The 10 barriers to good communication - hints and tips for managers

Dramatically improve your Communication Skills by understanding the Ten (10) most important barriers to Effective Communication.
Effective communication is essential for everyone. No matter your career level you have to communicate effectively to achieve your objectives. stakeholdermap.com
Poor communication leads to conflict. Employees may feel they are being 'kept in the dark'. Managers who delegate work may find that the work is not completed. Leaders may feel they are leading only to find that one is following – nobody 'gets it'.

In the workplace emails increase the risk of poor communication, because they don't include the non-verbal cues that that we pick up through tone and body language.

Before we look at the top 10 communication blockers, let me illustrate the Communication Process so you can see how important it is to review communication barriers.

The Communication Process

effective communication - the communication process

What is communication?

Communication is simply the process of encoding and decoding of a message. The quality of the encoding and decoding will depend on the skills, attitudes, experience, culture and context of both the sender and receiver. The message itself may be impacted by 'certain barriers' like: noise, internet access, technology failure and so on.

What are the Top 10 Barriers to Effective Communication?

The main barriers impacting all communications are noise, access to appropriate communication channels, office 'norms' or culture, emotions and time/overload. Some additional barriers also apply when using written communication. Here are the top 10:

1. Noise and/or lack of quiet space to plan and communicate

Noise in the office (even in our home offices) is an obvious barrier, but is often accepted as inevitable, particularly in open plan offices. Make sure you have a quiet space where you can plan you communications.

Some companies provide small meeting rooms for one to one meetings or important phone calls. When writing important messages consider using headphones and listening to 'white noise', so you can block out distractions.

Broadband is available over an ever widening area, and free wifi is becoming the norm. If you can't think because the loud sales guy is marching up and down the office on his hands free, why not pop down to the local cafe and use their wifi?

2. Office culture or 'norms' resulting in over use of one or two communication channels

Today there are many fast and effective ways to communicate, face-to-face calls are possible on most mobile phones, screen sharing can be arranged across continents, and videos can be created in minutes.

Despite the many different channels available to us office culture can still be a huge barrier to effective communication. For example, many offices rely heavily on email, because it is seen as a way of getting 'things in writing'. Emails are 'copied to the world' making it unclear who needs to act on the message and resulting in long email trails.

BY THE WAY If you are copying in your boss 'for awareness' don't expect them to read every or any of your emails. In all likelihood they will group your messages and 'delete all'. If you are very lucky they might read the latest message, but if they don't have a clear action don't for a second assume they are taking an interest - they don't have time.

Often long emails or written documents are still used to send instructions, or explain complex processes when a video or screen recording would be clearer and quicker way of getting the message across.

TIP: If you need someone to take action quickly call them or use an instant messenging tool. Even an email flagged high priority and with a subject line of URGENT might not be picked up as soon as you need it to be.

3. Negative emotions block the message

Emotions can sometimes lead us to use a less effective method of communication. For example, fear of a person's reaction may tempt us to send an email when a call phone would be better. Emotions can also become a barrier to listening and understanding, people literally can't think when they are in a state of anger or fear.

When you are planning a communication think about how the receiver(s) might be feeling. In other words consider what emotional state might they be in or might be triggered by your message.

4. Time constraints 'I was short of time, so I dashed it off without thinking'

Overload or time constraints can lead to a lack of planning and in heat of the moment sending communications that are not well-written or well thought out. This leads us to the remaining barriers in our top ten - the barriers to written communication.

5. Poor grammar and punctuation.

Poor grammar and punctuation can make the meaning of a sentence unclear or even render it meaningless. For example:

"Please do not drink, eat, or discard diapers in exam rooms."

"Please use caution when hunting pedestrians using walk trails."

6. Poor translation

Bad translations can be confusing and often funny, but they can also be offensive obilterating the original intention of the message.

For example, HSBC's catchphrase "Assume Nothing" was mistranslated in some countries as "Do Nothing". The bank had to spend $10 million dollars on a rebrand (mentalfloss.com).

7. Use of jargon

Jargon refers to complex words or expressions used by a profession or group that are difficult for others to understand. Often jargon can be replaced with simpler language without losing meaning. For example:
  • in accordance with (under, keeping to)
  • in excess of (more than)
  • forward (send)
  • consequently (so)
  • per annum (a year)
  • in respect of (for)
  • on receipt (when we/you get)
For more examples see How to write in plain English and 150 Business Jargon Fixes.

8. Use of slang

Slang is informal language which is blocker to effective communication because it is often restricted to a particular context or group of people.

9. Long sentences and passive sentences

Long sentences are hard to read, which makes it harder for your message to be understood. The Plain English Campaign recommend 15 to 20 words, with one main idea, and perhaps one other related point.

In a passive sentence the 'subject does not perform the action on the verb' (grammar-monster.com). In other words, passive sentences look like this:

"B was done to A".

Active sentences are shorter, simpler and easier to read because they look like this:

"A did B.".

10. Avoiding 'you' and 'we'

For some reason we often prefer indirect language when we are work. It feels more 'official', and it can be a way of distancing ourselves from the message.

For example, we will often refer to our company's name rather than simply using 'we'

'Acme company will write to you' rather than 'we will write to you'.

and

'Customers will need to verify their accounts they will be locked out'.

Here 'You' and 'your' could be used rather than 'customers' and 'their'. It is more direct so more people will verify their accounts.

How to ensure effective communication

Now you know the top barriers to communication, how do you ensure your communications are effective?

Most importantly, plan your communication, think about the audience, the message you want to send and the outcome that you want. Ask yourself the following questions before communicating:

  • Why do I need to communicate?
  • What do I want to say?
  • Who is my audience?
  • What is the best method of communication to use?
  • When is the best time to communicate?
  • Where is the best place to communicate?
Try to follow the basic principles of communication strive for:
  • accuracy,
  • clarity,
  • completeness,
Remember to be:
  • concise,
  • courteous,
  • and stick to the facts.
Try to select a method of communication that is suited to the situation bearing in mind clarity, speed, cost effectiveness and the attitudes of the receiver. For example long emails giving instructions or detailing new procedures tend to be marked 'read later' and are never read. Better to send a short email with a user guide attached which sets out step by step instructions using images, bullets a numbering were appropriate.

References

Okrent, A. February 16, 2016. mentalfloss.com, 9 Little Translation Mistakes that Caused Big Problems. Available at https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/48795/9-little-translation-mistakes-caused-big-problems

Grammar Monster, What is a Passive Sentence? (with examples). Available at: https://www.grammar-monster.com/glossary/passive_sentences.htm

The Plain English Campaign, How to Write in Plain English. Available at: http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/files/howto.pdf

Straight North, 150 Business Jargon Fixes. Available at: https://www.straightnorth.com/company/marketing-resources/150-business-jargon-fixes/

Effective Communication - Further reading

Brainstorming

Finding a New Job Mind Map

How to Delegate

Managing and Motivating Teams

Here are our top ten tips for your next online team meeting!

How to smash any job interview question using STAR - a how to guide