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What are the 11 barriers to communication

a man and woman having miscommunication both are experiencing barriers to communication

You've heard the “communication is key ” cliché, haven't you? There's a reason that sentiment is often repeated. It's true.

A strong communication process is an essential part of any organization. Without effective communication, it can be hard for employees to work well together and find areas of agreement. 

When a communication breakdown happens, there is a high chance of confusion between team members. This leads to mistakes, reduced productivity, and frustrated employees.

Clear communication channels make it easy to understand what each employee should do. It allows teams to interact and provide feedback to one another to keep projects running. This boosts productivity and efficiency at every level of the organization.

Effective communication isn't always easy. In fact, it can be downright hard. One poll of 1,000 employees found that 91% of respondents think their leaders lack this critical skill1.  

There are eleven common communication barriers that stand in your way. Let's discuss examples of communication barriers and how you and your team can overcome them.

Table of contents
What are the 11 common barriers to communication? Let’s dig in.

What are the 11 common barriers to communication? Let’s dig in.

Communication barrier #1: Physical barriers

Physical barriers are things that keep people apart, such as closed doors, high cubicle walls, and blocked-off areas. Physical barriers to communication may include distance.

When team members work in different locations, it makes communication harder. A study by Grammarly of US professionals showed that since the pandemic, people use more digital communication channels2

How to knock them down:

You don't have to change your office layout, but there are ways to help your team work around physical barriers, such as:

  • Provide plenty of space for collaboration.
  • Set ground rules for the different communication mediums on your team. For example, instant messages are for urgent requests, and emails are for status updates and summaries.
  • Keep your own office door open to remain approachable. Or set regular office hours where team members can stop by with questions and feedback.

Communication barrier #2: Technical barriers

With the rapid advancement of technology, technical barriers to communication can arise. Technical barriers to communication refer to problems or difficulties arising due to the use of technology. Too much technical language can cause delays and make it hard to understand what is being said.

Access to technology may be limited or nonexistent for some people. For example, they may not have a phone or computer needed for communication. They may also have faulty equipment or no access to modern technology. This can make it hard for them to talk to each other.

Two people talking on different devices or platforms may struggle to understand each other. This barrier would be considered an Incompatibility of communication devices or platforms:

How to knock them down:

 Don't get frustrated if you find constant technological interruptions when communicating with someone. There are tools and tricks that you can use to avoid technological interruptions.

  • Give employees proper training on the tools and software your organization uses. 
  • Provide a wide variety of collaboration and communication tools. Use modern communication technology. Examples are, video conferencing tools such as Zoom or Google Meet. Or text-based communication tools such as Slack or iMessage.
  • Understand how to manage multicultural teams. Cultural differences can make it hard for people to communicate well through technology.
  • Ensure there is access to communication data

Communication barrier #3: cultural barriers

Cultural fit is one of the biggest communication barriers. Diverse teams are more productive, more creative, and more profitable. But, having employees of different cultural backgrounds also challenges cross-cultural communication. There are different generations, cultures, races, and more. That means they also have different values, work ethics, norms, and preferences.

Cultural barriers to communication may cause employees to feel like they don't fit in the organization. It's tough to communicate effectively with someone when there is no common ground. It is important for your entire workplace to have an internal common language.

How to knock them down:

Having a team with people from different cultures can make communication hard. But avoiding these differences is not the solution. It's important to find ways to share information despite these cultural barriers to benefit from the diversity of the team. Here are a few ideas:

  • Have different forms of communication. These can be guides or “user manuals” that share important information. 
  • Celebrate the differences on your team with various events and educational opportunities (they're fun, and they boost understanding!).
  • Use a people analytics tool such as F4S to measure each team member's work style and preferred approach to communication.

Communication barrier #4: Motivational barriers

Simply put, a motivated team is an empowered team. Motivational barriers of communication prevent people from sharing information with each other. Low self-esteem, lack of drive, fear of failure, or rejection, are psychological barriers to motivation.

A lack of motivation will make employees believe their opinion is unimportant or there is no incentive to speak up. People require encouragement to initiate conversations about communication challenges. 

How to knock them down:

Team morale takes time to build. To improve performance, you must understand your team's individual motivations. Employees’ individual needs should be acknowledged. By doing so and encouraging good communication, you can boost morale and make everyone feel supported at work. Here are a few ideas:

  • Learn about motivation theories. Understanding them will help you figure out what drives each team member. The theories can be used to set goals, rewards, expectations, and incentives that will keep them motivated.
  • Establish an open and trusting environment where everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves. This helps foster feedback loops that encourage constructive conversation between coworkers and leaders.
  • Using motivational tools in communication encourages employees to take initiative. It gives them the knowledge to make decisions without negative impact.
  • Find out what your employees' preferred communication channels are. 

Communication barrier #5: Systematic barriers

Systematic barriers make it hard for people in an organization to talk to each other because of how the company is set up or run.

Systematic barriers in communication may include; not having a good way to share information; not teaching good communication skills, or not valuing different perspectives and being afraid to speak up.

These barriers can hurt employee motivation, performance, and the company's success. So, it's important to understand systems thinking to create a successful communication plan.

How to knock them down:

Fixing communication problems caused by the way the company is run is ongoing and needs everyone's effort to be successful. Here's how:

  • Make sure everyone knows how to share information. Have regular meetings, a plan for communication, and teach good communication skills.
  • Value different opinions to make sure everyone feels included.
  • Encourage employees to keep learning and improving their communications skills.
  • Avoid biased language
  • Find out employee's communication preferences.

Communication barrier #6: Language barriers

Language or vocabulary differences can make communication difficult. This is not only when it comes to different languages but also when people in different departments use different jargon. Language barriers to communication can be caused by a lack of cultural understanding. It is important to respect different communication styles.

How to knock them down:

If there's a major language difference in your workplace, you'll need to look into translation services to bridge that divide. But here are some other important things to keep in mind:

  • Develop successful communication systems for target audiences within the organization.
  • Be mindful of jargon and encourage your team members to state things as simply as possible. 
  • Remember body language too. Different cultures interpret gestures and body language differently. Be aware of your nonverbal communication.
  • Use visuals, demonstrations, and examples where possible. Those can help provide a lot more clarity than written or verbal communication.
  • Avoid irrelevant content and unnecessary long-form content
  • Segment audiences: adjust communication based on language and culture.

Communication barrier #7: Perceptual barriers

Imagine that you went into a meeting with the assumption that it was going to be a major waste of your time. How inclined are you to listen closely? To engage in the discussion? To actively participate?

Your motivation is probably running pretty low, isn't it? That's a perceptual barrier.

The assumptions we carry with us into exchanges influence our communication style. They can actually hinder our ability to get our point across or result in poor listening. This can create difficult situations for employees.

How to knock them down:

It'd be nice if your own perceptions, biases, and assumptions had a simple “off” switch. While navigating around this barrier isn't quite that easy, these tips can help:

  • Support your points with facts and evidence. That type of proof helps to back up your claims, regardless of someone's perceptions.
  • View situations from a different perspective, and encourage team members to do the same. 
  • Ask clarifying questions. These require that you operate based on the information in front of you rather than your assumptions.

Communication barrier #8: Interpersonal communication style barriers

Let's clarify this one with another example. Think of a time when you had to converse with someone who was undeniably stubborn. They insisted that their view was correct, and they refused to listen to any other points of view.

I'm willing to bet that discussion was difficult because you couldn't truly connect with that other person. That's an interpersonal barrier in action.

How to knock them down:

Interpersonal barriers are difficult to overcome. Especially if someone is withdrawn and isn't willing to engage. Here are a few tips that can start to get things back on track:

  • Understand how each person communicates so that you can better understand their message. Some people may have an affective communication style. Others may have a neutral communication style. Adjust your approach to suit each style.
  • Take a deep breath. These situations can be disheartening and frustrating, but escalating emotions won't help.
  • Listening is important in communication. Give others a chance to speak their minds.
  • Practice active listening to show team members that you value their opinions and ideas.

Communication barrier #9: Trust barriers

When people at work don't trust each other, it can make it hard for them to work together. Employees may be scared to speak up because they fear they might be ridiculed. When trust is low, it can stop people from being creative and making innovative decisions. To fix this, leaders and employees need to make sure they trust each other and respect each other's ideas.

How to knock them down:

Rebuilding trust in the workplace requires active effort from both leaders and employees. Transparency and teamwork can be improved by ensuring everyone knows what is expected of them, with clearly defined goals. Additionally, consistency from leaders can also foster trust.

  • Be open and honest in communication, share information and answer questions.
  • Promote accountability. Employees should be responsible for what they do. And leaders should be responsible for their own decisions.
  • Respect others' ideas. Listen actively and be consistent and reliable in actions to build trust.
  • Lead by example and act ethically to establish trust and create a positive work environment.

Communication barrier #10: Gender barriers

Gender barriers in communication in the workplace can make it difficult for men and women to communicate with one another. This can include stereotypes and generalizations about gender differences in communication.

Pay attention to communication differences between genders. This will help improve the communication ecosystem in the office.

How to knock them down:

Your best bet is to stay away from generalizations. Instead, learn more about each of your team members regardless of gender or gender identity. You can do this using the following strategies:

  • Provide training on effective communication strategies that take into account potential gender differences.
  • Encourage team members to provide feedback to one another. 
  • Have open conversations about gender bias on your team. Being candid and transparent about those issues is far better than turning a blind eye and pretending they don't exist.

Communication barrier #11: Emotional barriers

Personality conflicts and emotions can make it hard to communicate effectively. Emotions such as fear, anxiety, or anger often form communication barriers. This can hurt productivity and create a negative communication experience.

How to knock them down:

Emotions are natural, and they shouldn't be discouraged or reprimanded. Instead, you and your team need to understand how to deal with them. Try some of these strategies:

  • Know when it's time to walk away. 
  • Practice naming your emotions. As strange as it can feel to say, “I feel angry” in front of your team, it's actually helpful in diffusing that emotion. 
  • Having emotional intelligence is important. It involves being aware of your own emotions and those of others, as well as being able to manage them in a healthy way. 

Communication is key (and you need to do it right)

Effective communication in the workplace is crucial for conveying your core message, but it can be difficult to achieve. To improve communication, be aware of the common barriers mentioned above. Find and understand these barriers to help your team communicate more effectively.

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1. Schwantes, M; August 10, 2017; Survey: 91 Percent of 1,000 Employees Say Their Bosses Lack This 1 Critical Skill; Inc.Australia https://www.inc-aus.com/marcel-schwantes/survey-91-percent-of-1000-employees-say-their-boss.html 

2. Grammerly, June 2 2022; Less Casual, More Digital Everything: How Work Communication Has Changed Due to the Pandemic; Grammerly.com; https://www.grammarly.com/blog/pandemic-work-communication-trends/ 

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