This article throws light upon the thirteen major barriers to communication. The barriers are: 1. Lack of Planning 2. Badly Expressed Messages 3. Faulty Translations 4. Un-Clarified Assumptions 5. Semantic Distortion 6. Loss by Transmission and Poor Retention 7. Communication Barriers in the International Environment 8. Inattention and Premature Evaluation 9. Impersonal Communication and Others.
Barrier # 1. Lack of Planning:
Communication would be ineffective if the manager did not devote sufficient time to thinking, planning, and stating the purpose of the message. By providing the reasons for a particular instruction, selecting the most appropriate channel, and releasing the message at the right time, a manager can ensure his message is understood by the receivers. Effective communication also reduces subordinates’ resistance to change.
Barrier # 2. Badly Expressed Messages:
Even if the sender is clear about the message he wants to convey, the message may not be conveyed clearly. Poorly chosen words, careless omissions, lack of coherence, poor organization of ideas, awkward sentence structure, inadequate vocabulary, unnecessary jargon, and the failure to clarify implications are some of the common reasons for the poor transmission of messages.
Lack of clarity and precision lead to costly errors. These can be avoided by carefully encoding the message.
Barrier # 3. Faulty Translations:
Managers receive many types of messages from superiors, peers and subordinates. They, in turn, must translate information meant for subordinates, peers, and superiors into a language that can be easily understood by them.
When a message is transmitted from a sender to a receiver, it must be accompanied with an interpretation so as to enable the receiver to understand the message. This process requires the sender to have good communication and analytical skills. Since, organizational participants do not fully understand the implications of poor communication; communication may not be very effective in many organizations.
Barrier # 4. Un-Clarified Assumptions:
People’s assumptions about a message can hinder communication. Suppose a customer sends a message to a vendor stating that he will visit the vendor’s plant at a particular time. The customer assumes that the vendor will meet him at the airport, make arrangements for his stay and transportation, and set up a full-scale review of the program at the plant.
But the vendor may assume that the customer is arriving mainly to attend some personal business and is only making a routine call at the plant. Since both parties assume certain things and do not attempt to get their assumptions clarified, some confusion will arise. These assumptions may also result in loss of goodwill.
Barrier # 5. Semantic Distortion:
Semantic distortion, either deliberate or accidental, acts as a barrier to effective communication. An advertisement which declares “We sell better products” is quite ambiguous, as it raises the question “better than what?” Some words may have ambiguous meanings and may generate different responses in different people.
Barrier # 6. Loss by Transmission and Poor Retention:
Successive transmissions of a message by different people tend to decrease its accuracy. In other words, if a message is transmitted from one person to another in a series, the message tends to lose accuracy. While communicating orally, approximately 30 percent of the information is lost in each transmission. Therefore, in large organizations, it is quite impossible to rely only on oral communication from one level to another.
Poor retention of information is another serious problem. Studies indicate that employees are able to retain approximately 50 percent of what they are told and supervisors are able to retain around 60 percent of the information they receive. Hence, it is necessary to repeat the message and use more than one channel to communicate the message.
Barrier # 7. Communication Barriers in the International Environment:
Communicating in an international environment is particularly difficult because of wide variations in language, culture and etiquette.
For instance, in western culture, the color black is often associated with mourning, while in the Far East; white is the color of mourning. In business dealings in the United States, people generally use the first name while in many other countries; people generally address one another by their last names.
Many large organizations have taken different steps to overcome communication barriers caused by differences in culture and language. These include providing extensive language training, hiring many translators, and hiring local citizens for top positions as they know the language and culture of the host nation.
Barrier # 8. Inattention and Premature Evaluation:
Poor listening seems to be a chronic human failing; many problems arise due to the fact that people do not pay adequate attention to the speaker. Instead of listening to what is being said, people tend to remain preoccupied with their problems. Listening requires attention and self-discipline on the part of the listener.
The listener should also avoid premature evaluation of what another person has to say. Listening without jumping to hasty conclusions can improve communication. And listening with empathy can result in better labor-management relations in an organization.
Barrier # 9. Impersonal Communication:
Communication is much more than just relaying information to employees. For communication to be effective, face-to-face contact in an environment of openness and trust is required. Instead of investing in expensive and sophisticated gadgets which only serve to make communication impersonal, organizations should encourage face-to-face communication between superiors and subordinates.
Barrier # 10. Insufficient Adjustment Period:
Sometimes a message announces changes in an employee’s work pattern, such as shifts in time, place, type and order of work, or shifts in group arrangements, or changes in the employee skills required for accomplishing a task. Some messages may identify the need for further training, career adjustment, or a change in status.
These messages may evoke different responses from people and they may need time to understand the implications of the messages. To increase the efficiency of an organization, people should be given time to understand messages and adjust to the changes recommended by the messages.
Barrier # 11. Information Overload:
An unrestricted flow of information may result in excess information for employees. They may react to information overload in different ways. They may:
i. Disregard certain information
ii. Make errors in processing the information
iii. Delay information processing
iv. Filter information
v. Ignore communication or fail to communicate the necessary information due to information overload
These responses to information overload may hamper effective communication. At times, tactics like delaying information processing until the work load is reduced may help in effective management. However, ignoring communication may cause more problems.
Organizations can handle the problem of information overload by reducing the demand for information. This can be achieved by insisting that only essential data should be communicated, e.g., information regarding critical deviations from plans.
Barrier # 12. Negative Attitude:
Apart from the barriers mentioned above, many other barriers hamper communication. One of these barriers is selective perception by listeners. They listen to what they want to listen and ignore other relevant information.
This can cause problems and render communication ineffective. An individual’s attitude can also affect communication. Attitude refers to a person’s outlook or mental predisposition regarding a fact or a state.
A negative attitude is an obstacle to effective communication. If people have already made up their minds regarding something, they may not listen to it with an open mind. Another barrier to communication is the difference in status and power between the sender and the receiver of the message. A message also tends to get distorted when information has to pass through several hierarchical levels.
Barrier # 13. Lack of Trust in the Communicator:
Some superiors may send messages that contradict an earlier instruction. This type of inconsistent behavior by superiors may cause the subordinates to distrust their superiors. Subordinates may also distrust superiors if they were punished for reporting true but unfavorable information to their superiors.
Such experiences gradually condition subordinates to delay action or to work without enthusiasm. Superiors should try to create a climate of trust in the organization to encourage open and honest communication.