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You’ve heard the “communication is key” cliché, haven’t you? There’s a reason that sentiment is so oft-repeated: it’s true.
Effective communication eliminates confusion, streamlines collaboration, improves productivity, and boosts morale.
Sounds great, right? But here’s the catch: effective communication isn’t always easy. In fact, it can be downright hard. One poll of 1,000 employees conducted by Interact/Harris Poll found that 91% of respondents think their leaders lack this critical skill.
When it comes to what makes communication so challenging, there are seven common barriers that stand in your way. Let’s talk about each of them, as well as how you and your team can overcome them.
If you’re picturing closed doors, high cubicle walls, and blocked off areas, then you’re on the right track. Physical barriers are the oftentimes tangible obstacles or boundaries that keep team members apart.
It’s important to note that, while it’s not exactly tangible, distance can be counted as a barrier in this category as well.
When team members are geographically distributed and unable to physically work side-by-side, that adds another layer of complexity to communication (which is why Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work Report found that communication and collaboration is the biggest struggle when working remotely, tied only with loneliness).
Nobody is saying you need to immediately convert to an open office floor plan (those have received criticisms of their own), but there are a few things you can do to help steer your team around physical barriers, including:
Diverse teams are more productive, more creative, and more profitable. But, having employees of all different backgrounds also presents some challenges in terms of communication. There are different generations, cultures, races, and more. That means they also have different values, work ethics, norms, and preferences.
Sometimes cultural barriers are even more broad, and an employee feels as if they don’t mesh with the existing culture of an organization.
Those examples are all at the heart of cultural barriers. It’s tough to communicate effectively with someone when you can’t understand or relate to them.
If cultural barriers exist, it can be tempting to think that you’re better off building a homogeneous team. That’s not true. You need to find ways to navigate these cultural barriers so you can reap the benefits of a diverse team while still communicating well. Here are a few ideas:
If you’ve ever tried to converse with someone who doesn’t speak your same language, you know that reaching a shared understanding is nearly impossible. That’s why language can be a major barrier to communication.
It’s important to remember that this isn’t just about different dialects, but about jargon too. If a marketing team member is talking to someone from the finance team using industry lingo like “PPC” and “top of the funnel,” confusion is inevitable.
Of course, if there’s a major language difference in your workplace, you’ll likely need to look into translation services to bridge that divide. But, here are some other important things to keep in mind:
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 and can actually hinder our ability to get our point across or receive messages from others.
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:
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.
I won’t sugarcoat it: interpersonal barriers are difficult to overcome, especially if someone is withdrawn and isn’t willing to engage. But, here are a few tips that can start to get things back on track:
There’s no shortage of stereotypes and generalizations about how men and women communicate differently.
And while some of those might hold true while others have been debunked, it’s worth paying attention to any discrepancies between how different genders in your office communicate so you can facilitate improved collaboration and working relationships.
Your best bet here is to stay away from generalizations and instead learn more about each of your individual team members—regardless of gender or gender identity. You can do this using the following strategies:
Emotions and communication are closely related. For example, if you feel uneasy or anxious, you might resist the urge to speak up. If you’re angry and heated, you’ll have a hard time receiving information that’s being given to you.
Those are just a couple of scenarios where our emotions can act as a barrier to effective communication.
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:
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. It’s a concept called “name it to tame it.”
It’s hard to overstate the importance of communication in the workplace. But, it’s not always easy. In fact, communicating in a way that’s effective and respectful can be extremely challenging.
That’s because there are a number of barriers that stand in your way. Use this as your guide to identify them, understand them, and then steer around them, and you and your team will be able to communicate and collaborate on a whole new level.