The major environmental / physical barriers are Time, Place, Space, Climate and Noise. Some of them are easy to alter whereas, some may prove to be tough obstacles in the process of effective communication. These factors may just cause distraction leading to inattentiveness or totally alter the message, causing miscommunication.
Time: Time has an important role in a communication process. Do we not often hear expressions such as “timely caution”, “timely advice?”. These expressions indicate the role of time as a factor in communication. An organization that expects quick results cannot afford to be slack in its channels of communication. The time lag between countries in Europe / America and Asia has to be overcome by the adoption of modern and fast communication channels. Quickness of communication is the watchword in the modern world of communication.
Every concern has to choose a fast channel of communication with good alternatives. You have to choose a face-to-face oral communication channel to give instructions to a worker, a public address system to reach a large member of people scattered over a large area, a visual signal in crowd management and a courier system to reach clientele spread over and at distance and so on. Railway Authorities and Airline authorities have computer programmed voice announcements on arrivals and departures which get constantly updated. Modern banking through voice recording systems is available today. All these developments emphasise the importance of ‘time’ in a communication exercise. Immediacy of the objective usually determines the choice of the medium. In modern times, time consuming slow channels of communication are getting replaced by effective fast channels of communication.
Space: Space plays an important role in an oral communication situation. It can act as a barrier to communication or act as an aid promoting good communication. Experts classify an oral communication situation on the basis of the distance maintained between sender and receiver as Intimate, Personal, Official and Public.
Intimate: If the distance between the two, the encoder (sender) and decoder (receiver) is less than a foot and a half (18 inches), the situation is labelled intimate. The mother coddling the baby, the father and the son, or husband and wife in a familial / private situation communicate at an intimate level of space.
Personal: Friends and peer groups who are in a process of communication maintain a distance of about two to three feet which is personal.
Official: In official situation, the space should be at least four to five feet depending on the message or information.
Public: The distance between the speaker (the encoder) and the listeners (decoder, in this context an audience) should be over ten feet, in a public situation.
Any reduction of this minimum space parameters will lead to awkward and embarrassing situations. Generally, Americans and Europeans do not want violation of their personal space. They refer to their personal body space as the ‘body-bubble’ which they do not want to be violated by unwanted intrusions. Asians and people from the Middle East do not attribute importance to space. Space can act as barrier in a cross cultural or trans-national oral communication situation. Over crowding in elevators, jostling in office corridors and elbowing in public transport systems are all external factors that do affect communication as barriers. Proper maintenance of distance will help overcome this carrier. It will remove miscommunication and prevent distortion of a message or information.
Place: The place or the location where a communication process takes place can degenerate into a barrier to effective communication. A simple comparison of the surroundings in a Government / Municipal office and the ambience provided in a multinational company will show how place and surroundings play an important role in effective communication. Inconvenient place, rickety furniture, poor lighting, inadequacy of space are all factors that make people irritable / impatient and annoyed. Friction and conflict erupt easily in such places which mar the transaction of any business, leave alone business communication. Even though it is part of office management, its impact on the communication process as a barrier is inevitable. Good ambience and suitably lighted and ventilated places promote effective communication.
Climate: “The talks were held in a cordial atmosphere and in a proper climate” say the newspapers. Though the word climate refers to the human relations prevailing there, it is no exaggeration to say that the actual room temperature helps people to keep their heads cool! Unfavorable climate can act as a barrier to communication leading to wrong perceptions or decision.
Noise: Noise is a physical barrier to effective communication. Noise may have its origin from an external source or may exist even in the communication loop. You do not achieve effective communication by merely shouting. Effective communication is almost impossible on the factory floor, the bus stand or railway station. No one should try to out shout a machine to achieve successful communication. Instead he should choose a better place with less noise to communicate his message / information. Noise distorts messages and acts as a barrier to effective communication.