Communication Barriers: A Step-By-Step Guide to Breaking Them Down

Communication Barriers: A Step-By-Step Guide to Breaking Them Down

We all know those people—and it can be easy to hate them.

They’re the people who glide through every conversation with such ease and skill that you are left wondering if they are truly human.

And while it may seem like these people are simply born with the gift of communication, these skills can be learned and used to help us in all types of interactions. Barriers to effective communication can take a toll on both our professional and personal success—and make sending and receiving messages much easier said than done.

This post will explore four common communication barriers and outline exactly how to overcome them. Enhancing your communication skills can help you break down these barriers and engage in useful, productive communication with your employees and superiors alike.

What’s In A Word?

While this might seem obvious, the words you use can be a communication barrier even when two people are speaking the same language.

If English is not someone’s native tongue, he or she might not be as familiar with common sayings and slang. If you know that the person you are communicating with is new to English, try to avoid using idioms or phrases that might be more confusing than helpful. Don’t be afraid to respectfully check for understanding. Take a similar approach if you are attempting to communicate in a language that is foreign to you.

Regional differences can also make an impact on your ability to successfully communicate with others. For example, if you try ordering chips in the UK, you’ll end up with a plate of what people in the US would call french fries. You might comment on someone’s pants, only to get an embarrassed look because people in the UK use the word “pants” to refer to underwear. Even though you both speak English, you might not always understand each other.

As you learn more about the people you interact with, some of these barriers will start to fade. In all cases, it’s important to be patient and willing to clarify and ensure both the sender and receiver of information understand each other.

The Overload Button

Everyone has been to a meeting that was essentially an information dump where their overload button was pounded into mush.

In these meetings, the presenter drops a load of facts, figures, and anecdotes—and then expects attendees to sort through it all to pick out the most useful bits. It’s basically an exercise in mind reading. Perhaps you’ve even been guilty of info dumping on your employees from time to time.

While the goal of such an interaction might be to pass along as much information as possible, those on the receiving end will often feel overwhelmed and very quickly forget much of the information they were given. This defeats the purpose of the communication.

So, what’s the solution? Prioritize. Whether you’re writing an email, planning for a presentation, or simply preparing for a conversation with an employee, identify the top messages and action items you want the receivers to get. Whittle away any unrelated information and save it for another time. When your messages are focused, you’ll be able to communicate much more effectively.

Where’s That Squirrel?

Unless both the sender and receiver can give each other their full, undivided attention, you risk communication failures.

With today’s technology, multitasking has become easier and more common. Unfortunately, muddy communication is often the price we pay for convenience. When was the last time you made it through an entire meeting without checking your email on your phone or laptop? Do you find yourself making notes for things you need to do later, even when you’re in one-on-one meetings with your employees?

It’s impossible to give 100 percent of your attention to two tasks simultaneously. Even simple distractions can cause you to miss important information. However, that’s not the only communication problem that accompanies multitasking.

However important they may seem, if you give in to distractions when you are communicating, you are signaling to the other party that your conversation with them is unimportant. Sending this message, even if you don’t mean to, can have a far-reaching, negative impact on your ability to communicate with that individual—both in the present and in the future.

When communicating with your employees, be sure to give them your full attention, and expect the same from each of them. To facilitate better communication, establish a company culture where people put down their distractions whenever possible.

The Silent Culprit

It’s essential to remember that communication extends beyond the words we say. Using body language in an intentional way is one of the most important communication skills we can learn. The content of a message will be influenced by the body language of both the sender and the receiver of the information.

Avoid using non-verbal signals like crossing your arms or legs; you don’t want to appear annoyed, closed off, or disinterested. Try to resist the urge to tap your foot or fingers, as that can communicate impatience or stress.

When communicating with others, try to maintain a more open stance. Relaxed but upright postures communicate confidence and comfort in your environment. Gentle, but not overused, hand gestures can emphasize points and clearly deliver a message.

Eye contact is another common form of non-verbal communication. Avoiding eye contact can come across as lack of confidence or disinterest. On the other hand, too much eye contact can be intimidating. Make eye contact with the person you’re talking to, but remember to look away occasionally and blink naturally.

Can you think of any other communication barriers that you’ve encountered recently? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

About the Author

CMOE Team

CMOE’s Design Team is comprised of individuals with diverse and complementary strengths, talents, education, and experience who have come together to bring a unique service to CMOE’s clients. Our team has a rich depth of knowledge, holding advanced degrees in areas such as business management, psychology, communication, human resource management, organizational development, and sociology.