The Seven Barriers to Great Communications

The Seven Barriers to Great Communications

Many people think that communicating is easy.

It is, after all, something we've done all our lives.

There is some truth in this simplistic view.

Communicating is straightforward.

What makes it complex, difficult, and frustrating are the barriers we put in the way.

When communication doesn’t happen, conflict often does.

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Barriers to Effective Communication

1. Physical Barriers

Physical barriers in the workplace include:

  • Marked out territories, empires and fiefdoms into which strangers are not allowed
  • Closed office doors, barrier screens, and separate areas for people of different status
  • Large working areas or working in one unit that is physically separate from others

Research shows that one of the most important factors in building cohesive teams is proximity.

As long as people still have a personal space that they can call their own, being close to others aids communication because it helps people get to know one another.

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2. Perceptual Barriers

It can be hard to work out how to improve your communication skills.

The problem with communicating with others is that we all see the world differently.

If we didn't, we would have no need to communicate: something like extrasensory perception would take its place.

The following anecdote is a reminder of how our thoughts, assumptions and perceptions shape our own realities.

A traveller was walking down a road when he met a man from the next town.

"Excuse me," he said. "I am hoping to stay in the next town tonight. Can you tell me what the townspeople are like?"

"Well," said the townsman, "how did you find the people in the last town you visited?"

"Oh, they were an irascible bunch. Kept to themselves. Took me for a fool. Over-charged me for what I got. Gave me very poor service."

"Well, then," said the townsman, "you'll find them pretty much the same there."

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3. Emotional Barriers

One of the chief barriers to open and free communications is emotional.

The emotional barrier is comprised mainly of fear, mistrust and suspicion.

The roots of our emotional mistrust of others lie in our childhood and infancy when we were taught to be careful about what we said to others.

"Mind your P's and Q's."

"Don't speak until you're spoken to."

"Children should be seen and not heard."

As a result, many people hold back from communicating their thoughts and feelings to others.

They feel vulnerable.

While some caution may be wise, excessive fear of what others might think stunts our development as effective communicators and our ability to form meaningful relationships.

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4. Cultural Barriers

When we join a group and wish to remain in it, sooner or later we will need to adopt the behaviour patterns of the group.

These are the behaviours that the group accept as signs of belonging.

The group rewards such behaviour through acts of recognition, approval and inclusion.

In groups that are happy to accept you, and where you are happy to conform, there is a mutuality of interest and a high level of win-win contact.

Where there are barriers to your membership of a group, game-playing replaces good communication.

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5. Language Barriers

Our language may present barriers to others who are not familiar with our expressions, buzz-words and jargon.

When we couch our communication in such language, it excludes others.

Understanding this is key to developing good public speaking skills and report writing skills.

In a global marketplace, the greatest compliment we can pay another person is to talk to them in their own language.

One of the more chilling memories of the Cold War was the threat by the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev who said to the Americans at the United Nations:

"We will bury you!"

This was taken to mean a threat of nuclear annihilation.

However, a more accurate reading of Khruschev's words would have been:

"We will overtake you!"

By this, he meant economic superiority. It was not just the language used that was the problem.

The fear and suspicion that the West had of the Soviet Union led to the more alarmist and sinister interpretation.

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6. Gender Barriers

There are distinct differences between the speech patterns of men and women.

A woman speaks between 22,000 and 25,000 words a day whereas a man speaks between 7,000 and 10,000.

In childhood, girls speak earlier than boys and at the age of three, have a vocabulary twice that of boys.

The reason for this lies in the wiring of a man's and woman's brains.

When a man speaks, he uses the left side of his brain but not a specific area of it.

When a woman speaks, she uses both left and right sides, in two specific locations.

This means that men speak in a linear, logical and compartmentalised way, demonstrating left-brain thinking.

Women speak more freely, mixing logic and emotion, using f both sides of the brain.

This also explains why women talk for much longer than men each day.

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7. Interpersonal Barriers

There are six ways in which people can distance themselves from one another:

1. Withdrawal

Withdrawal is an absence of interpersonal contact. It is both refusal to be in touch and time alone.

2. Rituals

Rituals are meaningless, repetitive routines devoid of real contact.

3. Pastimes

Pastimes fill up time with others in social but superficial activities.

4. Working

Work activities follow the rules and procedures of contact but no more than that.

5. Games

Games are subtle, manipulative interactions which are about winning and losing. They include "rackets" and "stamps".

6. Closeness

The purpose of interpersonal contact is closeness.

Good interpersonal contact promotes honesty and acceptance.

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Improving Your Communication

Working on improving your communications is a broad-brush activity.

You have to change your thoughts, feelings and physical connections.

By doing this, you can break down the barriers that get in your way and start building relationships that really work.

This article was contributed by Eric Garner

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