What are the barriers to business communication?

Any organisation can have serious problems due to a communication gap. These gaps are formed by specific barriers which are thus the major causes of unsuccessful business communication. Exchange of information over a long distance faces various challenges. In the case of complex information, the potential barriers to business communication must be overcome in order to achieve successful communication between two parties. Both the sender and the receiver of communications must understand and gauge the potential threat to communication, and ensure that the barriers are overcome.

These potential barriers may be of two kinds:

  • Barriers found within the receiver or the sender (internal influences)
  • Barriers resulting from external influences

Barriers caused by problems within the two parties (sender and receiver)

Very commonly, internal barriers are caused due to an error in understanding the information, or the situation, the vocabulary or the attitude of the other party. Internal barriers can be divided into 7 categories.

1. Distortion: It is imperative for the sender of a communication to ensure zero distortion caused by the lack of clarity or incorrect framing of a message. Every communication must consider the audience/reader first. Jargon may not be understood by those belonging to a different industry. The receiver may be shy and not request further explanation leading to complete distortion of information. The sender should also avoid sending an overload of information which is difficult for the receiver to accept or absorb. Distortion may also occur when the recipient is not focusing on the information. Due to poor reading/listening skills, a major error may occur in communication. The recipient therefore must acknowledge fault and clarify any gap in communication.

2. Inadequate communication skills: A major communication barrier is created when the sender works with incorrect or zero communication skills. Necessary communication skills are mandatory for effective communication. Incorrect message, or wrong medium of communication, can negatively affect communication.

3. Defective equipment: Both parties involved in communication must ensure proper functioning of the device being used for communication. One must ensure that the phone is receiving a signal for an effective call, that the fax machine has enough ink, or that the organisation has an internet connection for an email to be sent on time. These issues, do not occur in direct/face-to-face communication.

4. Incorrect timing or place: The sender must be aware that a receiver may not be prepared to receive information. It is imperative to understand what could be a suitable time to send a piece of information. The lunch hour, or right before the receiver ends a day, is perhaps not the right time to communicate. Again, for verbal communication, it is always preferred to find a quiet place where noise is not an intrusion. The easiest way to ensure that the receiver is able to focus on the piece of information is to send it in a written format. It enables the receiver to choose the time and place to read the information and understand it, thereby leading to effective business communication.

5. Insufficient adjustment period: A receiver may require more time to respond to communication. The absence of sufficient time to respond to a query or information may lead to a communication It may happen that the receiver, in a rush, responds in affirmative and regrets the decision later. It is the responsibility of the sender to understand such gaps caused by a rushed response and offer more time to the receiver to react and respond to information.

6. Physical barriers: Physical barriers are major causes of disruption in open communication. Any object that comes between the sender and the receiver of the communication is a physical barrier. Take for example a closed-door. A receiver inside a room with the door shut can make the sender less confident to speak. Receivers hiding behind computer screens, stacks of paper, files or newspapers are not open to communication, or that is how it is perceived by a sender. These are physical barriers to communication. If the receiver leaves the door of the room open, or does not hide behind any object, then they leave the channel of communication open for the sender. They thus become more approachable for effective communication.

7. Psychological noise: Psychological noise is not tangible. These are basically feelings and prejudices that mar the sense of judgment or interpretation of a message. Let’s focus on the various psychological noise:

    • Perceptual bias:

Due to ‘selective/favourable hearing’, the receiver interprets a message that suits him/her. For example, smokers may read the warning on the cigarette packs, but they ignore them and focus only on messages that may be favourable to them. It is a perceptual bias that prevents an objective judgement and fails effective communication.

    • Stereotyping:

This is an attitude that completely disrupts any mode of communication. Stereotyping an individual because of the cast/group/sect/country they belong to causes great offence and serious damage to relationships, both personally and professionally. E.g. “He belongs to that part of the country, he must be stupid”. Such assumptions are the result of close-mindedness and leave no scope for free thought and effective communication.

    • Unclarified assumptions:

Preconceived notions or preconceptions hamper communication. This happens when both the parties communicating believe in something without checking facts. Take for example, when a sender approaches with a frown on the face, the receiver assumes bad news. However, the frown could be for a completely different reason, and can be easily clarified through open communication.

    • Prejudice:

This is the worst form of psychological noise wherein a person holds a very hostile attitude towards another who is different in any form. The difference may be in race, culture, tribe, gender, religion, sexuality, nation, etc. However, such strong hostility disrupts communication and forms a major barrier to free communication.

Barriers created by external causes (noises)

In this case, the causes/noises are tangible. The noises that we refer to here are noise from traffic, ringing of phones, the clamour of people talking, the noise of machines, etc. This could also mean static experienced during a telephone call or a bad connection. Such external noise affects and interferes with verbal communication, be it telephonic or face-to-face. These not only cause a distraction but also prevents the two parties from hearing each other properly. This is a regular issue faced during business hours and can be easily resolved by the two parties in their choice of place to meet, or firmness in handling the office environment.

Example of a deliberate communication barrier

Although communication barriers are mostly unintended, an example of a deliberate barrier is the blowout of the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil spill. This incident was reported in April 2010 and resulted in a huge crisis for BP and its partners. As mentioned in a report by the White House commission, the key elements that added to the disaster were the failure “to share important information” and “poor communications”. The report stated that the organisation did not entirely appreciate the risk it was taking. In this case, there were various communications that offered warning to the organisation about the major blowout. Investigation found an employee to be responsible for deliberate miscommunication by deleting crucial text messages, which resulted in such a negative impact on the organisation.

If you want to find out more about business communications then the ABE Level 4 Diploma in Business Management has a unit on the subject.