look for nonverbal feedback. This is not possible in the case of written communication. For example, when you write to your bank requesting a stop- payment on a check and you do not receive any feedback from the bank, you have no way of knowing whether the payment was stopped.
The flow of communication can also be obstructed with the level of hierarchy that exists within an organization. For example, when there are multiple levels of hierarchy, the communication resembles the game of “Chinese Whispers.” The message gets modified at every level and the original message is completely lost. Hence, it is important for organizations to allow the free flow of communication (both downward and upward).
Hierarchical obstruction is also observed in the scenarios in which communication occurs between two persons from different hierarchies. For example, if a vice president speaks to a junior manager, the junior manager is more likely to pay attention to—and, therefore, remember the message communicated by the vice president. The opposite, however, is not always true.
Furthermore, it is often the higher ranking individual who initiates communication, monopolizes communication, and even decides when the receiver should speak. Even beyond the organizational context, it has been observed that the people who speak more and initiate more talk have greater power and status.
For effective communication, it is important to ensure that the channel or the medium is free from obstruction and noise. Channel noise could occur in the form of illegible handwriting, blotchy printouts, discolored or faded photocopies, static disruptions in telecommunication, firewalled e-mails, etc.
Do you remember the last time you tried talking to your girlfriend/wife when she was emotionally hurt and angry? It is not easy, is it?
Intense emotions hamper the communication process by making us irrational and incoherent. We lose our ability to properly encode and transmit the message. We tend to become defensive and may read too much into the messages and imagine meanings when none exists. Therefore, it is very important to manage emotions while communicating. For instance, if two persons are conversing and one or both get emotionally charged up, it is time to call for a time-out.
Barriers of Communication – Noise, Lack of Planning, Wrong Assumptions, Semantic Problems, Cultural Barriers, Socio-Psychological Barriers and a Few Others
Problems/barriers/breakdowns may arise at any of the following levels:
(a) The Sender’s Level in:
(i) Formulating/organizing thought, ideas, message;
(ii) Encoding the message.
(b) The Receiver’s Level in:
(i) Receiving the message;
(ii) Decoding the received message;
(iii) Understanding/interpreting the message.
(c) Transmission level where ‘noise’ occurs.
(d) The feedback/reaction level that is necessary condition of the completion of the entire process.
Unfortunately communication is very often affected/distorted/blunted by noise that occurs primarily at the transmission level. Literally the word ‘noise’ means “interference that occurs in a signal and prevents you from hearing sounds properly”. It is, therefore, the first major barrier to communication. In a factory, for example, where there are machines and engines making a constant noise, oral communication becomes difficult.
Blaring of loudspeakers around is bound to interfere with our conversation, whether face to face or on telephone. In the same way a static in the transmission line, as in a poor telephone connection or faulty TV cable, distorts the sound signals and affects communication.
In the same way some technical problem in the ultramodern communication systems or adverse weather conditions interfering with transmission may lead to major communication barriers/breakdowns.
Noise is not just all this. Its wider connotations include many other factors that are likely to hinder communication. And these factors may exist at the level of the sender as well as that of the receiver.
For example, on the sender’s part encoding may be faulty because of the use of confusing or ambiguous symbols. At the receiver’s level reception may be inaccurate because of inattention.
Decoding may be faulty because wrong or unexpected interpretation may be attached to words/symbols. Understanding of the message may be warped by prejudices. Desired results may not take place because of fear or inherent resistance to change. In this way we see that noise is not just one single factor but a whole range of factors rolled into one big barricade that we must make every effort to overcome but we cannot wish away.
Lack of Planning:
Communication, specially in business environment, is not a casual affair. But unfortunately, some people take it lightly. The result is that the message to be sent across may not be carefully planned. It may not be properly organized or composed, or may be transmitted through a wrongly chosen medium.
For example, giving a long winding narration of events/meetings/results etc., in respect of sales during a particular period where a presentation through tables/graphs is needed will lead to miscommunication. In the same way careful choice of time is also very important. And so is the choice of place.
Communication quite often breaks down or becomes an embarrassing affair if we keep acting on assumptions without caring to seek clarifications. As somebody has lightly but effectively said, “If you assume you make an ass of U (you) and me.”
If for example, somebody, say a customer, writes to us that he/she would be visiting our office/factory on a particular day without caring to write/telephone that he/she would like to be picked up assuming that we will do all that as a routine, it will be regarded as a case of incomplete communication. It may lead to loss of goodwill.
Communication is primarily concerned with the transmission of meaning the systematic study of which is semantics. That is why any problems arising from the expression/transmission of meaning are called semantic problems or barriers. Most of the communication is based on words and words are liable to be used in myriad different ways.
The number of words, howsoever large, is limited, but the contexts, intended meanings and interpretations, their combinations and usages are many times more.
The meaning is in the mind of the sender and also in that of the receiver. But, then it is not always necessary for the meaning in the mind of the sender to be the same as that in the mind of the receiver. It is, therefore, of vital importance for the sender to encode his message in such a way that the receiver decodes it to get the intended meaning. And very often that does not happen.
An advertisement, for example, says, “We give you much more”. It is an ambiguous statement. The question arises, “More than what?” There are many different interpretations of every other word/sentence/utterance. One must aim at simplicity, clarity and brevity so as to minimise the chances of different interpretations. One should also avoid using jargon as it conveys meaning to a limited group.
It has been pointed out that, especially in international environment, cultural differences often cause communication problems. The same category of words, phrases, symbols, actions, colours mean different things to people of different countries/cultural backgrounds.
For example, in Western countries black colour is associated with death and mourning, while in the Far East white is the colour of mourning. In the United States people love to be called by their first name while in Britain people are more formal and like to be addressed by their title or their last name. In the hierarchical structure of Indian society and business environment also the last name is important.
The attitudes and opinions, place in society and status – consciousness arising from one’s position in the hierarchical structure of the organization, the state of one’s relations with peers, seniors, juniors, family background – all these factors deeply influence one’s ability to communicate both as a sender and receiver, both in encoding and decoding the messages. Status-consciousness is widely known to be a serious communication barrier in organizations.
It creates psychological distance leading to breakdown of communication or miscommunication. A man high up in an organization often builds up a wall around himself that the people below find it difficult to break through. Thus it is seen that power- centres restrict participation of the less powerful in decision making. In the same way one’s family background formulates one’s attitudes and communication skills.
Encoding and decoding of messages depends to quite some extent on one’s emotional state at a particular time. Extreme emotions, like jubilation or depression, are likely to hinder effective communication. Anger is the worst enemy of communication. A message received when one is angry is likely to be interpreted in a very different manner than when one is calm and composed. Stress may also lead to building up of negative emotions, further leading to communication breakdown.
It means that the receivers selectively see and hear depending upon their needs, motivations, background, experience and other personal characteristics. While decoding the messages they project their own interests and expectations into the process of communication further leading to a particular kind of feedback. The fact is that we don’t see reality. We interpret what we see and call it reality.
Filtering means that a sender manipulates information in such a way that it will be seen more favourably by the receiver. For example, a manager likes to tell his boss what he feels his boss wants to hear. In this process he is filtering information. The result of filtering is that the man at the top perhaps never gets objective information.
In this connection it is worthwhile quoting what a former Vice-President of General Motors says, “… lower-level specialists… provided information in such a way that they would get the answer they wanted. I know. I used to be down below and do it.”
In the process of filtering the information for onward transmission to the senior executives, the people at the lower levels condense and synthesize it, thus sometimes holding back/ignoring some important parts of information. The more vertical levels in the hierarchical system, the more chances there are for filtering.
Unrestricted flow of information may, and very often does, become another barrier. Too much information is no unmixed blessing. It may stifle the senior executive or bore and frustrate him. People respond to this kind of information in different ways.
Firstly, they may disregard certain information as for example; we see that very many letters are ignored.
Secondly, people are also likely to make errors, when they become overwhelmed or swamped with too much information.
Thirdly, people may delay processing/responding to information at least for the time being. Delay may become a habit, causing serious communication problems.
Fourthly, people may become highly selective in their response. And selectivity may and may not contribute to effective communication.
Loss by Transmission:
When messages pass on from person to person in a series of transmissions they are likely to become less and less accurate. They get diluted on the way.
As a corollary to the communication problem, mention must also be made of poor retention of information. Human memory being what it is, and depending upon one’s mental make-up, one may not always retain what he is told. Thus, the necessity of repeating the message using several channels/media becomes obvious. That is why organizations often use more than one medium to communicate the same message.
Poor listening causes serious problems in communication. There are two many talkers and too few listeners. The importance of listening has already been highlighted. And, of course, everybody knows about it. But even then problems do keep cropping up owing to poor listening and hasty evaluation.
One reason is that mostly people are too much involved in their own problems and pampering their own egos. The result is that they are really not interested in the speaker. In order to become good listeners we have to learn to rise above our egos, keep our eyes and ears open and empathise with others. Otherwise the habit of poor listening is bound to become a major barrier to communication.
Insufficient Period for Adjustment:
The purpose of communication is to effect change. It may concern change in employees’ shifts in the time, an employee’s transfer to another department, change in type or order to work, decisions regarding the skills to be used and so on.
The management may decide to send communications regarding further training, career adjustment etc. People respond to change in different ways, and they require their own time to think about the full meaning, implications, and consequences of the message. It is, therefore, important to give them sufficient time. Only then the communication will be effective.
Goal – Conflicts:
Various units and sub-units in an organization internalize their own goals, leading to splitting or bifurcation of interests. This internalization of sub-unit goals leads to goal-conflicts while communication can be a conflict-reduction mechanism. Conflict acts as a communication – reduction mechanism.
When two parties are in conflict, communication is minimal. When people start competing for the fulfillment of their narrow sectional interests a number of barriers to communication arise.
Offensive Style of Communication:
Experts point out, and as we also realize, the greatest barrier to communication is quite often the style of communication used by the manager. When a manager sends a message in such a way that the workers/juniors become defensive he/she contributes to the negative factor of poor interpersonal relationship. And if the relationships are already strained, any offensive style adopted by the manager is bound to lead to communication breakdown.
Barriers of Communication – 15 Important Barriers: Badly Expressed Messages, Faulty Organisation, Filtering, Distrust of Communicator, Distortion and a Few Others
In spite of the fact that communication is one of the important factors that contribute to the efficient management of a business concern, very often communication is faulty because of certain barriers to the transmission of messages.
Some of the important barriers are as follows:
1. Badly Expressed Messages:
If the objectives of the message are vague, imprecise, or fail to clarify implications or if the message omits essential information or contains ideas which lack coherence or lack of clarity, the communication will be poor and ineffective.
2. Faulty Organisation:
The effectiveness of communication largely depends on the nature of organisation prevailing in the concern. If the chain of command is too long, and the span of control is poor and defective, communication will be ineffective. Again, communication is affected because of the rigid application of the medium of formal channel of communication.
3. Use of Technical Language:
There are large numbers of specialist fields such as systems analysis, computers, operations research, etc., in which technical jargon or vocabulary are used to communicate messages. This factor also contributes to poor communication.
Distance between the sender and the receiver of the message may also affect the effectiveness of communication. As a message has to pass through several persons and several points in the communication channel, there are bound to be alternations or filtration of messages. Koontz and O’ Donnel have rightly remarked that “the successive transmissions of the same message are decreasingly accurate.”
5. Unclarified Assumptions:
Uncommunicated assumptions underlie practically all messages. Because of this, the receiver of the message may have some assumptions (regarding the message) which are different from the assumptions of the communicator. This may lead to incorrect action or lack of action on the part of the receiver of the message.
6. Distrust of Communicator:
It is common with some executives to make a number of changes or reverse the messages that are already communicated. The executives may resort to this, if the decision regarding the original communication is not correct. The subordinates who work under such type of superiors may not take such communication seriously and may not act immediately because of their distrust of the superior. Koontz and O’ Donnel have rightly stated that the “Distrust of a superior for any reason necessarily restricts communication effectiveness.”
The superior officer or manager who communicates the message which he has received from his superior may withhold some part of the information which in his opinion need not be conveyed to his subordinates. Similarly, in the case of upward communication, the officer or manager omits unpleasant information which he has received from his subordinates and conveys to his superior only that part of information which is palatable to his superior. Thus, his communication will be distorted and the distortion of the message is a barrier to effective communication.
8. Oral Communication:
When the communication is oral, the receiver of the message may take undue advantage of it and do nothing or take any action which is convenient to him. Further, if the communication has to pass through several persons at several points in the communication channel, some part of information is lost in each transmission, resulting in some loss of meaning in the message.
9. Poor Retention:
It is said that, normally, employees retain only 50% of the information communicated. Hence, another serious bottleneck of effective communication is the poor retention of information by the employees.
10. Different Backgrounds:
Different individuals often interpret the same communication differently because of their different backgrounds. Thus when people with different knowledge and experience try to communicate, they often have trouble in getting their meaning across.
Another common barrier is that many receivers do not pay attention to the messages they receive. One reason for this is selective listening. Selective listening results from the common tendency to block out information that conflicts with what we believe. When we listen to a speech or read a newspaper, we generally pay attention only to those things that conform to our beliefs. Sometimes, people do not pay attention to communication, because of the communication overload or information is unsolicited.
12. Overloaded Information:
As the business expands, communication tracks are overloaded with information which will distort the information. This is one of the barriers to communication system. Therefore, managers should supply only essential information to subordinates which is enough to perform the task. This gives some relief to information track and distortion will be minimised.
13. Advanced Technology:
Advanced technology is adapted to supply information to the employees. But employees are not well versed with the technology and it will be a hindrance to the good communication system. Therefore, employees are to be trained in the technology adopted. This facilitates workers to adopt themselves to the new technology and communication is well perceived.
14. Multi-Language System:
In a global market, operators will be coming from different culture and language. English can only facilitate to certain extent the barrier created by multi-language adaptation. A person from Germany knows only German language. A dealer from France knows only French. A person from India knows only Hindi. Within India, people coming from Tamil Nadu, use Tamil and a person from Karnataka uses only Kannada. A person from Andhra Pradesh uses only Telugu.
Thus, so many languages are used in national and international markets. This is a major barrier to communicate. In a multi-language system, a common language like English has to be adopted for smooth flow of communication. More time is consumed in training different languages to people and managers will have less time to interact with their people. Hence, a common language has to be adopted to have a sound communication system.
15. Other Barriers:
Wrong perception of encoder about the decoder while creating and sending the message, noise in the communication channel, the degree of efficiency and meaning of the message sent (the strength and credibility of the message), etc., will also be barriers to the communication.
While creating the text of the message, the encoder should use straightforward language which gives the correct meaning of the text. Ambiguous words and sentences lead to wrong interpretation. One word will give different meaning in different contexts.
For example, examine the following sentences:
1. I function as a Managing Director in my company.
2. I attend the marriage function today.
3. I take class in functional English.
4. I have to discharge several functions in my office.
If we observe the term “Function” in each of the above, it gives different meaning in each sentence. One of the studies an Article “Do you know how to listen?” by Lydia Strong in “Effective communication on the job”, in the year 1956 reveal that 500 most common words in English have 4,070 dictionary meanings. Therefore, the sender of the message should create a message considering its efficiency and effectiveness in transmitting the message.