Barriers to Effective Communication: Internal and External

Communication Skills are revered to be the key to success for an individual, a team, an organization, or even in relationships, whether work or personal. And as it happens when you take the car out on the road you are bound to face some bumps and traffic, in a similar way there are barriers that hinder effective communication.

So, what are the barriers of communication?

Simply put, we can categorize barriers of communication as Internal & External. Internal barriers correspond to processes inside of us including our thinking, attitude, and perceptions as well as the way we communicate. And External barriers correspond to processes outside of us that maybe people or environment-related. Let us look at each in detail.

Internal barriers – what goes inside us and how we communicate it

1. Language: to be able to communicate using appropriate words is difficult. Many times, we end up using a lot of jargon or complicated words, sometimes because we are not sure which word will suit most and sometimes to impress the other person. We also need to avoid certain words that are inappropriate in the workplace (Here is a list).

2. Incongruent Thoughts: when some other thoughts come to our mind different than the conversation we are engaging in, it becomes difficult to fully capture what’s going on. This also happens when our thinking or logic does not match with the other person.

3. Emotions: our feelings have a strong influence on us and they come in between effective communication if they overpower us. For example, you may have just been in an argument with your boss and you immediately get on a call with a client, and listening to the client becomes difficult.

4. Beliefs: how we judge things and our beliefs influence and sometimes become a block in our communication. If our beliefs don’t match that of the other person we may end up judging the person more than actually focussing on the here and now.

5. Hierarchy: how the people involved in a discussion and placed in the socio-economic-organizational hierarchy deeply influences the way they communicate and it may also become a barrier. Look at a manager communicating with their leader, with their peers, and with their team, and it will be different with each. We need to keep a watch that it doesn’t become a barrier.

6. Poor listening skills: active listening is a valuable skill and essential for people wanting to grow in their careers. To improve your active listening skills, you can follow my 5 Stage model on active listening skills.

7. Inappropriate body language: to pay attention to someone with our body is also as important as paying attention in our mind. There is a technique called SOLER (learn it here) that will make you instantly more open to listening and make the other person trust you as well.

8. Word vomit: loquacious people like to speak so much that the other person either gets bored or is just waiting for them to shut up. According to research, people spend 60% of their conversations talking about themselves, 80% when chatting on social media.

9. Lack of confidence: low self-esteem or lack of confidence is also another barrier that stops us from openly sharing our views and opinions or express our feelings with others.

10. Trust: would you share your personal secrets or feelings with someone you don’t trust? No right! So when we communicate with someone we don’t trust we are likely to have an incomplete or misleading conversation.

If we really see, all of the internal barriers stated above are actually in our control. And by being conscious of how they play to hinder communication we can overcome them.

External barriers – what goes on with other people and environmental factors

1. Trust: Since trust is always both ways, it may be that the other person does not trust you, and thus communicating with them will be difficult. They may not listen to you or believe what you shared.

2. Culture and language a.k.a. Diversity: if the people involved in communicating with each other belong to different cultures, have diverse backgrounds, or speak different languages it will surely be a difficult task of understanding each other.

3. Noise: external noise from traffic, machinery, or public chatter can be a big hindrance to effectively communicating with someone.

4. Technology: poor signal on the phone, disturbances, or voice breaks? While technology is a boon, sometimes it is also another barrier that affects smooth communication between people.

5. Organization structures: if your organization's communication structures are not supportive of open and direct communication it is less likely that you will also engage in one. It is important for organizations to create systems that support open communication among employees and co-workers.

If we really see all these external barriers can also be overcome with simple actions on the part of all parties involved. It is only a matter of making the effort to remove these barriers.

Please do share if you have any more barriers that affect the way we communicate with others.

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