What Are Common Communication Barriers?

By Kristin Kizer
Aug. 16, 2022

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Do you ever feel like you’re constantly repeating yourself, and yet nothing gets through? Your employees, boss, family, and sometimes even your friends seem to be so far away. You don’t know what is missing and why they can’t hear you, but there’s some disconnect that’s happening.

Most likely, you’re suffering from some of the common barriers to effective communication. Communication barriers are all around us. Sometimes they’re something that’s just passing like your kids are watching TV, so they’re not listening to you.

Other times, there’s something deeper going on, and your communication skills can be to blame, or your interpersonal relationships are not what you think they are.

Let’s try to break through those communication problems and avoid miscommunication on our way to better relationships and better results.

Key Takeaways:

  • Common communication barriers include using too much jargon, cultural differences, poor listening skills, and prejudices.

  • Communication barriers can be broken down into 6 categories: attitudinal, language, psychological, physical, physiological, and systematic.

  • Active listening, speaking clearly, and understanding your audience are all great ways to improve communication.

What Are Common Communication Barriers?

Ten Common Barriers to Effective Communication

So, what is a communication barrier? It’s anything that gets in the way of effective communication. Truly, it can be just about anything, so let’s look at what some of the most common communication issues are.

This might help you spot them before you even begin talking, so you can work around them:

  • Using jargon or slang. What if the words you’re using have absolutely no meaning to the person you’re talking to?

    It seems like an obvious fix, but if you’re so used to talking in corporate jargon or in teenage slang, it’s hard to stop, and you don’t realize you’ve lost your audience. Even medical language can lose someone pretty quickly.

  • Speaking a different language. This is akin to jargon and slang, but clearly, if two people don’t speak the same language, then verbal communication is going to be very difficult.

    Even if they speak the same language, they can run into problems when they use a different dialect, have a heavy accent, or have different levels of speech skills.

  • Cultural differences. There are a lot of social and business interactions that have different meanings in different cultures.

    These differences can make people uncomfortable and unsure about the interaction. Sometimes they can even have the opposite intended effect.

  • Distractions. Some distractions are obvious, like your kids watching television when you’re trying to tell them to clean their rooms. But there are so many other things that can be going on and distracting people, and you’re not aware of any of them.

    It’s not just external distractions that can get in the way. Internal distractions can be just as troublesome. Someone could be hungry, overworked, grieving, falling in love, etc., and just not able to focus on what you’re saying.

  • Verbal and non-verbal disconnect. Interestingly, you might find that you’re the problem without even knowing it. If the words coming out of your mouth don’t match your facial expressions, gestures, or other nonverbal cues, then your words might lose their meaning.

    Imagine if someone asks if they look good in their outfit. While you verbally say “Yes,” you have a grimace on your face, and you’re shaking your head no. Obviously, the words you say are not going to have much meaning.

  • Consistency. If you say one thing one day and something different the next, then you’ve sabotaged your own communication and the trust that the listener has with you.

    This can be especially detrimental in a business relationship when employees are left hanging on a limb, not knowing what to do.

  • Poor listening skills. If your listener doesn’t know how to be a good active listener, they might not be picking up what you’re saying even if you’re communicating very well.

  • Emotional barriers and taboos. Some people are uncomfortable with certain topics. For whatever reason, they don’t want to talk about topics they find uncomfortable.

    This becomes more clear when you know that those topics are traditionally things like religion, politics, sex, racism, and other similar topics.

    But there can be emotional barriers with topics that you think are safe. Imagine asking someone when they’ll hand in that report for work that’s due. The person you’re talking to might shut down and not want to hear you talk about that report because it’s uncomfortable to them.

    They are in over their head and don’t know how to do the work. This is an example of their own emotional barrier that impedes communication.

  • Physical disabilities or barriers. Having a disability that makes your speech difficult to understand or that makes hearing hard can obviously create a barrier. Sometimes you don’t need to have a disability or an impairment to have trouble understanding someone.

    A loud environment can make it difficult. Wearing a mask can make hearing hard, and you don’t get the extra cues from reading lips.

  • Expectations or prejudices. If you come to a meeting expecting to hear one thing, you might not take in the full meaning of what’s actually being said. Unfortunately, this happens a lot. People don’t really listen; instead, they jump to conclusions.

Categorizing Barriers to Communication

Communication barriers often fall into one of five categories. Sometimes it helps to know which category you’re dealing with to understand better how to proceed and make effective communication happen:

  1. Attitudinal barriers. Of the above common problems in communication, you’ll see that expectations and prejudices, or emotional beliefs and taboos, can fall in this category. There are other attitude-based issues, too. The above list of barriers reflects some common ones, but not all of them.

    Apathy is a seriously big communication barrier, and if you’re talking to teens or checked-out employees, you know how it can be.

  2. Language barriers. Whether it’s a different language, slang or jargon, or a thick accent, these are all language barriers. These people typically want to understand, so you just need to get past the language issues.

  3. Psychological barriers. The psychological state of both the listener and the speaker is important. There are so many things that can be going on in someone’s head that hampers their ability to listen and their ability to process a message.

    It can be a momentary thing like anger that can cause someone to say a thing that they don’t mean. Or there can be a long-term issue, like poor self-esteem, that reflects how someone receives a message.

  4. Physical barriers. It’s not just what’s going on in your mind that can be a barrier. Physical barriers can cause issues too. Your kids watching TV or too much noise can be a physical barrier.

    There are also things like technology problems that happen that make the message unclear.

  5. Physiological barriers. This is where disabilities or other physiological issues can come into play. Even being too hot or too cold can make you distracted and not focused on the message you’re sending or giving.

  6. Systematic barriers. This is a barrier when the structure of an organization lacks clear channels of communication. There is an issue with the system as a whole, possibly due to a lack of clear roles and responsibilities, technology, or a healthy work culture.

Overcoming Communication Barriers

The only real reason to learn about communication barriers is to find a way to manage them. To be a more effective communicator requires a desire to express yourself better and to listen better to others. These tips can help:

  • Active listening. Being an active listener is a soft skill that will benefit you throughout your life. It’s something you have to work on, but you can become very skilled at it over time.

    This will not only make you a better listener, but you’ll be a better speaker because you’ll be able to read someone’s answers more completely and read their body language.

  • Speak clearly. Being heard requires someone to speak clearly. Speaking concisely and using easy-to-understand language can also help.

    You can go a step further and try to make sure that there are no or minimal distractions while you’re speaking that could take away from your message.

  • Let go of preconceptions. Focus on the words you’re hearing, not what you think is being said or will be said. This can actually be very hard, and it takes some personal growth, but you can do it. It’s also something you need to do when you’re speaking.

    If you’ve got a preconception about your audience and you speak a certain way, they might perceive that and stop listening altogether because they feel insulted or misunderstood.

  • Pay attention to your non-verbals. Learn to be in tune with what you’re doing with your body and your face when you’re speaking and listening. You can derail a conversation entirely with your body language without even meaning to.

  • Try to understand your audience. If you’re speaking to teens, then try to speak in a way that they understand. You can see this is obviously going to be a different approach than if you’re speaking to your boss. Understand your audience with internal empathy so you can communicate better.

Communication Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How many types of communication are there?

  2. There are five types of communication: verbal, non-verbal, written, visual, and listening. Each one of these can have communication barriers, however they can also act as aids into improving communication. When you have multiple ways to communicate, you can try new options if one of the types of communication doesn’t work.

  3. Why is communication important?

  4. Communication is important because it allows ideas and intentions to be understood effectively. Communication is particularly important in the workplace because most, if not all, professions require some level of interaction among people. Whether its coworkers or clients, you need to be able to address ideas effectively to achieve success.

  5. What is good communication?

  6. Good communication is one where a message is clearly understood by its audience. Good communication leads little doubt about the needs and wants of the communicator. This is especially important when dealing with people to achieve some goal, such as a project or campaign.

Final Thoughts

If it feels like you’re just not getting through to your audience, the problem might be a communication barrier. If you can figure out what the barrier is and how to classify it, there’s a good chance you can find a way to remedy it.

Learning how to communicate better is not just about getting people to hear you. If you can effectively improve the way you’re presenting your message, you stand a better chance of being an effective communicator.

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Kristin Kizer

Kristin Kizer is an award-winning writer, television and documentary producer, and content specialist who has worked on a wide variety of written, broadcast, and electronic publications. A former writer/producer for The Discovery Channel, she is now a freelance writer and delighted to be sharing her talents and time with the wonderful Zippia audience.

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Topics: Guides, Life At Work