Barriers To Effective Communication

Effective communication implies that the message transmitted by the sender is understood, accepted and acted upon by the receiver for the intended purpose. In actual practice, one or more factors often stand in the way of effective communication. These are obstacles or barriers, which create confusion, misunderstanding and may even lead to breakdown of the communication process. The following types of barriers are commonly found to create problems in organisations.


1)    Multiplicity of Organisational Layers : The structure of organisation often causes messages to be distorted, stopped or absorbed particularly when there are many layers or levels in the hierarchy. In upward communication, the message tends to be distorted as it passes through intermediate levels. Information may be withheld at a particular level or passed on with changes. This is done if it is likely to have the effect of carrying an unfavourable impression to higher levels about the performance of the manager at that level. Downward flow of communication may also be distorted at intermediate levels to suit the convenience or serve the interest of managers concerned. This is known as ‘filtering’ of the message.


2)    Language Barrier : The language used for communicating a message may create problems due to the difficulty of interpreting words or due to lack of clarity of expression. People with different educational and cultural background and intellectual ability may find it hard to understand the message due to jargon used by the sender. In such cases, the same word may be attributed different meanings by the sender and receiver of the message. This is known as the problem of semantics.


3)    Status Barrier : Status relationships in an organisation may also be a serious obstacle to effective communication. People placed in superior and subordinate positions have difference in status on account of their respective ranks in the hierarchy. It is due to the status difference that subordinates often suppress or withhold information which may not be liked by their superiors, or pass on distorted information to please their superiors. No subordinate likes to reveal his mistakes to his superior. Similarly, the status consciousness of the Superior prevents him from fully communicating information which may adversely reflect of his ability or judgement.


4)    Physical Distance as a Barrier : In large organisations, the physical distance between the sender and the receiver of any message may become an obstacle to effective communication. This is because it is difficult to evaluate whether the receiver has understood, accepted and acted on the message sent to him if his workplace is far away from that of the sender.


5)    Emotional and Psychological Barriers : When people have strong attitudes and feelings, they are emotionally affected by messages received which do not conform to their attitudes. Hence, they tend to either reject or refuse to accept such messages. The sender may also distort a message if he feels strongly about it or is under emotional stress at the time. Psychological barriers often arise due to lack of mutual trust and confidence. Similarly when subordinates have a favourable image of the superior they are psychologically more inclined to accept and respond positively to his messages. It does not happen if they have an unfavourable image. The image is built on the basis of experience and interaction between the superior and the subordinate. Any communication which purports to bring about a change in the existing state of affairs also creates psychological barriers since people generally do not like a change particularly when its effects are uncertain.

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