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Barriers to Effective Communication at Work

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Although all of us have been communicating with others since early childhood, the process of transmitting information from an individual or group to another is a very complex process with many sources of potential error. By the time a message gets from a sender to a receiver, there are four basic places where transmission errors can occur and at each place, there are multitudes of potential sources of error. Social psychologists estimate that there is usually a 40-60% loss of meaning in the transmission of messages from sender to receiver. People in organizations typically spend over 75% of their time in an interpersonal situation.  Therefore, it is no surprise to find that at the root of a large number of organizational problems is poor communications. In a work setting, interactions involve people who often do not have years of experience communicating with each other. These interactions are further complicated by the complex relationships that exist at work.

It is critical to understand, and be aware of, the potential sources of communication barriers and constantly avoid these barriers by making a conscientious effort to make sure there is a minimal loss of meaning in your communication. The following will suggest a number of barriers to effective communication at work:

  • The choice of words or language which a sender uses (called 'encoding the message') will influence the quality of communication. In the English language, there are about 500 basic words that are used everyday. These 500 words have over 10,000 different meanings. Because language is a symbolic representation of a phenomenon, room for interpretation and distortion of the meaning exists.
  • Misreading body language, tone, and other non-verbal forms of communication
  • Ignoring non-verbal language
  • Selective hearing
  • Hesitation to be candid
  • Distrust
  • Value judgment
  • Power struggles
  • Unreliable transmission (due to noise or inconsistent sending)
  • Defensiveness (a typical barrier in a work situation, especially when negative information or criticism is involved)
  • Distorted perception - How we perceive communication is effected by experiences. Perception is also effected by the organizational relationship two people have. For example, communication from a superior may be perceived differently than from a subordinate or peer.
  • Guilt
  • Distortions from the past
  • Stereotyping - assuming the other person has certain characteristics based on the group to which they belong without validating that they in fact have these characteristics
  • Cultural differences - Effective communication requires deciphering the basic values, motives, aspirations, and assumptions that operate across geographical lines. Given some dramatic differences across cultures, the opportunities for miscommunication in cross-cultural situations are enormous.

What are the barriers to effective communication you need to overcome? How will you overcome these barriers in order to achieve success? How will you encourage others to be aware of barriers and work to overcome them in order to build and maintain effective communication within your organization? Answering these questions will begin the process of overcoming communication barriers.

Effective communication is an essential component of organizational success whether it is at the interpersonal, intergroup, intragroup, organizational, or external levels.

By:  Martha N. Jenkins

© 2007 Alliance Training and Consulting, Inc.


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