Communication Barriers Management

Barriers to effective communication and suggestions to overcome them.


One management scholar, Mary Parker Follett, described management as ‘the art of getting things done through people.’ Peter Drucker, a noted management theorist, explained that managers give direction to the organizations, provide leadership, and decide how to use organizational resources to accomplish goals. A manager’s job is complex and multidimensional and requires a range of skills. For example, conceptual skill, that is, the cognitive ability to see the organization as a whole and the relationship among its parts, are needed by all managers but are especially important for managers at the top. Human skill is the manager’s ability to work with and through other people and to work effectively as a group number. Technical skills are also critical because a manager needs to understand and know the proficiency in the performance of specific tasks. (Daft, 1997; Stoner & Freeman, 1989; Drucker, 1974)

The Process of Communication: Communication is defined as the process by which a person, group or organization (i.e., the sender) transmits some type of information (i.e., the message) to another person, group, or organization (i.e., the receiver). The process begins when one party has an idea it wishes to transmit to another. The sender’s mission is to shape the idea into the form which can be sent to and understood by the receiver. This is the process of encoding – translating an idea into a form (e.g., written or spoken language) that can be recognized by a receiver. This process is critical to communicating our ideas clearly, but unfortunately, people are far from perfect when it comes to encoding their ideas. An encoded message is then ready to be transmitted over one or more channels of communication, that is, pathways along which information travels, to reach the desired receiver. Of course the form of coding largely determines how the information is transmitted. Whatever channel is used, the goal is the same: to send the encoded message accurately to a desired receiver. Once a message is received, the recipient begins the process of decoding, that is, of converting the message back into the sender’s original ideas. Our ability to comprehend and to interpret information received from others may be imperfect (e.g., restricted by unclear messages or by our own language skills). Thus, as with encoding, limitations in our ability to decode information represent another potential weakness in the communication process. Once a message is decoded, the receiver can transmit a new message back to the original sender. This is known as feedback – that is, knowledge about the effect of messages on receiver. Despite the apparent simplicity of the communication process, it rarely operates as flawlessly as we describe. There are many potential barriers to effective communication, and the name given to factors distorting the clarity of a message is noise. Noise can occur at any point in the communication process. (Baron & Greenberg, 2000)

Barriers to Communication:

When you send a message, you intend to communicate meaning, but the message itself doesn’t contain meaning. The meaning exists in your mind and in the mind of your receiver. To understand one another, you and your receiver must share similar meanings for words, gestures, tone of voice, and other symbols.

1. Differences in perception

The world constantly bombards us with information: sights, sounds, scents, and so on. Our minds organize this stream of sensation into a mental map that represents our perception or reality. In no case is the perception of a certain person the same as the world itself, and no two maps are identical. As you view the world, your mind absorbs your experiences in a unique and personal way. Because your perceptions are unique, the ideas you want to express differ from other people’s Even when two people have experienced the same event, their mental images of that event will not be identical. As senders, we choose the details that seem important and focus our attention on the most relevant and general, a process known as selective perception. As receivers, we try to fit new details into our existing pattern. If a detail doesn’t quite fit, we are inclined to distort the information rather than rearrange the pattern.

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2. Incorrect filtering

Filtering is screening out before a message is passed on to someone else. In business, the filters between you and your receiver are many; secretaries, assistants, receptionists, answering machines, etc. Those same gatekeepers may also ‘translate’ your receiver’s ideas and responses before passing them on to you. To overcome filtering barriers, try to establish more than one communication channel, eliminate as many intermediaries as possible, and decrease distortion by condensing message information to the bare essentials.

3. Language problems

When you choose the words for your message, you signal that you are a member of a particular culture or subculture and that you know the code. The nature of your code imposes its own barriers on your message. Barriers also exist because words can be interpreted in more than one way. Language is an arbitrary code that depends on shared definitions, but there’s a limit to how completely any of us share the same meaning for a given word. To overcome language barriers, use the most specific and accurate words possible. Always try to use words your audience will understand. Increase the accuracy of your messages by using language that describes rather than evaluates and by presenting observable facts, events, and circumstances.

4. Poor listening

Perhaps the most common barrier to reception is simply a lack of attention on the receiver’s part. We all let our minds wander now and then, regardless of how hard we try to concentrate. People are essentially likely to drift off when they are forced to listen to information that is difficult to understand or that has little direct bearing on their own lives. Too few of us simply do not listen well! To overcome barriers, paraphrase what you have understood, try to view the situation through the eyes of other speakers and resist jumping to conclusions. Clarify meaning by asking non-threatening questions, and listen without interrupting.

5. Differing emotional states

Every message contains both a content meaning, which deals with the subject of the message, and a relationship meaning, which suggests the nature of the interaction between sender and receiver. Communication can break down when the receiver reacts negatively to either of these meanings. You may have to deal with people when they are upset or when you are. An upset person tends to ignore or distort what the other person is saying and is often unable to present feelings and ideas effectively. This is not to say that you should avoid all communication when you are emotionally involved, but you should be alert to the greater potential for misunderstanding that accompanies aroused emotions. To overcome emotional barriers, be aware of the feelings that arise in your self and in others as you communicate, and attempt to control them. Most important, be alert to the greater potential for misunderstanding that accompanies emotional messages.

6. Differing backgrounds

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Differences in background can be one of the hardest communication barriers to overcome. Age, education, gender, social status, economic position, cultural background, temperament, health, beauty, popularity, religion, political belief, even a passing mood can all separate one person from another and make understanding difficult. To overcome the barriers associated with differing backgrounds, avoid projecting your own background or culture onto others. Clarify your own and understand the background of others, spheres of knowledge, personalities and perceptions and don’t assume that certain behaviors mean the same thing to everyone.

(Baron & Greenberg, 2000)

Overcoming communication barriers: Managers can design the organization so as to encourage positive, effective communication. Designing involved both individual skills and organizational actions. The following list outlines points to consider in relation to overcoming communication barriers.

  • feedback – enables communication to become a two way process with both the sender and the receiver trying to achieve mutual understanding
  • consider the words used – long complicated sentences and unfamiliar words confuse people. Communication should be clear, complete, concise, concrete, correct and courteous.
  • use repetition – repeating messages several time using different examples can help others to understand the messages being sent
  • use empathy – seeing a situation from another person’s viewpoint and trying to understand others opinions concerns and attitudes makes better communicators
  • timing – poor timing can result in messages not being received effectively
  • being positive rather than negative helps make communication more effective – what is wanted not what isn’t wanted
  • select the best location – talk somewhere that will encourage open communication not a noisy shop floor or a busy office
  • listening reduces communication
  • check written communication for spelling errors and ensure the sentences are clear, concise and  not ambiguous.

Moreover, if people in an organization focus on the lines mentioned below; they can overcome the barriers to communication.

  • Individual Skills:

Perhaps the most important individual skill is active listening. Active listening means asking questions, showing interest, and occasionally paraphrasing what the speaker has said to ensure that one is interpreting correctly. Active listening also means providing feedback to the sender to complete the communication loop. Second, individuals should select the appropriate channel for the message. A complicated message should be sent through a rich channel, such as face-to-face discussion or telephone. Routine messages and date can be sent through memos, letters, or electronic mail, because there is little chance of misunderstanding. Third, senders and receivers should make a special effort to understand each other’s perspective. Managers can sensitize themselves to the information receiver so that they will be better able to target the message, detect bias, and clarify missed interpretations. The fourth individual skill is management by wandering around. Managers must be willing to get out of the office and check communications with others. For example, John McDonnell of McDonnell Douglas always eats in the employee cafeteria when he visits far-flung facilities. Through direct observation and face-to-face meetings, managers develop an understanding of the organization and are able to communicate important ides and values directly to others (Daft, 1997).

  • Listening

Expressing our wants, feelings, thoughts and opinions clearly and effectively is only half of the communication process needed for interpersonal effectiveness. The other half is listening and understanding what others communicate to us. When a person decides to communicate with another person, he/she does so to fulfill a need. The person wants something, feels discomfort, and/or has feelings or thoughts about something. In deciding to communicate, the person selects the method or code which he/she believes will effectively deliver the message to the other person. The code used to send the message can be either verbal or nonverbal. When the other person receives the coded message, they go through the process of decoding or interpreting it into understanding and meaning. Effective communication exists between two people when the receiver interprets and understands the sender’s message in the same way the sender intended it.

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Good listening skills aid communication. Listening skills can be valuable to you and to your loved ones. By using non-judgmental invitations to talk, you open the doors to meaningful conversation. As a person talks, you can keep encouraging them with phrases. Listening is giving your full attention to the person talking, and accepting what that person says. In simple effective listening can overcome barriers too communication

  • Organizational:

Perhaps the most important thing managers can do for the organization is to create a climate of trust and openness. This will encourage people to communicate freely and honestly with one another. Subordinates will feel free to transmit negative as well as positive messages without fear of retribution. Efforts to develop interpersonal skills among employees can be made to foster openness, honesty and trust. Second, managers should develop and use formal information channels in all networks. Scandinavian Design uses two newsletters to reach employees. GM’s Packard Electric plant is deigned to share all pertinent information – financial, future plans, quality performance – with employees. Bank of America uses programs called Innovate and Idea Tap to get ideas and feedback from employees. Other techniques include direct mail, bulletin boards and employee surveys. Third, managers should encourage the use of multiple channels, including both formal and informal communications. Multiple communication channels include written directives, face-to-face discussions, MBWA, and the grapevine. For example, managers at GM’s Packard Electric plant use multimedia, including a monthly newspaper, frequent meetings of employee teams, and an electronic news display in the cafeteria. Sending messages through multiple channels increases the likelihood that they will be properly received. Fourth, the structure should fit communication needs. For example, Harrah’s created the Communication Team as part of its structure at the Casino / Holiday Inn at Las Vegas. The team includes one member from each department. It deals with urgent company problems and helps people think beyond the scope of their own departments to communicate with anyone and everyone to solve their problems. An organization can be designed to use teams, task forces, integrating managers, or a matrix structure as needed to facilitate the horizontal flow of information for coordination and problem solving. Structure should also reflect information needs. When team or department tasks are difficult, a decentralized structure should be implemented to encourage participation and discussion. Dialogue can help team members arrive at collective solutions to complex problems (Daft, 1997).

  • Talking

Effective talking is talking whenever required and speaking the clear language. Be honest about your own thoughts, concerns and feelings and stay focused in your words. This will lead to a clear message. When in doubt, ask questions to clarify so that the two communication has the desired result.The ability to talk well can enhance your career, clinch a sale, sell a point-of-view, increase an executive’s productivity and above all can reduce misunderstandings. The most important objective of any person while talking is to appear credible and knowledgeable about his or her subject. Speak to your audience as if you were having a conversation. Personal benefits from acquiring excellent speaking skills include: more self-confidence, becoming more persuasive and evolving into a magnetic or dynamic speaker.

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