Unit 1.2 – Barriers to Communication

Planning, preparation and practice of communication will be incomplete and unsuccessful unless one identifies and understands the barriers of communication. 

Barriers to effective communication can be physical, sociological and/or psychological obstacles and they often interfere with the planning, organization, transmission and understanding of the message. These obstacles or interfering factors are the reasons why messages may get misunderstood.

These factors interfere with the self-confidence, self-disclosure and self- consciousness of the communication of senders and receivers. The barriers of communication are dangers to any. When the communicator transmits the idea in an unchanged and undistorted form to the receiver and the receiver responds to it, then, the process of the communication is supposed to have been perfect. However, this process of ‘perfect’ communication can never exist due to the number of factors. The communicator has to identify and understand the reasons for poor communication in order to resolve any conflicts that arise. Understanding the process of communication is the first step towards improving one’s ability to communicate better, but understanding the factors that prevent us from transmitting the exact meaning is very essential to resolve any communication issues.

Language Barrier

Lack of Common Language: Language uses oral or written symbols to transmit meanings from one person to another. Every human language has its own vocal symbol system and its own grammatical structures. If the communicator and the receiver belong to different language groups, their ignorance of each other’s language or the lack of common language will become a barrier to the communication between them. It is not possible for them to communicate with each other unless they know some common language that they can mutually understand. For instance, an English-speaking boy and a Tamil speaking boy will not be able to communicate without having good knowledge of each other’s languages. If both of them know a common language, say Hindi, their knowledge of Hindi word, phrases, clauses and sentence-structure should be adequate enough to express their thoughts and feelings.

Semantic Barrier: Words are said to have no meaning but they represent arbitrary meaning associated with it. A word may have a variety of meanings and the meaning attributed to a word by the communicator may not be the same as that of the receiver’s attributed meanings of that word. A word can have different meaning to different people at different occasions. It is found by the experts that people attribute 14,000 different meanings to 500 commonly used English words. Therefore, the sender and receiver are many times likely to attribute different meaning to the same word. Sometimes, they may use different words to communicate the same meaning. There are many words in English such as light, cheap, etc. which can be used with favorable as well as unfavorable connotations. A word can stand for its positive or negative connotations. Sometimes, the receiver wrongly enters the intended meaning of the sender’s word by attributing negative meaning to it.

Poor Vocabulary: Poor vocabulary makes our message more difficult and less effective. Our pen falters and tongue fumbles when we probe into our brain for a suitable word or phrase. The words have different connotative and denotative meanings. The communicator needs to know them clearly in order to use them with clarity and precision. Words stand not only for their meanings but they are also charged with action and emotions. When the communicator and the receiver understand these word-associations, they are capable of using them as living entities. Poor vocabulary does not allow the communicator to write or speak effectively. It prevents the receiver from understanding the message clearly.

Poor Grammar and Punctuation: Poor knowledge of grammar and punctuation is a barrier to verbal communication. Having good vocabulary is rendered useless unless the communicator is able to use it properly in a sentence. Understanding how grammatical structures works provides an excellent basis for effective writing, speaking, listening and reading skills. If the communicator is not able to choose the correct verb form that agrees with a given noun or pronoun, or pick out the adjective or adverb that makes the most sense, or join the words properly, his ideas, thoughts and feelings cannot be fully articulated. In addition to having good grammar, using punctuation correctly is also critical. Many of us do not pay enough attention to it but we must understand that faulty and improper punctuations can change the intended meaning of the sentence. The absence or misplacement of a ‘comma’ can otherwise prove to be misleading to the reader.

Roundabout Verbiage: Roundabout Verbiage consists of using overworked, troublesome and exhausted words and phrases that cause considerable amount of misunderstanding and confusion. It is a long-winded way of saying the meaningless padding. By avoiding such roundabout verbiage, we can maintain the simplicity of expression to our written and oral communication. For example, instead of saying ‘in the majority of cases’ or ‘in a number of instances’, we can say ‘some’ or ‘usually’. Instead of saying ‘commence’ we can use ‘start’ or ‘begin’. By omitting such words and phrases, we can save the message from hollow pomposity.

Physical Barriers

Noise: It interferes with the transmission of the signals. It also refers to the ‘unwanted’ signals of messages, which interferes and disturb the reception of the wanted signals.

Samuel Hoffenstein in his poem, “The Wind in the Trees,” illustrates quite beautifully the distraction that noise may cause. He says:

When the wind is in the tree,
It makes a noise just like the sea,
As if there were not noise enough
To bother one, without that stuff.

Noise is any random or persistent disturbance that obscures, reduces, or confuses the clarity or quality of the message being transmitted. In other words, it is any interference that takes place between the sender and the receiver. This is why we generally identify any communication problem that can’t be fully explained as “noise.” The biggest single cause of noise in the communication process may be the assumption that the act of communicating is a simple process – that it doesn’t require much thought or practice and all effective managers were born with this skill. This is not true. Effective communication comes with study and practice. The effectiveness of the communication process is dependent upon the capabilities of the senders and receivers.

This disturbance is usually in the form of sounds, but it need not be always the sounds. It can be in visual, audio-visual, written, physical or psychological form also. There are many people who communicate with a little signal and much noise. In fact, they communicate extraneous matters, which may diminish the interest in the receivers or may even annoy them. They tell the receiver something more than they are required to communicate. Their extraneous distracting signal can be the result of their wandering minds-it can be because they are trying to communicate something more about themselves.

Technical or physical noise refers to loud noise of the machines or blaring noise of the stereo and such other noises, which makes it difficult for any listener to receive the ‘wanted’ message. Visual noise can be experienced when a committee member arrives late at the meeting hall and all the committee members are distracted by his arrival. Poor telephone connection which interrupts conversations, smudged typescripts and bad handwriting are some examples of technical noise.

Time: The frequency of communication encounters affects human relationships and the intensity of human relations is affected by the amount of time that passes between these encounters. If the employee does not communicate with their superiors for a long time, or if husband and wife stay away from each other for a ling time, it may create a communication gap between them, which may affect their relationship. Time can act as a barrier to communication in many other ways as well. For example, time will not allow two communicators to talk to each other if they work in different shifts. A phone call late at night can irritate or embarrass the receiver or a husband who keeps his wife waiting for hours will not find it easy to communicate with her.

Distance: The distance between the communicator and the receiver can be a strong barrier to communication especially when communication devices such as telephone, telefax, etc. are not available to link them. Faulty sitting arrangement in the office can create a communication gap which can be eliminated by adjusting the seating distances. Distance between workbenches in the offices or in modern production departments and half partitions between them are distance barriers that can severely limit communication among the employees.

Age: Age, maturity, educational background, cultural diversity and the era in which a person grows up in, can certainly impact communication. Generation gap becomes obvious in their use of vocabulary and style of speeches and the values of life to which they stick or adhere. Our age and maturity can influence the way we apply different standards of judgment to judge the statements of the speaker. For example, in an organization, we can examine the social groups of older workers that are separate from younger workers. Their likings and interests are different and they take less interest in sports, cocktail parties and movies. Gradually, this widens the communication gap between the older workers and the younger workers.

Gender: Men and women communicate with each other differently. When they work together in a group, men tend to be more assertive and acquisitive than women. Thus, sex and gender stand as a barrier to a direct, honest and appropriate expression of a female’s thoughts, opinions and beliefs. On the other hand, man is more assertive of his thoughts and opinions. It is found that women are more likely than men to express their emotions and feelings about a situation. However, it is important to note that these are general assumptions of gendered communication behavior and not rules. Girls are brought up to believe that they should be feminine, nurturing and non- aggressive.  Strong behaviours are discouraged among women and they are often criticized when they are showing signs of aggression.

Social-psychological Barriers Status barrier: Status is a position or social rank of a person in a group. It depends on the person’s abilities, amount of pay, job-skills, seniority; type of work assigned, age, etc. Status reflects the degree of power, authority, importance and responsibility placed on an individual by other people in the society. The people at the lower status are usually afraid of communicating unpleasant and unfavorable information to those of higher status. They become conspicuous of their own status in relationship with the status of their superiors. This status consciousness is harmful in the process of upward communication. People fear that the unpleasant information communicated to their superior might bring adverse effects on them, if the information displeases the superiors. They are reluctant to communicate their problems, shortcomings, mistakes and other unfavorable information to the higher-ups because of their fear that the superior might consider them incompetent and unworthy to do their jobs. They do not show courage of offering suggestions and plans of improving the organization and its procedures for the fear of being called arrogant by their superiors. The high-ups too are strongly conscious of their status. In order to safeguard the dignity of their status, they avoid accepting suggestions from the subordinates and presume that their higher status stands for better knowledge and competence than any of their subordinates. These assumptions prove serious barriers to communication between them.

Attitudes and values: The attitudes serve the personal needs of the people. They provide need satisfaction to the individuals. When the message is unfavorable to the receiver, he cannot be easily persuaded by it. The people in terms of their attitudes and values interpret the message. Their attitudes and values are different not merely because they are physically different, but also because they have different backgrounds. They deal with the individuals and events according to their own attitudes and assumptions. Personal attitudes, values and opinions are the barriers to an effective communication.

The most agreeable information for anybody of us is the one, which is favorable and palatable to our opinions, values, norms and attitudes. The message, which runs contrary to our views and beliefs, is not easily acceptable to us even when it is factual and true. We promptly accept the government policy if it is favorable to our business, but we express our strong resentment towards it if it adversely affects our business. Even the process of interpreting the message is consistent with the existing attitudes and values. It is due to the fact that our thinking is colored and characterized by our attitudes and values. Sometimes, these attitudes and values can have emotional basis. Such attitudes are extremely difficult to change.

Different perception of reality: Francis Bacon has said, ‘Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true’. The individual experiences and their interpretations are never identical because their perceptions are different. If two friends see a movie together, their interpretation of the events and the characters in it will certainly be different.

The communication barrier arises as a result of different selective perceptions of the same object or idea by two or more people. Our physical senses like hearing, sight, taste, touch and smell are with the physical world. Some people have limited range and power of their senses, whereas some people have very acute and strong senses. These physical differences are also responsible for different perceptions of the existing things. Human needs are strong motivating factors, which can very easily alter his perceptions. Poor children tend to estimate a coin of 50 paisa to be physically larger than the children coming from the rich families. We create our own reality through selective perception, which hides certain things that are there and see certain more things than which are present there.

Inference: Our everyday life is full of various activities based on inference. When we get up from bed at 8.00 a.m. we infer that mummy might have already started her housework. When we sit down at a table to write, we infer that the chair will support our weight and ink will flow from the pen. Thus, the statements, which are based on the facts and go beyond the facts, are inferences.

We may have good reasons to expect that our inferences will be correct, but they may prove incorrect when unpredicted probabilities are present. As inferences go beyond the facts in making certain statements, they can give wrong signals too. We are to interpret symbols on the basis of assumptions, which usually prove correct, but we must be aware of the probability that they may sometimes be false. When we travel in the state transport bus, we infer that we may reach safely at our destination, but this inference may not prove correct if the bus gets into an accident. The inferences drawn by the specialist are usually reliable because they are based on verified facts, but inferences from non-experts should be accepted after receiving more feedback from the concerned people.

Abstracting: We use language to communicate our experiences and feelings, but we cannot communicate every detail of it. It is unlikely to communicate every detail of our experience to others. Instead, we tend to focus our attention on some details and do not bother about the rest. This occurs when we prepare a business report on our observations of the various events in the market. We abstract the reality and report only the valuable characteristics of the market. We observe partially and communicate partially because our experience of the event is also partial. When we try to convert our experiences and observations into words, we further abstract it by using selected words, leaving out some details. If we try to completely describe a simple object like a ‘shoe’, we would require several volumes for it and that will still be insufficient to describe the object.

Closed-Mindedness: A person may close his mind to communicate receptions, if he considers himself to be a person who knows ‘all’ about a particular subject. 

It is very difficult to communicate with a man who has bias. Such a man is not prepared to receive any message on a subject about which he assumes to know everything. His mind is closed to new ideas, facts and suggestions. If an employee approaches his closes-minded boss with some suggestions to improve the work of a business unit, the boss would retort the employee by saying that he knows better than the latter on what should be done for the betterment of the organization. Perhaps, he may further warn the employee that the latter should never try to teach him again. In doing so, he completely rejects the information and recommendations of the communicator even before he knows the real facts. The reason behind his closed- mindedness is his deeply rooted prejudices.

Distortion, filtering and editing: When a message is transmitted through translations, interpretations, explanations and simplifications, some part of it gets distorted or lost. The accuracy of the message is lost and the transmission becomes imperfect as the message goes through the filters of translations and simplifications. The upward communication also tends to be distorted and filtered. The negative effects of the informal channel like grapevine are due to distortions and filtering. The message in grapevine receives fresh additions with every repetition until it gets worst. Thus, often the original information communicated through formal and informal channels gets lost or distorted to a large extent and very little of it is retained.

Improper Listening: Bad listening is one of the major communication problems. Misunderstanding and conflicts can be reduced if people would listen the message with enough attention. Most people do not listen very well due to various distractions, emotions, excitement, indifference, aggressiveness and wandering attention. One of the major reasons for bad listening is an individual’s continual thinking about his own problems and worries. The poor listeners always feel that the thought in his mind is more interesting than what the speaker is saying. A college student distracts himself by thinking about his girlfriend rather than listening to the lecture of his professor.

Bad listening can also be a result from worrying too much. An employee may get engrossed in worrying about the sickness of his daughter rather than listening to the instructions given by his manager. Some listeners mentally argue with the speaker before comprehending the complete message. This usually leads to misunderstanding and conflict. Their impatience to talk out their thoughts and their lack of interest in the message contents are strong barriers to communication.

Emotions: Negative emotions are obstacles in communication. Emotions are our feelings about the world around us. Usually, the positive emotions such as joy, love or affection do not interfere with communication, but the negative emotions act as strong barriers to effective communication. Emotionally excited communicator is unable to organize his message properly. His excited or nervous state of mind does not allow him to think clearly. He expresses his blurred thoughts with gesticulations and keeps on repeating the same words. He cannot even grasp the message sent by the communicator in its true sense. This is especially true when one’s negative emotion is uncontrolled and misdirected. It makes him blind for reason. Almost anybody who comes across such an irritated person becomes a victim of his unfocused negative emotions. The perplexed, nervous and excited state of mind never allows smooth flow of communication.

Resistance to change: If we receive a message that proposes a new idea, we tend to be inattentive to it. The new idea is rejected consciously or sometimes unconsciously if it conflicts with our beliefs, morals, values, attitudes and opinions as the receiver. The average adult human mind ignores the new idea, especially when he feels insecurity and uncertainty about its aftermath. He feels that the things go along just fine with him and he would be insecure if the changes are introduced. He is also suspicious about its success in future. Because of its uncertainty, he hastily concludes in his mind that the proposal would not be successful. He even further feels that the proposal would make things worse for him. The new idea is considered as a drastic proposal, which is not needed. Thus, the average human mind, which resists change, does not accept the new ideas from the communicator.


Purpose: The purpose of communication is to get the message across to others clearly and unambiguously. It’s a process in which both sender and the receiver must put effort so that the messages are communicated without any misinterpretation to avoid confusion and missed opportunities. In fact, communication is only successful when both the sender and the receiver understand the same information as a result of the communication.

Sender: To establish oneself as an effective communicator, one must first establish his credibility as well versed on the subject he wishes to communicate and the context in which the message is being delivered. He must also know his audience (individuals or groups to which he is delivering his message). Failure to understand who the message is being communicated [omit??]

Message: Every message, be it written, oral or nonverbal communications is affected by the sender’s tone, sequence of delivering messages, validity of the argument, what is communicated and what is left out, as well as by the individual style of communicating. Messages also carry intellectual and emotional components, where intellect allows us the ability to reason the argument and emotion allows us to motivational appeals, ultimately changing minds to result in actions in line with the message communicated.

Channel: It is important that appropriate channel is used to communicate different messages to successfully pass on our thoughts and ideas as different channels have different strengths and weakness too. However, a face to face communication is always useful to avoid confusion whereas a long list of directions cannot be delivered verbally. At the same time, writing an email to criticize someone will quickly cause problem. It is better avoid writing emails when one is in the aggressive frame of mind because it is a one-way communication and we really are not aware of the exact frame of mind in which the Receiver will go through the message. This might cause a tremendous damage in relationship and the very importance of the communication itself will be lost.

Receiver: We must have in mind, the action or reaction that our message might generate into the minds of the different individuals who are receiving it. However, each of these individuals enters into the communication process with ideas and feelings that will influence their understanding of the message being communicated and their response. We must keep in mind this factor before communicating and act appropriately.

Feedback: Feedback on message communicated is an important component to ascertain if the message communicated has been understood by the Receiver in the way the Sender wanted it to communicate.

Context: In a communication, both the sender and the receiver must be aware about the context in which the communication is being made and its repercussions as well. Unless the context depending upon the surroundings and environment is not taken into consideration, the communication may not be effective and may end up as a futile exercise.

Emotions: Before initiating a communication process on one to one basis, particularly when the message to be conveyed may not be pleasant for the Receiver, and[omit] there might be a fear that his reaction may be volatile and one must evaluate the emotional status of the Receiver. Such messages should be conveyed with adequate supportive reasons to convince the Receiver so that he is able to understand the sanctity and consequence of the message communicated.


Written communication occupies an important position in the communication sphere, so written communication has to pay adequate attention on certain principles of necessity. The essentials of every written communication are principles of unity, coherence and emphasis. These principles along with other essentials of effective communication, like language, planning and organization makes the written communication effective.

The 7 Cs

1. Clarity: The writing should be correctly planned and expressed in a logical way, and the writer should make sure that the ideas flow smoothly from beginning to end. The message must be so clear that even the dullest man in the world should readily understand it. The communicator must be very clear about all the aspects of the idea in his mind and about the purpose for which it is to be communicated. Next to it, he must be clear about the selection, suitability and usage of the medium. The signals of the encoded message must be carefully composed and transmitted well.

Clarity of written language is the first and foremost emphasis one should seek in writing. So clarity of language is a form of courtesy. Clarity, therefore, can be achieved in writing by taking pains by writing to serve the purpose rather than to impress readers. Understanding the subject bring about clarity in the writing. Don’t jump about from one part of the writing to another and then back to the first aspect. This is confusing for you and the reader. Deal with each aspect separately and clearly. Clear description brings about the script alive, takes readers to where you have been and evokes atmosphere. It can bring flavor in the most arid and dry news story and make a difference between a report that satisfies and one that does not.

2. Completeness: It is an essential factor for effective communication. A message must be organized appropriately in the sense that it must include all the important ideals and its details. The contents of the message must be checked in order to verify that there is no omission of the relevant details. An incomplete message can do little to convey the information and to persuade the receiver. All the aspects of the message must be grouped and brought together in logical sequence to prepare meaningful thought units. The communicator effort can be more fruitful and effective if the receiver easily reacts to the sender’s message. The incomplete messages may create doubts in the receiver’s mind. The receiver of the incomplete message therefore may feel angry, confused and irritated by it.

Effective writing communication implies a condition of being complete and clear. The principles of unity or completeness apply at three levels; 1) the individual sentences must be unified, 2) individual paragraphs must be unified and 3) the totality of the script must be unified. The first principle states that each simple sentence must contain a single idea clearly expressed. All sentences relating to a particular matter constitute a unified individual paragraph. Each paragraph in a section forms a unit of thought and all units of thoughts structurally constitute the message of entire communication or a unified message. Each unified individual sentence conveys only one central idea. It must be direct, simple, brief, clear and vigorous. Too much use of buts, ands, pomposity and technical jargon must be avoided. Prompt and adequate attention of the reader is the essence of purposeful communication.

Completeness in writing is achieved through orderly arrangement of ideas flowing into other ideas and progressing into conclusion. An incomplete writing leads to side tracking, misunderstanding, seeking clarifications and explanation etc. thus, the writer must consider the receiver’s capabilities to understand.

3. Coherence: Coherency is equally essential for good written communication. Clear communication in simple sentences helps the reader to understand. Facts and figures must be stated plainly and in an intelligent manner. Relation and clarity are the two important aspects of coherence. Coherence means, tying together several ideas, under one main topic in any paragraph. Smooth flow, lucidity and transition aspects should be given effect to and there should not be any scope for the reader to misinterpret, mis-read or mis-spell the message. Coherence is given to a larger paragraph or section of a message and leads to purposeful communication where the writer is well received, read, understood and acted upon by the reader.

4. Conciseness: Conciseness is an important factor in effective communication. It means saying all that needs to be said and no more. The aimless verbiage, unnecessary details and heavy paragraphs make our communication ridiculous and ineffective. We must omit those words and sentences from our message, which are not likely to bring about results. The message, which can be expressed in fewer words, is more impressive and effective than the same message expressed in a number of words. The communicator must organize his message in such a way that every word in it is meaningful and of interest to the receiver. Even a single word or a sentence, which does not contribute to accomplish the purpose of the communication, should be carefully omitted.

Conciseness refers to thoughts expressed in the fewest words that are most consistent with writing. It is achieved in writing in definite style and use of precise words. Unnecessary superlatives, exaggeration and indirect beginning should be avoided. Care should be taken to use adjectives judiciously, avoiding irrelevant details, unnecessary expression and mumbling sentences. Avoid vague judgmental descriptions and be precise and clear.

5. Credibility: A good writing is always forceful and direct and has the power and capacity to produce a reaction or desired effect. Clarity in writing brings about credibility because it ensures that others understand the message easily and quickly. A clear and direct approach in writing makes it possible to achieve the principle of credibility in your writing. Other essentials of writing like correctness and completeness also add to the strength of credibility in the writing.

6. Correctness: Without correctness, readers may refuse your write up. Communication must be correct in tone and style of expression, spelling, grammar, format, contents, statistical information; stress-unstressed, etc. There should not be any inaccurate statements in the message. Efforts must be made to avoid errors in spellings, punctuations, etc. as incorrect written documents tend to lower the readers’ confidence in the writer.

In the same way, the incorrect statements and other miscellaneous errors of the speaker lower the listeners’ confidence in him and it may tarnish his image and reliability too. When communication receiver finds one error, he suspects that there can also be other errors in the message. Therefore, he starts searching for other mistakes automatically.

The subject matter of communication must be correct or accurate. The manner in which the message is transmitted must be absolutely correct. Accuracy in writing can be achieved by careful checking and editing. Correctness demands accurate figures, because decisions may go wrong if the wrong figures are given. Over writings, erasures, strikeovers, wrong spellings, faulty grammar, poor sentence construction etc. may distract the readers and lead to misunderstanding. Written communication clearly means making others to understand.

Therefore, it is essential that the sender should verify the correctness of the information before transmitting it to the receiver and before accepting the information for important decision-making, the receiver should also clarify his doubts regarding the accuracy and correctness of the message.

7. Continuity: As much as possible, the writer should avoid jargon. Jargon is a language that is special to science, commerce, technology, trade and profession. In writing, the jargon should not be incorporated as this could make the writing confusing and unclear. Brevity or use of fewer words brings about continuity and grace in your writing. The effect of good writing depends on its style and continuity of subject till the conclusion. If one takes care to be precise, correct and clear in writing and if the continuity is maintained throughout writing, the desired effect from the reader is achieved.