Barriers Mess Up Communication with Coworkers

Communication barriers lower a team’s effectiveness. You need to anticipate them and take evasive action to ensure people get the message you intended to send.

Communication effectiveness is so critical to any leader’s success. Imagine your to-do list for today includes…

  • Giving Jason his performance review.
  • Talking to a department manager whose employees are complaining about unfair treatment.
  • Giving Winnie the information she needs for the RFP.
  • Convincing your boss that you need another team member.

These kinds of activities are all dependent on good communication skills. And when that’s the case, it means your to-do list is also filled with numerous opportunities for error and misinterpretation.

communication barriers
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Communication is hard work. We often assume it’s a simple act of sending an email, leaving a voice message, or stopping by for a quick conversation. And yet our experience reminds us of all the times when things didn’t work out as expected because of a misunderstanding. Why? The problem is barriers.

Common barriers

Whenever there is a difference between the message you intended to send and the one that was actually received, it was blocked or distorted by a barrier. There are plenty of them to be on the watch for. Any of these sound familiar in your recent interactions with coworkers?

  • You make assumptions about what the person intends.
  • Your bias about the message or sender clouds your understanding of the message.
  • Noise prevents you from hearing everything clearly, but you figure you have the “gist” of what the person wanted you to know.
  • You drift in and out of paying attention because you have other, more pressing matters, weighing on your mind.
  • The person accidentally pushes one of your hot buttons, and you fall deep into you own emotional reaction.
  • You just can’t find a reason to care, so don’t pay attention.

Overcome the obstacles

While these are just a few of the barriers that will derail your communication efforts, there are many others. To prevent misunderstanding and increase solid connections; it’s critical to do the following:

  • Be aware of the barriers that exist in any communication situation. Before sending a message ask yourself this simple question, “What might cause the other party to not understand what I intend?”
  • Take whatever action you can to eliminate or minimize those barriers which are within your control.
  • Never assume the message has been accurately received without confirming that to be the case. Check understanding using a back and forth process of feedback with the other party.

Communication is far more difficult than it appears. Recognizing that is an important first step towards becoming a more effective communicator.

By Tom LaForce

Tom LaForce is a speaker, consultant, writer, facilitator and coach. Since 1996 he's helped workplace teams improve performance.