Barriers to Business Communication

Communication is fruitful only if messages sent by the sender are interpreted with the same meaning by the receiver. If any kind of disturbance blocks any step of communication, the message will be destroyed. Due to such disturbances, managers in an organization face severe problems. Thus managers must locate such barriers and take steps to get rid of them.

There are several barriers that affect the flow of communication in an organization. The main of them are summarized below.

1. Perceptual differences. Perception is how each individual interprets the world around him. Differences in perception arise among people. Physiological features of the individual and differences in our senses contribute to them. Past experiences, including those dependent on our cultures, also affect our perceptions. Finally, our current circumstances and our present feelings influence our perceptions.

All individuals generally want to receive messages which are significant to them. But any message which is against their values is not accepted. One and the same event may be taken differently by different individuals. For example: a person is on leave for a month due to personal reasons (a family member being critical). The HR Manager might be in confusion whether to retain that employee or not, the immediate manager might think of replacement because the teams productivity is being hampered, the family members might take him as an emotional support.

2. Language differences. Words as the sender understands them are combined with the perceptions of those words by the receiver. Language represents only part of the whole. We fill in the rest with perceptions. Trying to understand a foreign language easily demonstrates words not being reality. The green goose may be a trailer painted red long after it was given the name green goose. A brassy day may say much about temperature and little about color.

The same word may mean different things to different individuals. For example: consider a word value.

a. What is thevalue of this laptop?

b. Do you value our relation?

c. What is the value of learning psychological skills?

3. Muddled messages are a barrier to communication because they fail to reflect the intent of the sender and the receiver is left confused. An instance is this muddled newspaper ad, which reads: "Dog for sale. Will eat anything. Especially likes children. Call 888-3599 for more information. Obviously, it is likely to cause confusion. The only way to avoid confusion is feedback from the receiver seeking clarity from the sender.

4. Wrong channel. In choosing a channel, the sender needs to be sensitive to such things as the complexity of the communication; the consequences of misunderstanding; knowledge, skills and abilities of the receiver; and immediacy of action to be taken from the message.

5. Lack of feedback. Feedback is the mirror of communication. Feedback mirrors what the sender has sent. Without feedback, communication is one-way. Feedback happens in a variety of ways. It may be as subtle as a stare, a puzzled look, a nod, or failure to ask any questions after complicated instructions have been given. Both sender and receiver can play an active role in using feedback to make communication truly two-way.

6. Poor listening skills. At times we just not listen, but only hear. For example a traveler may pay attention to one NO PARKING sign, but if such sign is put all over the city, he no longer pays attention to it. Similarly if a superior is engrossed in his paper work and his subordinate explains him a problem, the superior may not get what he is saying which leads to disappointment of the subordinate.

One important listening skill is to be prepared to listen. Tune out thoughts about other people and other problems. Search for meaning in what the person is saying. A mental outline or summary of key thoughts can be very helpful. Avoid interrupting the speaker. Withhold evaluation and judgment until the other person has finished with the message.

7. Interruptions. No matter the cause, interruptions are a barrier to communication. In the extreme, there is a reluctance of employees even to attempt discussion with the manager because of the near certainty that the conversation will be interrupted. Less extreme but nevertheless serious is the problem of incomplete instructions because someone came by with a pressing question.

8. Physical distractions are the physical things that get in the way of communication. Examples of such things include the telephone, an uncomfortable meeting place, poor lightning, unhygienic room, and noise. Noise is a physical distraction simply because it is hard to concentrate on a conversation if hearing is difficult.

9. Stereotyping is a natural function of the human mind, aimed to simplify the complex reality and make our body and mind develop automatic responses to similar stimuli. Stereotyping refers to forming an instant or fixed picture of a group of people, usually based on limited or incomplete information. Stereotypes frequently result from or lead to prejudices, negative opinions about others. Prejudices based on oversimplification of people into narrow, negative stereotypes can have tragic consequences such as discrimination and violence.

10. Time pressures. Often in an organization the targets have to be achieved within a specified time period, the failure of which has adverse consequences. In a haste to meet deadlines, the formal channels of communication are shortened, or messages are partially given, i.e., not completely transferred. Thus, sufficient time should be given for effective communication.

11. Emotions. Emotional state at a particular point of time also affects communication. If the receiver feels that communicator is angry, he interprets that the information being sent is very bad. If the communicator is happy and jovial, the message is interpreted to be good and interesting.



2.Match the beginnings and endings of the following sentences:

Both sender and receiver can A the process of selecting, organizing, and interpreting sensory data in a way that enables us to make sense of our world.
Communication is fruitful only if B they fail to reflect the intent of the sender and the receiver is left confused.
If the communicator is happy and jovial, C the perceptions of those words by the receiver.
Muddled messages are a barrier to communication because D a natural function of the human mind, aimed to simplify the complex reality and make our body and mind develop automatic responses to similar stimuli.
Perception is E because of the near certainty that the conversation will be interrupted.
Physical distractions are F messages sent by the sender are interpreted with the same meaning by the receiver.
Stereotyping is G the formal channels of communication are shortened, or messages are only partially given.
There is a reluctance of employees even to attempt discussion with the manager H play an active role in using feedback to make communication truly two-way.
Under time pressure, I the physical things that get in the way of communication.
Words as the sender understands them are combined with J the message is interpreted to be good and interesting.  



3.Answer the questions to the text:


1) Why do people tend to interpret the world around them differently?

2) What factors cause differences in perception among individuals?

3) Why language differences can be a barrier to communication?

4) Why is it important to avoid muddled messages in communication?

5) What factors must a sender be sensitive to in order to choose the right channel of communication?

6) Why is it important for communicators to use feedback actively?

7) What things can be recommended to people who would like to improve their listening skills?

8) What physical distractions can impede communication?

9) What does stereotyping refer to? Why can it be negative for communication?

10) Why should sufficient time be given for effective communication?

11) How can emotional state of the receiver and sender affect communication?



4. Read the following statements and say whether you agree with them or not. Ground your view. What communication problems do the statements highlight?


1) We never really come into direct contact with reality. Instead, everything we experience is manufactured by the nervous system. (William Haney, communication expert)

2) People who stereotype are lazy perceivers and often ineffective communicators.

3) Whatever we call a thing, whatever we say it is, it is not. For whatever we say is words, and words are words and not things. The words are maps, and the map is not the territory. (Harry L. Weinberg)

4) Words, like eyeglasses, blur everything that they do not make clearer. (Joseph Joubert)

5) If you cry Forward! you must be sure to make clear the direction in which to go. Dont you see that if you fail to do that and simply call out the word to a monk and a revolutionary, they will go in precisely opposite directions? (Anton Chekhov)

6) Knowing how to listen takes more than two good ears. (Sperry Corporation)

7) If, to people, crickets appear to hear with their legs, it is possible that to crickets, people appear to walk on their ears.

8) I cant help hearing, but I dont always listen. (George Burns)

9) A smile is the shortest distance between two people.

5. What communication problems do the following pieces of literature depict? Have you ever made the same mistakes in communication? Describe experiences from your own life when you made similar mistakes and make up the dialogues which demonstrate them. What should people do if they want to avoid these mistakes?


John Godfrey Saxe

It was six men of Indostan

To learning much inclined

Who went to see the Elephant

(Though all of them were blind),

That each by observation

Might satisfy his mind.


The First approached the Elephant,

And happening to fall

Against his broad and sturdy side,

At once began to bawl:

God bless me! but the Elephant

Is very like a wall.


The Second, feeling of the tusk

Cried, Ho! what have we here

So very round and smooth and sharp?

To me tis very clear

This wonder of an Elephant

Is very like a spear.


The Third approached the animal

And, happening to take

The squirming trunk within his hands

Thus boldly up he spake:

I see, quoth he, the Elephant

Is very like a snake!


The Fourth reached out an eager hand,

And felt about the knee:

What most this wondrous beast is like

Is very plain, quoth he;

Tis clear enough the Elephant

Is very like a tree!


The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,

Said: Een the blindest man

Can tell what this resembles most;

Deny the fact who can

This marvel of an Elephant

Is very like a fan!


The Sixth no sooner had begun

About the beast to grope

Than seizing on the swinging tail

That fell within his scope:

I see, quoth he, the Elephant

Is very like a rope!


And so these men of Indostan

Disputed loud and long,

Each in his own opinion

Exceeding stiff and strong.

Though each was partly in the right,

They all were in the wrong!


2) In Lewis Carolls Alice in Wonderland, Humpty Dumpty and Alice have the following conversation:


I dont know what you mean by glory, Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously, Of course you dont till I tell you. I meant, Theres a nice knock-down argument for you!

But glory doesnt mean A nice knock-down argument, Alice objected.

When I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, it means just what I choose it to mean neither more nor less.



- I have something to tell you.

- Im listening.

- Im dying.

- Im sorry to hear.

- Im getting old.

- Its terrible.

- It is, I thought you should know.

- Of course, and Im sorry. Keep in touch.

- I will. And you too.

- And let me know whats new.

- Certainly, though it cant be much.

- And stay well.

- And you too.

- And go slow.

- And you, too.


6.There are several comments which students made after reading the pieces of literature from task 5. Do you agree with them or not? Give your explanations.


1) Each person in The Blind Men and the Elephant assumed that he knew all there was to know about the elephant. Because all of us sometimes succumb to this mistake, our perceptions of others and of the world around us can be as limited as those of these six blind men. Remaining open to new ideas and experiences is important for lifelong learning. We fall victims to this mistake when we close ourselves to new or different information given by others.


2) The mistake made by the six men can impede the development of effective communication. How can we avoid it? We can begin by recognizing that because we can focus on only a portion of a problem or event, we necessarily neglect its other aspects. Another safeguard is to refrain from thinking of ourselves as the center of the world. One more thing we can do is to bear in mind the idea that one can never know everything there is to know about anything. These words remind you that you should not pretend to know it all.


3) In talking to others we often assume too quickly that they understand what we mean. There are, however, many reasons why we may not be understood as we want to be and why the words we use can create barriers. We can make words mean whatever we want them to mean. Nothing stops us except our desire to share meaning with others.


4) The meanings we assign to words are based on our past experiences with the words and with the things they represent. Take the word cancer, for example. If you were dealing with three different people in a hospital a surgeon, a patient, and a statistician how each would react to this word? The surgeon might think about operating procedures, diagnostic techniques, or how to tell a patient that he or she has cancer. The patient might think about the odds for recovery and might well be frightened. The statistician might see cancer as an important factor in life-expectancy tables.


5) It seems to me that it is very important to understand other people when we communicate with them. We can increase our understanding of other people by improving our ability to listen. Listening is far more complicated than simply hearing another person. Hearing requires little if any energy expenditure or involvement on your part. In contrast, listening to understand requires a greater expenditure of energy because you need to ensure that you comprehend what is being said. Listening to help others requires an even greater degree of involvement and energy.


6) Active listening occurs when we are involved and when we have a purpose in listening. Active listening has the total understanding of the other person as its goal. A number of factors interfere with our ability to listen. These factors can be physical distractions, self-focus, egocentrism, stereotypes, time pressures, emotions and others. We can overcome these obstacles and improve our ability to listen to others by focusing on the main ideas, shared meanings and experiences, concentrating on the other person as a source of feelings, thoughts, ideas, and information. We can improve our listening skills by learning to focus our attention while listening and by setting appropriate listening goals.



7. How often do people put on I am listening masks, nod agreement, and utter the appropriate Ohs and I sees, when in reality they are miles away and self-concerned? Make up 2 dialogues which demonstrate and contrast poor and good listening skills of communicators.

8. Read the three quoted descriptions. They can be recognized as explanations of one and the same event, but they vary in all other details. Comment on these differences and explain why the descriptions of the event are not identical.


1) At 8:07 pm on March 7, 2011, a late-model blue sedan was involved in a collision with a lightweight ten-speed bicycle at 2200 College Drive. No one was injured, but the bicycle was damaged.

Police report


2) Did you hear what happened last night? I didnt get all the details, but some instructor ran into a student on a bicycle. Its bad enough that those guys have to flunk us now theyre running over us!

College student

3) I am sorry to report that an unfortunate accident occurred last evening. As a result of our inadequate street lighting, an automobile driven by a student was it in the rear bumper by a faculty member on a bicycle. Luckily, no one was injured, but the front fender on the bicycle was bent.

Dean of the college

9. Think of events/problems that can be viewed differently by people of different professions or belonging to different cultures. Spread the roles among you and describe these events/problems from different angles of view.

10. Discuss with a partner examples from your own lives in which you and another person/other people interpreted the same event differently which led to misunderstanding or breakdown in communication. Identify the differences in perception, suggest reasons for them.

11. Choose any barrier to communication, but dont name it to the class. Make up a dialogue demonstrating how people who make this mistake converse. Perform the dialogue in front of the group and let the students guess what barrier to communication you depict.

1. Read the text and name the measures that can be taken by managers in order to prevent breakdowns in communication.

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