Barriers to Communication
Communication is a process that covers six different steps involving among others, encoding, decoding and transmission. For ensuring effective communication, all the parties and instruments will have to play their part as envisaged. At every stage of the communication process, however, there are barriers, which hinder or dilute the flow of communication.
The barriers to communication in an organizational context may arise out of authority structure, status difference, reporting relationships, culture and background of individuals. The barriers to communication may arise out of behavioral differences, differences in skills and understanding as well as physical factors. While some kind of barriers like behavioral differences and differences in skills may be commonly applicable to all methods of communication, barriers arising out of physical factors may be specific to the method of communication adopted.
Some barriers, which are specific to written communication, are handwriting, spelling and legibility. Similarly, barriers to oral communication would include absence of felicity of expression, accent, speed of delivery and appropriateness of the language.
The power of expression, of the communicator determines the quality of communication. To be effective, the message has to be properly developed from an idea. Barriers relating to expression result in poorly expressed messages. Lack of conceptual skills results in inadequate or incomplete shaping of the idea. Lack of clarity and ambiguity result from limited word power, improper organization of ideas and lack of coherence.
If the words and thoughts are not organized properly, the communication would suffer for want of structural balance or a sense of proportion. Obviously, such poor expression of thoughts and ideas leads to incorrect, incomplete and incoherent messages. All this would result in avoidable errors and seeking of further clarifications, adding to costs and delays in communication. Encoding and decoding require skill to ensure clarity and precision. Poor expression is likely to occur under the following circumstances:
- When a person is ill
- When a person is fatigued
- When a person is under severe stress
- When a person is under the influence of alcohol
These are true for both oral and written communication
The process of transmission, essential for any communication, is susceptible to errors of omission and commission. In the organizational context, the person transmitting the message may be different from the person who conceived the idea. The intent and purpose of the message may not remain the same as it moves from the originator to the transmitter.
Not only that, the person transmitting the message may bring in his own bias, feelings and perceptions, which the originator of the message would not have intended. Or else, there may be occasions when the originator of the idea expects the transmitter to detail, illustrate and elucidate the idea, which the latter may fail to do.
Indifference and Lack of Interest
Indifference and lack of interest is indeed a very strong barrier in the process of communication. Organizations have to make considerable effort to ensure that indifference to organizational communication is brought down to the minimum. Communication, to be effective, presupposes that the receiver of the message is also attentive or receptive.
Attentive listening in oral communication, careful reading in written communication and keen observation in non-verbal communication are a must. Indifference or lack of interest on the part of the recipient, in turn, adversely impacts the enthusiasm of the communicator. When the students are not attentive, the teacher is likely to lose interest.
On the other hand, when the speaker lacks expertise or credibility, the receptivity of the audience wanes. Indifference and lack of interest creates barriers to communication, as a result of which the quality of communication suffers. The intended message is either not received at all or is incomplete and, worse still, is understood incorrectly.
Noise is yet another barrier, especially relevant to verbal communication. Noise disturbs the flow of communication. The recipient fails to receive the oral messages sent by the communicator, as a result of which the message gets diluted. While noise certainly affects oral communication, it may also affect written communication to the extent that the person writing a letter or a report may lose his concentration and consequently his flow of thoughts may suffer.
The process of communication, especially the transmission of messages, makes use of numerous channels, instruments and gadgets such as telephone, microphone, projector, printing, photocopying, telex, fax, radio, film and digital data such as CD and DVDs. All these are very useful when they function smoothly. At the same time, they act as barriers when they fail to perform their functions efficiently.
As a result, communication fails to reach the target audience. Snapping of telephone lines, non-availability of meeting rooms, failure of multimedia equipment and disturbances of power supply may lead to delays in transmitting the messages to the intended recipients.
The process of communication essentially involves human beings. Like democracy, we may describe communication as of the people, for the people and by the people. Yet, people do not think, understand and interpret alike. In any large organization, especially in multinational ones, there are differences among the employees in terms of the language group, cultural background, rural-urban origin, hierarchical levels, etc. which in turn creates psychological, linguistic and cultural barriers.
Differences in hierarchical positions hove their implications in terms of work structure, authority, status and relationship. In such situations, people may have bias, fear and reticence, which act as barriers to the free flow of communication. All these factors lead to different expectations among people within the organization, as to who should communicate with whom, and in what manner.
Apart from this, the organizational climate has its impact on communication. It is conductive when people are encouraged to speak out and there is free flow of communication. On the other hand, when the organizational climate is disturbed, and when dissenting voices are stifled, barriers emerge.
We have seen in the foregoing paragraphs that there are often numerous barriers to the free flow of communication. Such barriers disturb, or dilute or hinder the process of communication. These barriers may be classified as physical, psychological, linguistic, cultural, and so on. It is worth emphasizing, however, that most barriers are surmountable.
It is possible to anticipate, recognize and foresee the prevalence of barriers, and take appropriate corrective action. With conscious effort, it should be possible to overcome these barriers and ensure free flow of communication on an ongoing basis. This book, in unit ahead, discusses extensively on how to overcome such barriers, whether they relate to oral, written or non-verbal communication, and make communication meaningful and effective.