What are barriers to communication in the workplace?
Barriers to communication in the workplace are anything that prevent or misconstrue the effective delivery of messages among employees and leadership within a company or organization. The three typical types of barriers to communication are:
- Physical: Physical barriers to communication deal with the environmental surroundings at your job. Examples include the layout of an office that obstructs the view of coworkers, the nature of remote work which can slow communication efforts, and literal closed doors that discourage interaction.
- Emotional: Emotional barriers to communication can arise from feelings of doubt or anxiety. An intimidating supervisor might cause anxiety among employees, discouraging open discussions.
- Linguistic: Linguistic barriers to communication include the written, verbal, and physical cues used to convey a message. When individuals speak different languages, the use of unfamiliar jargon, vague body language, or differing dialects can cause communication gaps.
Typical workplace communication barriers
Communication barriers affect your ability to perform your job duties, can complicate workplace relationships, and impact overall team performance. Identifying communication obstacles is the first step to resolution. Here are twelve barriers to communication commonly encountered in the workplace environment.
1. Information overload
When you are sharing information at a meeting with colleagues, training a new hire in company policy and procedures, or updating a client on their campaign status, it is important to provide the central message. You may share too much information because you are eager to help and lose emphasis on your key points.
2. Industry-specific jargon
Each industry has their own technical terminology, or jargon, that professionals rely on to communicate quickly. Although implementing jargon is useful when speaking to those within the same industry, it can cause confusion with outsiders. Jargon is specific to trade, may be unique from company to company, and varies from office to office based on culture. Using acronyms and initialisms complicates the message and leads to misunderstandings because there are so many variations and possible meanings. The overuse of industry specific phrases often becomes cliche, diminishes your authority, and detracts from the importance of the information conveyed.
3. Language barriers
When someone’s primary language differs from your own, you may have trouble understanding one another. Idiomatic phrases or expressions, where the actual meaning differs from what it literally says, do not translate well among languages and cause misunderstandings. Having a multicultural and multilingual work culture is extremely beneficial, but it is necessary to be mindful of communication difficulties.
4. Differing communication styles
Professionals communicate differently based on individual needs, strengths, and backgrounds. One individual may be very direct and concise in their verbiage while another needs time to get their message across and prefers to provide many details. Some people rely on visual stimulus and gestures, while others are keen on the use of tone and facial expressions. These variations can create communication obstacles when people with diverse communication styles are unaware and don’t recognize the needs of the other party.
5. Cultural differences
Cultures form the foundation of how we view the world and dictate much of our behavior and mannerisms. Because the guiding principles of cultures vary, they create cultural barriers that can impede people from understanding one another. In some culture it is disrespectful to touch the hand of a stranger, while in others it is standard practice and polite to shake hands when meeting. One culture may consider strong eye contact a sign of aggression and disrespect, while another views consistent eye contact as a sign of interest and engagement in a conversation. The different connotations of these behaviors can create conflicts among coworkers if not recognized.
6. Physical disability
Hearing impairments, speech impediments, visual impairments, or other physical or mental differences can act as communication barriers and cause difficulty in daily tasks and complicate teamwork. It is important to have support built into the work environment and to educate all employees about communication modifications and strategies available for an inclusive and productive atmosphere.
7. Impatient or inactive listening
One key component of effective communication is the skill of listening. A conversation is an exchange of information, but when one entity shows disengagement or disinterest by focusing on electronic devices or glancing away, the exchange loses substance.
8. Vague or indirect message
What you say and how you say it are equally important to delivering a message effectively. Lacking confidence in your delivery and using the passive voice affects how your audience receives the information provided.
9. Disinterest (disengagement or detachment)
Your ability to breakdown information relies on how active you are in receiving information. Being distracted by a text message, engaged in a side conversation during a presentation, or answering a call while in a meeting distracts your attention and impedes your ability to pick up on nonverbal cues, possibly causing you to miss valuable information. Giving others your undivided attention is a sign of respect, is conducive to building trust in the workplace, and establishes your high level of professionalism.
10. Mismatched verbal and nonverbal cues
Body language is important when speaking and presenting. If you are excited about the content of your presentation, your alert body language, straight posture, and relaxed arms loosely by your side are inviting and convey a matching optimistic attitude. However, if your upbeat voice and positive words communicate excitement, but your slouched body seated in a chair and crossed arms show anger, the audience may misinterpret your message and become confused.
Strategies to overcome barriers to communication in the workplace
Consider the following tips to address communication barriers at work and help you improve communication at work.
- Be fully present. It takes concentration and practice to focus on others’ ideas with an open mind. Withhold any assumptions about the information being shared with you as you listen. Listen attentively and wait until later to provide feedback.
- Be specific in your information. Share pertinent details succinctly to make information easy to understand and remember. Be concise and give others the opportunity to ask clarifying questions to make the exchange of information dynamic.
- Use words and a tone that convey confidence. Work on eliminating words like, “um, like,” and “ah” and phrases such as, “I think that” which don’t add to the information and may distract your audience. Instead, consider using properly timed pauses when talking to give yourself an opportunity to collect your thoughts and others a chance to reflect on what you said and to respond if needed. Your voice should be optimistic, and language should vary in speed to reflect enthusiasm.
- Encourage questions. Be inviting and prompt others you communicate with consistently to ask questions. This helps you see different perspectives and can lead to the understanding and discovery of ways to avoid communication pitfalls in the future. Through an open dialogue, you can also learn about differing communication styles in your workplace and adjust your methods to meet the needs of all.
- Mirror others. Active listeners give nonverbal cues when conversing with others as visual indicators of attentive listening. Maintain eye contact, keep your electronic devices stored away and out of your hands, smile, nod to show understanding, and stand facing the other individual if possible to show interest. Mirroring someone else’s body language, such as laughing when they laugh, smiling in response to a grin, or using similar hand gestures show empathy, a skill crucial to building rapport among coworkers.
- Wait for your turn to talk. The strongest communicators spend more time listening than they do speaking. Absorb the information completely before responding and repeat or summarize the major points made by others. These steps allow to others clarify misunderstanding and provides an opportunity for your to add to their points and give a thoughtful response.
Maintaining effective communication in the workplace builds a positive workplace environment, improves productivity, and enables effective teamwork. You can overcome barriers to communication in the workplace by understanding them and implementing effective communication strategies to create a productive atmosphere and facilitate in the sharing of information among coworkers.