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Internal and External Barriers to Effective Communication: And how to overcome them!

Communication Skills are revered to be the key to success.

It is true for an individual, teams, organizations, and relationships. Over time you can improve your skill to communicate and leave an impression on everyone you interact with. However, 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 to communication? And how to overcome them?

Simply put, we can categorize barriers to communication as Internal & External.

Internal barriers correspond to hindrances inside of us, including our thinking, attitude, perceptions, as well as the way we communicate.

External barriers correspond to hindrances outside of us, including people and environment-related. Let us look at each in detail.

Internal barriers – and how they affect communication

1. Incongruent Thoughts: when some other thoughts come to our mind different than the conversation we are engaging in, it becomes difficult to be fully present. This also happens when our thinking or logic does not match with the other person. For example, daydreaming about the next holiday while in a meeting.

How to overcome: Be present. Paraphrase what the other person said. Ask questions to understand better.

2. 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.

How to overcome: Empathise (detailed meaning here). Rather than focus on your emotions focus on the emotions of the person you are talking to. You will be surprised how connected they will feel with you.

3. 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 focusing on what they say. For example, you believe in flexibility and the other person believes in punctuality. They expect you to adhere to strict timings however you like to focus on output than on the time you enter the office.

How to overcome: You need not challenge your own beliefs. However, you need to acknowledge that all of us come with our own set of beliefs. Try to meet mid-way with the other person.
Like in the above example of punctuality and flexibility you may ask the other person by when they expect the work to be completed, and you can commit to delivering it by that time.

4. Personal Values: A manager communicating with their manager might be different than when they talk to their peers, and even with their team. So for this manager "Respect for Hierarchy" may be a personal value. It may be of benefit however, it may also be a barrier to communication. This manager might be less receptive to ideas coming from the team members. Similarly, find out which of your personal values sometimes become a barrier to effective communication

How to overcome: Align your and others' values. Not all of us have the same set of personal values and neither do we need to. At the same time if they are coming in the way of your success then you definitely need to re-align some of them.

5. Poor listening skills: If you find yourself mostly distracted or half-listening in a conversation you are in for a lot of miscommunication. Active listening is a valuable skill and essential for people wanting to communicate effectively and further grow in their careers. 

How to overcome: To improve your active listening skills, you can practice our 5 Stage model on active listening skills.

6. Inappropriate body language: Paying attention to someone with our body is also as important as paying attention to our mind. There is a famous saying, look at the feet of the person when they are talking to you. If the feet are pointed towards you they are interested, if they are pointing away they want to end this conversation soon. 

How to overcome: 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.

7. 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, and 80% when chatting on social media.

How to overcome: Be concise and practice brevity. Avoid certain words and phrases inappropriate at the workplace.

8. 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 expressing our feelings with others. Even though you might know what to say, low confidence stops you from doing so and thus makes you miss out on an opportunity to impress and impact others.

How to overcome: Practice. Practice. Practice. In front of the mirror, with a friend or colleague. The more you communicate the better you get and the more confident you become.

9. 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.

How to overcome: Define trust for yourself. How much are you comfortable sharing? How much more can you share? How valuable is the relationship with this person? How important is the task at hand? Answers to these questions can help you decide the level of trust you need to practice.

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.

How to overcome: Project trustworthiness. Help them out in a situation of need. Reciprocate favors that they extend to you. Over time you can cultivate that trust.

2. Culture and 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.

How to overcome: Appreciate diversity. Diverse teams perform better and innovate more. Learn more about how diversity can be beneficial.

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

How to overcome: Plan the location in advance. Inform people around you when you have an important discussion scheduled.

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.

How to overcome: Invest in good equipment. Try it out beforehand with someone as a mock run or practice.

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.

How to overcome: Create a solution around the system. For e.g. if email documentation is mandated, try calling/meeting the person once and clarifying all points before putting it in the mail. It will tremendously increase your impact.

6. Language: One of the most common barriers is establishing a common language. If there is a language barrier then either both parties switch to a common language or bring in an interpreter. 

How to overcome: Ultra short-term - switch to the most comfortable common language. Short-term - find an interpreter. Long-term - learn the language!

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 communication.

Do share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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