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Barriers to communication

Describe common barriers to effective communication.

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Communication is a two-way street.

Communication is the sharing or exchange of thought by oral, written, or nonverbal means… the sender has an idea, which he transmits to the receiver through signs and physical sensations capable of being perceived by another.… The receiver takes those signs, interprets them and then reacts with feedback.

It requires understanding between two or more people.   When communication is achieved several things must occur.  Communication due to technology has expanded in the last decade: texting, cell phones, and email.  These technological advances have broadened the definition for communication. 

Effective communication requires thinking skills.  What is being said must be enhanced by how and where the message is communicated.  Any interference in these three areas prevents complete communication. In addition, it is necessary for the receiver of the message to be a good listener.  Without this skill, communication is impossible.

What are the barriers that might prevent successful communication?

  1. Distractions during the communication
  • Excessive noise, overstimulation
  • The area in which the communication may not be conducive to effective communication

   2.  Lack of motivation to listen

  • The topic may not be of interest to the other communicator
  • Uninvolved listener

   3.  Disagreement with the other communicator

  • Shutting down because of anger or frustration

   4.   Lack of knowledge

  • Talking about a subject that the speaker does not have enough information to successful convey his message
  • Getting off the subject and rambling
  • Listening without responding
  • Passive listening

    5. Outward forces preventing communication

    6. Acceptance that everyone may not have the same perception   

    7. There may be gender barriers; ethnic barriers; and racial barriers. 

  • These must be considered in choosing the right approach in communicating ideas.

     8. Lack of reflective listening

  • Cell phone ringing; individua comfort; too hot or too cold; hungry or thirsty; prior commitments
  • Not letting the other person know that you understand what they are saying
  • Not using non-verbal communication [nodding head, eye contact]

All of these barriers can be easily overcome with practice, awareness, and the desire to improve communication skills.

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In addition to the many on-point explanations for communication failure listed above, there are also often instances of poor language skills getting in the way of clear and/or accurate communication.

We see this in written communication as well as spoken communication when terms or phrases are used incorrectly, applied out of context, or otherwise employed where they shouldn't be. 

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The biggest barrier to effective communication is culture.  Culture can be connected to country, language, or age.  However, lack of a common language is not the only barrier to communication.  You can know a language and not know a culture.  People who share a common culture will understand each other much better than two people who do not.  You can try to understand another person’s culture, but it will not be easy.

[Two] people could get the same message but interpret it in two entirely different ways simply because their frames of reference and language differ. (wordpress)

Part of culture is not just want is said, but what isn’t.  It is the unwritten rules of a group.  It is custom and tradition and expectation.  If you live among a group, or have someone helping you to act appropriately, you will be better off.

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People who are entrenched in opposing ideological positions often struggle to communicate with each other. They can be based on assumptions and outlooks that are mutually exclusive, making it difficult to find common ground. Many have argued that the modern left and right in American politics have reached precisely this impasse today. They are each inclined to view political issues from a position that their opponents do not share, and so they struggle to imagine what a middle ground might be. 

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The most common barrier to communication is called noise. In most collegiate speech and communication classes, noise is defined in a number of ways.

  1. Physical noise: distractions caused by outside sources that physically prevent hearing or listening (can be auditory or visual)
  2. Physiological noise: distractions to the listener caused by how he/she feels or thinks (ie: hunger, headache, tiredness)
  3. Psychological noise: distractions within the listener that prevent reception of a message (ie: preoccupation with other thoughts, stress, or preconceived ideas)
  4. Semantic noise: misinterpretation of a message caused by a complete misunderstanding of the words themselves, grammar, or speech patterns (ie: language barriers, cultural barriers, figures of speech)
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Another common barrier to communication is the tendency of many people to focus more on what they are going to say next than on what is being said to them.  It's about learning to be a good listener, not just about being a good talker.  Try noticing yourself next time you are in a conversation.  Are you really listening?  Or are you planning what to say next?  Is the other person really listening to you, or is he or she doing the same thing?  If you listen actively, for example, by restating what the person says, to make sure you understand it, you will become a better listener, which is at least halfway on the path of good communication. 

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Perhaps the most common barrier to true communication is when the people who are trying to communicate with one another have very different basic assumptions.  This could occur when the two people come from different cultures.  They could be from different countries or they could be from different cultures within the same country.  Either way, if they come from cultures that are too different, they may not understand the basic assumptions that underlie what the other is saying.  They may understand the words individually, but they may not really understand what the other is trying to say.  This would severely impede communication. 

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