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Communication is at the Heart of All Interpersonal Relationships

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    Communication is at the heart of all interpersonal relationships that exist between the employer and an employee. Understanding the process of communication and diligently working towards improving communication gaps is a key recipe to successful management and organizational prosperity. However to put steps aimed at mitigating the harmful impacts of ineffective communication, the first step is in ensuring that you recognize common barriers to effective communication.

    Barriers to Effective Communication

                Communication can be defined as an act through which an individual gives of receives from another individual information. This passage of information between individuals may be intentional or sometimes unintentional. The conveyance can be through conventional or unconventional signals that are linguistic or non linguistic spoken or conveyed though other modes. In an organizational environment there are structures established to ensure that meaningful and effective communication is promoted. These structures enable for the intended meanings to be perceived and understood between employees along and across professional cadres in the organization.

                 There are times where faults occur in the process of communication hence preventing the receiver from receiving the message through delay, misdirection or distortion of the message. Overcoming these barriers requires additional skills to be able to recognize and if there is communication breakdown then one should be in a capacity to resolve it. Barriers to communication can be categorized into three principal classes;

    Physical barriers
    System design barriers
    Additional barriers(attitudinal, language, cultural, interpersonal, etc)
    Physical Barriers

                These barriers are caused by the nature of the environment in which the organization operates. For instance, if buildings that are constitutive of the organization operating offices are located in different sites, access and transmission of information is hampered. Large working areas that physically separate staff makes it difficult for an effective transmission of messages. Use of outdated and or poor information technology equipment by in the wake of new advanced technology can impede communication not only in the context of intra organization communication but very affecting inter organizational communication system. Acute and chronic staff shortages in an organization is a major factor in impeding effective communication. Poor organizational structure usually characterized by unfavorable climate, presence of stringent rules and regulations and the complexity of communication channels.

    Other physical barriers to communication that increase the level of employee distraction from work are also strong promoters of an ineffective communication. These include too much background noise, poor lighting systems and office air conditioning.

    System Design Faults/ Barriers

                In situations where organizational structures are unclear and confusing, for example, lack of clarity in the levels of authority, roles and responsibilities severely impede. Effective communication. In situations such as these the staff become uncertain on who to report to or what is professionally expected of them. When the channels of communication is very long and the medium selected for the transmission of information is inappropriate, communication breakup may occur. Incorrect filtering of information as it passes between you and the receiver through gatekeepers such as secretaries, personal assistants, receptionists etc may lead to incorrect translation of your original ideas. It is always advisable to eliminate many intermediaries between you and the receiver of the information by maintaining a lean communication channel. This reduces message distortion or misinterpretation. Channel barriers are also exacerbated by interpersonal conflicts existing between the sender and the receiver leading to lack of interest to engage in communication or sharing of information. Such inter personal conflicts can as well affect the clarity, accuracy and the overall effectiveness of communication.

     Inappropriate or inefficient use of management information systems stemming from installation of poor computer software systems.

    Attitudinal barriers

                This may come as a result of problems with organizational staff. These are manifestations of poor management practices, lack of consultation of employees on issues, personality conflicts inherent in the workplace. Personal attitudes at work may be due to dissatisfaction at work, lack of motivation, lack of enough prerequisite training necessary for particular tasks or these attitudes can just be driven by a section of employee’s resistance to change because of entrenched prejudices, attitudes or ideas. Attitudinal barriers can also be caused by limitations in mental or physical ability, understanding, intelligence, lack of trust as to the source of information. All these affect the attitude and opinion of persons as regards a subject or his or her communication with other colleagues.

    Psychological factors

                Individual state of the mind is subject to being affected by a variety of economical, sociological or environmental factors. Environmental aspects such as the state of the weather have been known to affect the state of the mind. For example, people are generally excited when there is sunshine as opposed to rain. Health, marriage and financial problems have been shown top equally affect effective communication in the workplace.

                In each and every message there are two components, Content meaning and relationship meaning. Content meaning deals primarily with the subject matter of the message while the later suggests the relationship between the sender of the message and the receiver. Any negative reaction towards any of these components can comfortably lead to communication breakdown. The state of the mind does sometimes affect our understanding of the messages passed to us and we may unconsciously distort or even totally ignore the content of the message. When in such an emotional state it is better to acknowledge the greater potential of misunderstanding that may arise between you and those you are communicating with.

    Language barriers

                Different languages come with different vocabulary, dialect and accents modeled by national and regional cultural and geographical barriers. Effective communication is affected due to the presence of semantic gaps that badly express a message, wrong interpretation of messages and unqualified assumptions. Inappropriate, poorly understood and poorly explained words may create a message that is misunderstood and misinterpreted by the receiver resulting in confusion. The effect of language barrier is particularly serious among organizations involved in overseas business. Individual linguistic abilities are very different.

                Words chosen and used in any mode of communication should not prevent other people from understanding the information if it was conveyed to them. The resultant effects of such information is always misinterpretation or lack of understanding at all hence inappropriate or no action will be taken by the receiver. Misinterpretation may be financially costly to an organization and should be prevented by transmitting only clear, coherent and understandable information.

    Cultural barriers

                Cultural defines an individual in terms of perception and transmission of messages with reference to age, education level, economic status, religion, political beliefs, ethics, aspirations and many more. All these factors create a barrier while communicating with another person. Because cultures impart on its members different and distinct ways of thinking, seeing, hearing and interpretation of information. Same words always have different meanings with differences in cultures even if they speak the same language. Therefore even in an organization setting, effective cross cultural understanding is always affected. These cultural constraints are sometimes classified as cognitive constraints, behavioral constraints and emotional constraints. Cognitive constraints mainly affect an individuals understanding of world views.

                Behavioral constraints are the rules and regulations that are imparted on an individual about proper behavior in terms of verbal and non verbal communication. These behavioral constraints define whether eye contact is appropriate when communicating, the distance between people when talking and other forms of polite gestures that differ from culture to culture. Emotional constraints, on the other hand, govern the display of emotion when carrying out debates. Such emotions include yelling, crying or exhibition of anger. Cultures also define whether individuals can only share facts or share the rationality of information.

    Interpersonal barriers

                Barriers from employers are driven when there is lack of trust in the employees, lack of adequate knowledge of non verbal clues used in communication. These clues include the use of facial expression, gestures, postures, body language or eye contact. These gestures are usually inculcated through personal experiences and there fore they are not universally understood by everybody. When employee needs are not considered, when the superior has fear of losing control or when there is bypassing or overloading of information, interpersonal barriers are created. From the employees, lack of motivation, co-operation, fear of penalty, lack of trust and poor relationship with the employer create an interpersonal barrier.

    Poor Listening

                Lack of attention on the part of the receiver is a common complaint in verbal communication. Naturally people let their minds wander off when forced to listen to information that they consider as having no direct imp-act on their lives or information that is generally difficult to understand or execute. Very few of us have excellent listening habits and this can further be worsened when there is use of jargon phrases or complex terms.

    When listening it is prudent to fully concentrate and pay attention to who you are communicating with. In case there are terms that are not clearly understood by you, convey your questions in less threatening terms and listen attentively without interruption.


    this occurs when we consciously or unconsciously typify a person of a group of people on the basis of oversimplified conceptions, opinions or beliefs. This causes a barrier in communication particularly when the receivers of the message already know that the message from the sender is worse. Unqualified generalizations by senders who refuse to acknowledge change undermines the clarity and credibility of information. Another form of stereotyping involves polarizations or the creating of extremes. This comfortably alienates the receivers of the information hence worsening the impacts of ineffective communication.

    Overcoming Barriers to Effective Communication

                Physical barriers that limit effective communication should be eliminated by ensuring employers and employees work in close proximity but protecting the privacy of every employee. Distractions during communication should be eliminated in order to promote attention and concentration. The systems of management employed should encourage employee motivation by encouraging participation and constructive dialogue. Additionally, these systems should be flexible, dynamic and transparent.

                Communication is a two way traffic and the moment the information is sent, the sender becomes the receiver through the feedback mechanism. Because feedback is a mirror of communication, feedback builds and promotes two way communications that is beneficial both to the sender and the receiver. Prompt feedback enables the sender to confirm whether the receiver has received the message in its original version without any alterations. To achieve this and to ensure that the message has been given appropriate coding, the acquisition of basic communication skills is paramount. The information transmitted to the receiver should be clear, complete, concrete, concise correct and courteous.

                For an effective communication to be achieved, the sender must acknowledge and ensure that the message is well adapted to the receiver. Understand the receivers needs, knowledge of the subject matter, status in the organization, language skills and emotional status of the receiver. On the other hand our emotional status should not be an impediment to our communication to others in the organization. Dislike, anger, hatred and other emotions that may impede communication in the organization must be controlled.

                Employees should be given the opportunity to access the organizations resources so as to develop trust between the employees and their employers. Self expression and idea generation are prerequisites to unlocking any psychological or emotional prejudices. Expectations should be communicated succinctly without the use of absolute words or phrases. Words such as never, forever, always should not be used when giving instructions to staff. These words make employees to develop fear for authority. Moreover when passing on instructions or communication to a colleague it is necessary to view yourself in the circumstances of the receiver so as to avoid the development of emotions if something goes slightly wrong in the execution of instructions. In cases where the information is slightly complex, instructions should not only be verbally communicated but also written down to act as reference.

                When communicating in the organization focus should be put on the issue and not the person. Everything should not be taken personally. Opinions and needs should be communicated in terms of the assignment at hand, for example co a co workers personality should not be criticized when criticizing the job done. Communication should be genuine and not manipulative. One should express himself or herself honestly and openly to develop a culture of understanding and fruitful collaboration in the organization. Professional relationships entail some form of emotional human attachment. It is sometimes important to show sensitivity, empathy and care with the people you work with. If you are detached and do not show any care, it becomes very difficult to develop an effective communication channel.

                There should be an underlying consistency between written information, verbal and other non verbal cues. In many cases the use of non verbal cues such grinning tends to be equally or even more convincing as compared to verbal messages. For example when discussing or expressing very serious issues, grinning might distort the intended message.

                Individual perceptions are always unique. Our understanding of the world is modeled by a myriad of factors from our differing backgrounds. Our background defines each of us differently with regards to our age, education level, gender, socio economic status, cultural and religious beliefs, temperament, political beliefs and affiliations etc. All these factors determine how we relate with and communicate to other people hence defining how effectively we can communicate in the organizations. Accepting that these inhibitions can affect the effectiveness of communication s the first step in building an effective and successful communication system. If we effectively carry out a clarification of our own selves, we can comfortably understand the background of others in terms of their spheres of knowledge, their personalities and perceptions. An understanding of all these and inculcating them in an effective communication system will not only ensure that the content and context of information is understood but it will also improve our interpersonal relationships.

    Developing Skills for Personal Effectiveness Unit no FG4D: Communication Skills. Barriers to effective communication.


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