Types of communication barriers


Barriers to communication arise from a variety of sources such as complex organizational structure, sue of ambiguous words, perceptual differences of sender and receiver, status difference etc. Theo Haimann has classified the main barriers to communication into four major groups. These are:

  • Barriers caused by organizational structure.
  • Barriers caused by status or positions.
  • Barriers caused by language.
  • Barriers resulting from the general inclination to resist change.

McFarland has classified the communication barriers into the following four groups:

  • Unsound objectives
  • Organizational blocks
  • Semantic blocks
  • Human relations problems

Ricky W. Griffin has classified the communication barriers into two broad groups such as (a) Individual barriers and (b) Organizational barriers.

For convenience of discussion we can classify the barriers to communication in the following four categories:

  • Organizational barriers
  • Individual barriers
  • Semantic barrier
  • Other barriers

These four categories of communication barriers are shown in the following diagram:

Types of communication barriers

Types of communication barriers

  1. Organizational barriers: The barriers that generate form within the organization are known as organizational barriers may be of the following types:
    • Negative organizational climate: The main aspect of organizational climate that acts as communication barrier is the negative attitude of top management. Negative attitude of top management discourages communication initiative of the employees.
    • Absence of communication policy: Well-designed communication policy encourages communication in the organization. In the absence of such policies, employees fail hesitate to communicate.
    • Excessive authority layers: Excessive authority layers acts as a severe impediment to successful communication. In the case of excessive authority impediment to successful communication. In the case of excessive authority layers, information reaches to its final destination passing through several hierarchical levels. As a result, information may be distorted or lost. Excessive authority layers also causes delay in communication.
    • Filtering: Filtering implies willful distortion of information. This problem usually arise in upward communication. In upward communication, employees tend to pass only those messages that create positive impression about them.
  2. Individual Barriers: Barriers created by the sender and receiver are known as individual barriers. Such barriers include the following:
    • Differences in personality: Personality is the set of attributes that define a person. Every person holds a distinct personality. This individual nature of personality acts as barrier to communication.
    • Perceptual differences: Perception is the unique way in which people respond or interpret an object. Difference in perception is a very common problem in effective communication. It for example, a subscriber of BTTB’s land phone in Bangladesh may positively react to the government’s move to privatize BTTB expecting a better service. But an employee of BTTB might view this as step to cut jobs and retrench existing employees.
    • Fear: Fear of reprisal or attack, fear of criticism for knowing very little etc. may create problem in communication.
    • Stereotyping: Stereotyping is generalizing about a class of people or events that is widely held by a given culture. In case of stereotyping, people develop communication statements and mindsets about others. This orientation exposes itself in such statements and mindsets. For example, “All used car salesmen are dishonest,” or “All foreign recruiting agents are liars.” Such all inclusive perceptions not only are seldom correct but they also block mental activity that is necessary for successful communication.
    • Halo Effect: The halo effect is the tendency to use a general impression based on one or a few characteristics to judge other characteristics of that same individual. For example, a manger might identify one trait of an employee, such as an excellent attendance record, and perceive that the employee’s productivity and quality of work must also be outstanding.
    • Inattention: Sometimes communication does not reach due to the inattention of the receiver. Such inattention may result from busyness, lack of interest about subject, suffering from disease or family problem etc.
  3. Language or Semantic Barrier: A common barrier to effective communication is semantic distortion, which can be deliberate or accidental. Semantic problem arises when words and symbols have different meanings for different people that lead to a misunderstanding. For examples, an advertisement states, “we sell for less.” It is ambiguous and raises the question: less than what? In another case, during meeting, a male colleague said to one of his female colleague, “Why don’t you dye it?” meaning her hair. The female colleague thought he said, “Why don’t you diet?” she did not speak to him for a month. Semantic barrier presents difficult challenge when people from different cultures communicate with each other.
  4. Other Barriers: The following factors also act as the barrier to effective communication:
    • Information Overload: Information overload may also be a problem of effective communication. Information overload is the situation when a person is given too much information at a time.
    • Faulty expression: Faulty expression of message fails to convey exact meaning to the receiver. It happens due to lack of clarity, use of vague terms, badly expressed information, improper organization of ideas etc.
    • Status or power difference: Communication problem may arise when people of different power or status try to communicate with each other. For example, the manger of a company may neglect suggestion from his subordinates simply because of difference in their status. This under treatment of people makes the communication ineffective.
    • Negative attitudes to change: Some people always resist any kind of change in the organization. They think that ‘old is good, and are fearful about the changes. Therefore, they create problems in communication through inattention, false interpretation, rumor, resistance and non-cooperation.
    • Noise: Environment factors may also disrupt effective communication. One such factor is noise. For example, in oral communication, noise hiders smooth flow of information or message. In factories, loud noise of machines makes oral communication very difficult.
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