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Barriers to Effective Communication

As things become heated up, a big argument spews between Nicole and Petra. They are throwing cuss words and hurtful statements at each other without realizing the kind of consequences it would later lead to. In that overwhelming moment, both forgot everything about each other and let their impulses completely take over.

So what is the matter exactly?

barriers to effective communication

Source: Hill Street Studios/Blend Images/Adobe Stock

Petra: you took the wrong turn. We were supposed to turn left.

Nicole: I’m trying to find the way too, Petra. I’m not a walking GPS.

*the sound of horns and traffic intensifies outside*

Petra: Urgh. I hate this.

Nicole: You hate me? Yeah after all that I’ve done this is what I get; your hate.

Petra: No I didn’t say that.

Nicole: Yes! You said exactly that.

And the conversation goes on…

What do we observe in this example? Some of the external factors are affecting the quality of the conversation shared. So, what are the different kinds of barriers that hamper the effectiveness of communication?

What are Communication Barriers?

Communication barriers are internal and external factors which impede the quality of communication. They act as hindrances in the listening or speaking aspect of communication; thus distorting its real nature and leading to misinterpretations and misunderstandings.

The process of communication goes through various barriers; each of them affecting communication in different ways. What type of communicational barrier did Nicole and Petra face? Let’s find out!

Types of Barriers

The barriers to effective communication come in many ways. Some are much apparent and some are so subtle yet significant. These barriers are classified based on their nature such as physical barriers, psychological barriers, cultural barriers, language barriers, semantic barriers etc.

1. Physical Barriers

Physical barriers are any kind of physical or environmental factors that hinder communication from taking place effectively. These are obstacles present in the environment which makes communication a difficult task to pursue.

Some of the most common physical barriers are space-proximity, noise, time, place and medium etc. These factors can sabotage the value of communication as they can affect one’s ability to efficiently process and interpret information.

The COVID-2020 Pandemic-many people find it difficult to work from home since the network issues are found to be common in rural and remote areas. Also, not everyone’s home can be a good ambience for the job. It even makes the job so hectic.

It’s better to make a private workspace that is free of noise disturbance and other interruptions. Distractions such as using social media, and games on phone may suck up your valuable production hours.

Ways to avoid /reduce the barrier

Based on the specific problem at hand, measures can be adopted to work with them and reduce them during communication to a great extent.

  • Using novel technological developments such as telephone calls, e-mails, Whatsapp, Facebook etc helps to a greater extent in reducing the distance in interpersonal communication. Since it helps in the instant transfer of messages.
  • Always choose a good ambience that perfectly suits the type of meetings (formal and informal) where there is a lesser crowd, lesser noise and better ventilation.
  • The congested place with inconvenient old rickety items of furniture, poor lighting, and misaligned workstation are some of the factors that ruin the conversation, especially in an organization.
  • Setting a particular time for the board meeting, group discussions, feedback sessions etc., separately can minimize the misinterpretation of the flow of information within the organization. i.e., communicating one thing at a time.
  • Make sure the reception and help desks are always open and have ease of access for any employee in the office. Since it helps in immediate doubt clarification and aids assistance instantly for a candidate.

2. Psychological Barriers

When the effectiveness of the communication gets hampered due to the psychological states of the sender or the recipient, it can be termed as psychological barriers of communication.

As humans experience various complex feelings and emotions like anger, depression and stress, mental states and disorders, drowsiness, fatigue, frustration, excitement, boredom, disinterest, nervousness etc. are some of the aspects of psychological states that can act as pawns or portray as interference in making communication efficient.

Other psychological factors would include states such as defensiveness and lack of self-esteem. When a person is defensive, they tend to block out the opinions of others and make communication a one-way process.

On the other hand, a person with a poor sense of self would avoid expressing their views believing that they would make a fool out of themselves. Hence, their contribution to the conversation becomes very less to nothing at all.

For example, although Kiara was surrounded by people discussing her favorite topic “world religions”, she kept to herself because she believes she would embarrass herself somehow by saying the wrong things.

Ways to avoid /reduce the barrier

  • Make sure you and your opponent are mentally prepared for the conversation.
  • Watch out for the bodily cues of the receiver and try to understand the level of interest and readiness to receive the information. It’s always good to have an open and honest inquiry about their physical and mental state before you proceed.
  • For example, when Trisha was starting to talk about her rude boss, Katy informed that she was not in the mood to listen but promised to hear it all out when she felt better.
  • The sender should be sensitive to the mindset of the receiver. For example, talking to a person with anxiety about different anxiety-provoking situations may not be the best thing to do.
  • Acknowledging the thoughts and ideas of the speaker to make them feel validated. This may help establish interpersonal relationships also.
  • It’s always better to keep quiet while you are angry. Anger and haste hinder good counsel.
  • Barriers such as anger can be dealt with by practicing relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises and grounding techniques.
  • Sometimes feeling overwhelmed could be another barrier to communication. This can be tackled by either informing the speaker about it or choosing to take some time out to recharge.

3. Cultural Barriers

Jay is an exchange student from India. When he met the people of Canada for the first time, he was thrilled about being in a new country and witnessing a new culture. Although he enjoyed his stay, with time he found it difficult to get along with people and experienced intense culture shock. He realized that the culture that he came from was far different from what he is experiencing now.

When the effectiveness of communication gets affected between people due to differences in the cultural background, this can lead to the cultural barrier. Some cultures are very formal in their interactions with people whereas other cultures are much more informal. Such differences can result in awkward and offensive situations.

Often, people hold certain beliefs about some cultures. These beliefs influence interactions with people from different cultures and this can be a major barrier.

Ethnocentrism is another barrier where a group of people experience a sense of perceived superiority over their cultural, religious, and ethnic backgrounds over other cultures, religions and ethnicity. When such beliefs are held strongly, it hindrances the way of effective communication.

There are three different issues related to cross-cultural communication.

  1. Word connotation: This can be a major problem in cross-cultural communication as one word may mean two different things in two different cultures. So this can lead to misinterpretations. For example in Japanese, the word “Hai” refers to “I’m listening” rather than “Yes, I agree”. So during negotiations, this could be giving wrong messages.
  2. Semantics: When translating words from one language to another, the meaning might slightly differ, or it might be viewed from a different light. For example, for words such as efficiency and free market, there is no direct translation in Russian.
  3. Tone differences: Some cultures adopt a formal way of addressing people and other cultures use an informal tone of language. In other cultures, the tone differs based on context. Hence, using an inappropriate tone of language might be embarrassing and even offensive.
    For example, in a country like America, people are usually loud and assertive in the way they interact. However, in a country like Japan, people are generally soft-spoken and always put the needs and the demands of others first rather than their own. Such a difference could be because the Japanese preserve their collectivist culture whereas Americans hold on to their individualist culture.

Ways to avoid /reduce the barrier

  • If you are an expat who works globally or in an MNC or simply a tourist, gaining an intercultural awareness is an inevitable quality. Since it prevents you from offensive acts, violating public rules, etc.
  • It is better to assume differences than similarities. So instead of doing things the indigenous way, it can be kept more respectful and formal as that would save a lot of trouble and embarrassment.
  • Before jumping to conclusions, it is better to understand their behavior from a cultural context rather than just the situational factors.
  • Be empathetic to the person on the other side on account of their cultural differences, educational background, ethnicity etc.
  • Give people the benefit of doubt and consider your observations as nothing but a hypothesis and look out for facts to support your beliefs.
  • Using hand gestures and actions, sign language can come in great help of mutual understanding between foreigners who do not speak the same language as you.

4. Language Barriers

Have you ever spoken to a foreigner? Or with the one who doesn’t speak your language? Recall how difficult it was then. Due to varying factors such as literacy rate, age, ethnic background etc., the proficiency of language might differ from one person to another, and this can act as a linguistic barrier to the smooth flow of communication.

Language is considered the ultimate resource for communication. Yet, there are famous personalities like Lewis Carroll who suffered from Autism and stammering and still told many stories that people across the globe read and admired. He became a part of every child’s happy childhood.

As shocking as this may sound, the current American president Joe Biden was once a victim of a speech impediment. He had severe stuttering as a child and went through years of bullying until he decided to help himself and get over it once and for all.

Ways to avoid /reduce the barrier

  • Using more complicated words and technical terms, jargon can make comprehension difficult.
  • Incorporating relevant body language such as hand movements can be helpful.
  • Using visual methods of communication can fulfil the purpose.
  • Avoid ambiguity and verbosity for simple, precise, and clear written and oral communication.
  • Apps like language learning and translators can help you a lot in the situation of being a remote worker and a traveler.

5. Technological Barriers

Although technology has made communication much easier, there are also newly emerging issues that must be addressed such as outdated technology systems, lack of proper network connection, issues with the devices etc. and other secondary issues such as computer viruses, a packed inbox, emails being saved in outboxes rather than getting sent. These issues may come to interrupt the way of having effective communication.

In recent times, the global pandemic has pushed the mode of communication to tech-based mediums, and it has never been as facilitating. Technology helped with the easy access to resources, helplines, availability of human resources etc. and made the entire journey less gruesome than otherwise.

Ways to avoid /reduce the barrier

  • Updating the systems at regular intervals, installing tools and accessories such as anti-virus to maintain the good condition of the devices.
  • Adopting new digital communication software such as Zoom, Meet, Team etc. to effectively streamline engagement.
  • Providing proper training about the software installations, equipment handling and machinery operations to the employees must be made mandatory. These issues can ruin the communication at every level between colleagues and leads to loss of productivity.
  • As schools and universities have shifted to online mode of tutoring, along with it comes to the issue of technical issues such as lack of proper connection, video and audio issues, software malfunctions etc. and other issues like lack of knowledge about software operation etc. these issues can be handled by conducting formal seminars and presentations where students and the instructors are taught about the entire operating functions of the software and computer systems.

6. Organizational Barriers

Although communication is a crucial part of an organizational setup, such an environment also witnesses its share of barriers that prevent communication from taking place successfully. Some of the issues faced in an organization are the complicated structures, the hierarchical positions, facilities within the organization, feelings of fear and nervousness when meeting a superior etc.

For example, Delta is a top MNC company where more than 5000 employees work. In one of the branches, the employees are facing issues with Google assistants across all the departments for quite a few weeks. Since it had been helpful in the quick retrieval of information, this has caused a lot of delays in the submission of work and caused issues in the flow of communication among the employees within the organization.

The employees put it across to the superiors only to find no action being taken towards this. This leaves the organization with a bunch of annoyed employees and a truckload of pending work.

The superiors aren’t taking it to the managers because they are currently working on downsizing the organization. Any kind of negative remark on the side of the employees would result in immediate termination of employment. Hence, the manager must put across the issue in the politest manner possible.

The power consciousness felt among the employees and the debilitating fear of losing the job affect how the information is conveyed to the authorities. The team leads were in the place to filter down the information to a simple outline rather than an elaborate explanation to avoid meeting with unpleasant consequences.

This case can be an example of the issue in vertical communication and also the differences in positions within an organization.

Ways to avoid /reduce the barrier

  • The number of hierarchical levels can be reduced as that would ensure a smooth flow of communication between superiors and subordinates.
  • The technological and other required facilities can be levelled up to facilitate communication within the organization.
  • Organizations can create open, transparent channels for communication among every employee and managers within.
  • Building facilities like suggestion boxes, and open portals accessible to every member of the organization can create room for everyone to engage in effective communication.
  • Appropriate policies and rules should be established within the organization to enable effective communication.
  • The organization should be designed in such a way that people can meet each other face-to-face and interact.
  • The organizational structure should be given higher priority to practicality rather than aesthetics to ensure efficient communication among the employees and superiors.

7. Semantic Barriers

Juan: And that’s how quantum physics works.

Tom: Whoa. That’s a lot of information. But mate, it’s all Greek to me.

Juan: What do you mean? I spoke in perfect English.

In this example, Tom used the idiom “It’s all Greek to me” and by that he meant to say that the information was very complicated for him to comprehend. However, Juan didn’t get the message.

This is an example of the semantic barrier. It occurs when the meaning of a message is misunderstood or misinterpreted due to the lack of understanding of the language, or due to its nuances or the usage of complex sentences and vocabulary which makes comprehension difficult.

It also happens because of the use of technical jargon, bad expressions, words with multiple meanings, lack of information and sometimes even faulty translations.

Ways to avoid /reduce the barrier

  • It is advisable to always use words which are simple, clear and easily understandable.
  • Make sure to use a language which is commonly spoken by people.
  • Be explicit about your information. Avoid sarcasm and coded messages.
  • Improve your cross-cultural awareness to scale up your communication game.
  • In case you’re worried about misinterpretations, write the content down or send a formal e-mail to the respective person.

8. Personal Barrier

Personal barriers to communication are personal characteristics that deter communication from taking place effectively. Personal characteristics involve personality, social style, level of confidence, clothing, emotions, lack of knowledge etc. some personality types are more likely to be expressive about their thoughts and opinions in comparison to other types of personality.

For example, extroverts are sociable and talk about their inner thoughts without reluctance and on the other hand, introverts prefer keeping their thoughts to themselves rather than bringing them to light. Hence, such personality differences can act as a barrier to enabling effective communication.

Another personal barrier would be the lack of confidence. A person with low confidence would experience hesitation in expressing his views believing that he would be mocked or ridiculed, and this also hampers communication.

Clothing could be another factor that could turn out to be a clincher or a deal breaker. Hence, clothing in such a way that is irrelevant to the situation could act as a barrier to communication.

Some candidates show fear of authority, unwillingness to communicate in the workplace. They find difficult to express their opinions in situations including group discussion, board meetings etc.,

Ways to avoid /reduce the barrier

  • Always adopt a socially acceptable stance when interacting with people.
  • Master the art of listening empathetically.
  • Learn to keep your emotions under control.
  • Upscale yourself by gaining knowledge about the recent trends in different fields.
  • Improve your vocabulary, confidence, sense of clothing and personality to feel competent.

9. Physiological Barriers

Physiological barriers occur when information cannot be passed on successfully due to the physical condition of the sender. The physical condition includes loss of eyesight, mental illnesses, physical illnesses, hearing and speaking impairment, even the learning disabilities like dyslexia, loss of memory, excessive fatigue and tiredness etc. these conditions may make communication a difficult process.

The most celebrated physicist Stephen Hawking suffered from a condition called Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis which paralyzed his muscles. This condition also affected his ability to speak. Yet, he managed to accomplish such astounding feats of discovery about the universe.

On the other hand, there is Louis Braille who lost his eyesight at a very early age. He invented reading and writing system for those with visual impairment. His invention has been the sole cause of many literates with visual impairment.

Many such great personalities broke the statement, “physical disability can be a hindrance for…”

Ways to avoid /reduce the barrier

  • It is essential to be considerate of a person struggling with such physical conditions.
  • Based on the condition of the receiver, devise a strategy to ensure information is sent and received successfully.
  • Couple your verbal information with other mediums to make comprehension easy on their part.
  • Emphasize your information and repeat them if necessary.
  • People with impairments can handle difficult situations by using the assistance of technology. There are many features available in smartphones such as voice detection, Google Assistant and many applications that are designed to help people with impairment. For example, applications such as Supersense, Be my eyes work exclusively for people with visual impairment to find objects and navigate well.

10. Gender Barriers

Gender barriers to communication occur because of the differences like interaction and the expectations placed on each gender. Although men and women live in the same world, they tend to live parallel lives more than overlapping ones. The topics of interactions differ vastly between men and women.

Men’s talk focuses on information, current affairs, competing, creating expertise and being assertive. On the other hand, women’s talk throws light on offering emotional support, and fostering trust, bonds and loving relationships.

As both the genders differ in their way of addressing one another, they are always mistaken for being non-empathetic toward each other. But the fact is they just address in a way they believe would prove beneficial.

John Gray, in his book “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus” beautifully describes how the two genders differ in their way of handling stressors, interacting with one another, and solving problems.

Even during the process of decision-making, gender bias seems to play its role. It has been found in a study that women are more likely to take disadvantageous risky decisions compared to men in the face of a stereotype threat condition and when they greatly fear negative evaluation from others.

This explains why women go to a great extent to maintain relationships and give higher importance to the judgments of others, which men can never be found practising.

Gender prejudice is a phenomenon that makes its presence even in professional settings. Women are typically prejudiced to be capable of certain roles such as teaching, baking, designing, crafting, cooking etc. as these are considered “women’s work”. Meanwhile they are considered unfit for jobs that require physical strength and resilience.

Roles such as firefighting, beekeeping, astronomy, boxing etc. are reserved for men as women are too fragile for such roles. When such prejudices exist within the human mind, it prevents open-mindedness and respect for differences in opinions and hence affects communication immeasurably.

Ways to avoid /reduce the barrier

  • The first way to reduce the barrier of gender in communication is to understand that men and women are two different people who communicate differently.
  • Learn about the nature of both genders and address them accordingly.
  • If the opposite gender doesn’t welcome your response, try to modify it or ask them to suggest an alternative.
  • It is also crucial to be alert to the subtle cues both the genders give out and plan your response accordingly.

11. Chronomatic Barrier

Of the many barriers to communication, time is an important one. Time can be a determining factor in the effectiveness of communication. Chronomatic barrier refers to the issues in communication because of time. Being able to send a timely message can have a better impact than sending something during an irrelevant period.

For example, a person sending a letter to someone, regarding an emergency which is only received weeks later. Such a barrier usually occurs as a result of physical distance between the sender and the receiver or even the differences in time zone between both the parties.

In some situations, the right messages are sent during the wrong timings. For example, an angry wife who is getting ready to go out asks her husband “How do I look?” and the husband replies “with your eyes”. This was a great comedy but delivered at a wrong time.

In the example, the wife meant to ask if she looked presentable, but the husband just took the opportunity to make a light joke out of it. However, considering the wife is already mad at him, the joke could’ve been saved for a better time.

“A justice delayed is a justice denied” is a famous saying that emphasizes the importance of a well-timed judgment. Some messages would lose their value and influence if not expressed at the right moment. Even if the message was sent out an hour or even a minute later, it may not produce the same kind of results.

For example, Ray and Zen are questioned about a stolen purse. Although Zen was the culprit, he claims himself innocent and this resulted in Ray being prevented from attending the exam the next day. Although Zen confessed his mistake later, Ray faced the consequences, nevertheless.

Ways to avoid /reduce the barrier

  • To reduce the barrier of time, one can adopt less time-consuming novel mediums such as Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook etc. can also be used in the instant transfer of messages.
  • Be sensitive about the context and the demands of the situation. Make sure that your message is delivered is appropriate for the time and place.
  • Be prompt about the medium of communication that you choose for your message to reach the appropriate timing. For example, an emergency message must be informed instantly through the phone rather than waiting to convey face-to-face.
  • When talking to people from different time zones, look out for a time that wouldn’t interfere with their routine. Make pre-calculations about a time before you commence your interaction.

12. Wrong Choice of Channels

Sometimes a person may send an appropriate message yet choose the wrong channel to transfer and that ruins the efficacy of the intended message. The wrong choice of channel is a kind of barrier where an unsuitable channel is chosen to deliver an important message.

For example, an employee requests his boss for leave verbally rather than sending a formal e-mail or a letter stating his reason. Although the message is the same, when the employee chooses to break it down verbally, it shows a lack of professionalism on his part.

Variation in the channel helps the receiver understand the seriousness and the commitment to the message. Let’s say that a manager wants to appreciate an employee for reaching the target of the month. The manager can either send an E-mail praising her for her commitment to the job or send a text message or come by her desk and appreciate her personally.

Which would have a better impact? It’s quite apparent that the latter would be more appreciated by the employee as it shows the employer’s genuine acknowledgement of her dedication and efforts for the organization.

Ways to avoid /reduce the barrier

  • When choosing the channel for a message, the sender should be sensitive to the complexity of the message, the abilities of the receiver, the consequences of choosing the wrong channel and the immediacy of the action to be taken.
  • The sender should consider his options and choose a channel that would be best suited for the message he intends to send.
  • Complement the medium of communication through which the message was delivered. If your message came to you through e-mail, send your response through the same medium.
  • In case of discussing important information through an online mode of communication, it would be recommended to have a small discussion personally regarding the same.

13. Attitude/Perception Barriers

Barbara comes from a dysfunctional family system where her father engaged in various forms of abuse. This memory from her childhood has been etched so strong that she believes all men are abusive and misogynistic (strongly prejudiced against women). This belief comes in the way during every casual interaction she has with men. She always comes home with the same complaint from men for being outright and insolent.

Attitudinal barriers occur because of pre-existing assumptions, beliefs and attitudes about specific topics. These beliefs prevent a person from being open -minded and accepting of other’s perceptions and ideas.

These faulty beliefs can act as a barrier when communicating because they are narrowed down notions that are far from truth. Stereotyping can become a barrier when people act based on their beliefs and discount other’s narratives.

When people hold strong opinions about certain aspects, they tend to perceive them selectively. This is where a person chooses to perceive what they want while ignoring the rest. So, holding a belief that all men are patriarchal, will only allow Barbara to search and find the patriarchy in men while ignoring every other positive attribute.

Ways to avoid /reduce the barrier

  • Agree to disagree” – We all come from different racial and ethnic backgrounds and so our beliefs about the world also differ. These views are nothing but distorted opinions. One’s opinion may not necessarily align with that of others. So, we should learn to respect and accept differences in opinions and attitudes.
  • Keeping our minds open to new thoughts, ability to see the world from other’s lenses, and exchange and acceptance of true valid ideologies can save a lot of interpersonal disputes.
  • Remember to mind your language and soften the tone. Always be assertive.
  • Be honest and open straight forward in questioning and feedback.
  • Engage in mindful communication where you are actively processing things you say and hear from the other side.
  • Give people the benefit of doubt and not assume that everyone is torn from the same piece of fabric.

Other Barriers to Communication

Besides these important barriers, there are also blocks to communication that takes a toll on its effectiveness.

  • Non-assertive behavior
  • Personal bias
  • Unexpected circumstances
  • Task preoccupation
  • Lack of feedback

These aforementioned factors could also disguise themselves to be obstacles to enabling effective communication. After learning these barriers, we can finally understand that various barriers that can affect the effectiveness of our communication.

In the example of Nicole and Petra, there were various factors such as noise, anger, perceptual issues etc. that played a notorious role in affecting their communication. It is essential to be mindful of these barriers and overcome them for a smooth communicational ride.

{ 35 comments… add one }
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    G. Kartikeya
    Bharatvarsh (India)

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  • mahbub October 16, 2011, 9:39 am

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  • paul otim October 21, 2011, 5:33 pm

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  • marshal November 2, 2011, 8:44 pm

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  • Moses gunga December 3, 2011, 8:23 pm

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  • Evance oyooh February 1, 2012, 9:02 am

    It could have been wow if u explained the barriers also. Thanks for the help.


  • pihter February 17, 2012, 1:36 pm

    simple and clear but more information needed

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  • asandy March 15, 2012, 5:37 pm

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  • makuyana mirirai April 4, 2012, 1:03 pm

    the solutions are good for my assignment but it would have helped if the barriers were explained. this will help me in my course.thanx

  • Esther July 5, 2012, 11:21 am


  • NOMAN October 14, 2012, 12:16 pm

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  • lorelie April 2, 2015, 2:50 pm

    Do you have any questionnaire survey regarding to the barriers of effective communication skills? What exact theory did you reflect on this kind of barriers? I need your help. Thanks

  • VICTOR OTIENO OKEYO April 24, 2015, 9:23 am

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  • Maya June 19, 2016, 3:02 pm

    Can you tell me on which Theory is based this communication barriers. I am doing my masters degree research and I need theory of organizational communication barriers.

  • Richard November 3, 2016, 1:23 am

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