After reading this article you will learn about the technical, language and psychological barriers to communication.
Technical barriers refer to physical, social and informational environment in which the message is transmitted.
Some of the important technical barriers are as follows:
Timely transmission of information is important if senders want receivers to obey the instructions. Factories where work is done in shifts, workers leaving one shift should communicate with the workers joining the next shift. If workers of night shift report at duty after the workers of afternoon shift have left, important messages may be left out from being communicated, affecting the productivity.
2. Information Overload:
It refers to excessive transmission of information. Much more information than what the receiver can process is transmitted to him. The receiver cannot understand, analyse and act upon information overload beyond his mental capacity.
It results in various problems:
(a) Receivers may not act upon part of the information, which may be an important one.
(b) They may make errors in processing excessive information.
(c) If they want to be accurate, it may delay the processing of information.
3. Information Gaps:
Complete information is not transmitted from one level to the other. Part of the information is retained at some levels and the gap is filled by some unintended information. Messages conveyed may be different from those received. Information gap is as bad as information overload.
4. Cultural Differences:
Cultural differences occur when managers work with people of different cultures. Culture represents national barrier that is important for organisations involved in overseas business. Culture refers to values, beliefs, norms, attitudes and perceptions of people of different nations (India, America, Japan etc.) or regions (different regions in India).
When managers deal with employees of different nations (in multinational corporations), they should regard cultural values or beliefs; otherwise, they may not be able to convey what they really wish to. For example, in India white is a colour of mourning while in western countries, it is black. Symbols, words, colours, gestures, language should be carefully selected when senders of information are dealing with people of different nations or regions.
5. Faulty Planning:
Communication must be planned. Choice of words, their organisation into sentences and paragraphs, selection of channel, mode and timing of presentation should be planned before transmitting the message. Presentation is important to help understanding. Presenting production, sales and profit figures verbally without using graphs, tables and charts is poor communication.
Sometimes, the focus is more on presentation than the product. In some advertisement campaigns, viewers lose sight of the product but remember the visuals, sound and light effects of the advertisement. The actual purpose of advertisement, in such cases, is defeated. There should be focus on the message, not the messenger.
Long distances between the senders and receivers can obstruct effective communication. If sender and receiver are separated by geographical distances, telecommunication is most often resorted to. Disturbance in telephone connection can result in miscommunication or incomplete communication.
8. Physical Barriers:
These occur due to nature of the environment. It is the natural barrier which exists if staff are located in different buildings or different sites. Likewise, poor or outdated equipment, particularly the failure of management to introduce new technology may also cause problems.
Staff shortage is another factor which frequently causes communication difficulties for an organisation. Distractions like background noise, poor lighting or too hot or too cold environment can affect concentration and interfere with effective communication.
9. System Design Faults:
It refers to problems with the structures or systems in the organisation. Unclear organisation structure makes it confusing to know whom to communicate with. Staff will not know what is expected of them, if there is inefficient or inappropriate information system, lack of supervision or training, and lack of clarity in roles and responsibilities.
10. Organisational Barriers:
These barriers may arise on account of the followings:
1. Organisational policies should be clear to avoid misinterpretations. Expressly stated policies are better understood than implicit policies. As implicit policies are subject to interpretation of behaviour of top managers, people may be subjective in interpretation. Different people can draw different meaning of behavioural gestures which obstructs the effective flow of communication.
2. Strict rules and regulations make observance to these rules also rigid. People lose creativity in transmitting messages. Choice of channels, medium and dimension of communication can be against the willingness of people and, thus, stand in the way of effective communication.
3. Too many levels in the organisational hierarchy can delay processing of information. Information can be filtered, particularly in case of upward communication as negative information is generally not transmitted.
Language barriers relate to use of words, jargons and different interpretation by senders and receivers. The same statement may carry different meaning for different people. This deters the process of effective communication.
Some of the common language barriers are as follows:
Semantics is the study of words and their meanings. Problems arising on account of transmission of meanings are semantic problems. Different words mean different things to different people. Around 500 words in English language have about 25 definitions each. It is natural, therefore, that they are interpreted differently. If the word means the same to the sender and the receiver, communication is complete and effective, otherwise, communication breakdown is likely to occur.
2. Poor Messages:
Clear ideas but wrongly chosen words and sentences are as bad as poor ideas. Wrong words and sentences can lead to misinterpretation of messages. Poorly explained or misunderstood messages can result in confusion. Words, sentences and paragraphs should be well connected and coherent to convey the might meaning.
The message must be properly expressed to promote understanding. The word ‘profit’ for example, has different connotations. It can mean pre-tax profits, fixed amount of profit, post- tax profits or a rate of return. Choice of words and their interpretation is, therefore, important to make communication effective.
3. Inconsistency in Verbal and Non-verbal Communication:
Though verbal communication is a powerful medium of communication, non-verbal or gestural communication is equally effective in conveying the right message. Not only should our language be clear, our facial expressions, gestures, body movements and appearance must also correspond to the language. A manager who says ‘good morning’ to subordinates without even looking at them will not be very popular amongst them.
4. Individual Linguistic Ability:
Use of difficult or inappropriate words in communication can prevent people from understanding the message. The sender may use difficult words in his message which receivers cannot understand. This will result in wrong interpretation of the message. Saying ‘hostile instead of belligerent’ or ‘harmless instead of innocuous’ will result in better communication. The sender should use simple words and language which can be understood by the receiver.
Psychological barriers are the major source of communication breakdown. Psychological factors represent people’s state of mind. We are receptive to information when we are happy. If, however, we have personal problems, this affects communication.
Some of the common psychological barriers are as follows:
Filtering means manipulating information in a way that only favourable information is sent to the receiver. In business organisations, when messages are transmitted vertically along the chain of command, some part of information normally gets lost on the way.
In upward communication, subordinates tend to pass only that information upwards which is likely to be followed by rewards. Information about their failures and non- achievements is not sent upwards. Filtering is a common barrier when organisational hierarchy has large number of levels.
Communication based on assumptions is bad communication. If workers presume that managers will pay them financial rewards if they work overtime, they are wrong unless there is clear indication in this regard. Nothing should be stated as presumed while transmitting official information.
3. Degree of Trust and Openness:
Worth of the message depends upon worth of the sender. A manager who is perceived by subordinates as knowledgeable, trustworthy, sincere, concerned about welfare of others, fair in taking decisions and open minded, will be rated high by them. Employees will carry out his directions sincerely. If, however, they do not trust or have biased opinion about the sender, they will ignore or misinterpret the message.
Communication in an environment of threats, fear, punishment and penalties is a barrier to effective communication. There must be positive motivation for receivers to carry out the directions.
Emotions—feeling of love, threat, compassion, anger, jealousy, embarrassment, etc. largely affect encoding and decoding of the message. Emotions are important and communicators must understand them to avoid communication breakdowns. For instance, when the sender is happy, his encoding of message will be different from that when he is depressed. Receiver’s emotions also affect understanding of the message.
A message in angry mood is interpreted differently from that in a happy mood. Calm and composed emotions help in effective communication. If the boss had controversy at home, he may lose temper on his subordinates even if the subordinates are right. This will result in poor communication.
Perception is feeling, knowledge and understanding of the subject-matter conveyed. People with different cultural, educational and emotional backgrounds understand the message differently. People tend to hear or see what they want to hear or see and, therefore, perceive the message in their own way.
If sender’s perception is different from that of the receiver, it will make the message misleading and communication process ineffective. In perception distortions, meaning of the message lies in the perception of the receiver than the words.
Noise is the disturbing element that obstructs free flow of information. It is “interference that occurs in a signal and prevents you from hearing sounds properly.” Communication is generally not noise-free. Noise filters or screens out information during its transmission.
Sometimes, the important information is filtered. Physical noise (disturbance in telephone line, sounds of machine, loudspeakers in a nearby locality) and psychological noise (mental disturbance or unrest) make oral communication ineffective. It distracts concentration of the sender and receiver to communicate effectively. Though noise cannot be eliminated, it should be minimised so that communication does not turn into miscommunication.
8. Poor Listening:
Listening is different from hearing. We do not listen when we are preoccupied with other thoughts and engagements. When a speaker is speaking on the subject in which we are not interested, we hear but do not pay much attention to what he is saying. Unless we listen and not just hear, communication will not be effective.
9. Poor Retention:
Human mind cannot retain all that is communicated to him orally. He tends to forget a part of the information because of his limited retention capacity. It is, therefore, advisable to make the receiver repeat the message and also use more than one channel to communicate the same information. Sending reminders can also help to overcome the problems of poor retention.
10. Resistance to Change:
Organisations operate in the changing, dynamic environment. When managers introduce change in people, technology or structure, it may involve change in their social or emotional state and, therefore, they may be resistant to change. Resistance to change generally results in miscommunication because people do not want to carry out the orders as directed by the sender.
A teacher asks her student, ‘Am I clear?’ and the student replies, ‘Yes Ma’am’. On being asked to repeat what she said, he is unable to do so. He is not attentive in the class. He is, perhaps, staring outside the window or watching his teacher’s new wrist watch. Inattentiveness results in distraction and the listener misses out what is being said.
Even while reading a book, the inattentive reader does not understand what he is reading while he may have actually read half the book. The reader or the listener is inattentive because of distractions or mental preoccupation.
12. Closeness of Mind:
Some people are not open to new ideas, persuasion and suggestions. They prefer to work along pre-defined courses of action and are not willing to listen to others. On being offered suggestions, they may react negatively, “I know how to do my work. Don’t give me suggestions.” Closeness of mind may reject useful and lucrative suggestions. It acts as a barrier to communication.
13. Attitudinal Barriers:
These barriers arise because of problems with staff in the organisation. They may be the result of factors such as poor management, lack of consultation with employees, personality conflicts that can result in people delaying or refusing to communicate, personal attitudes of individual employees that may be due to lack of motivation or dissatisfaction at work, brought by insufficient training to enable them to carry out particular tasks, or just resistance to change due to entrenched attitudes and ideas.