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Some Barriers to Communication That Cause Conflict in Groups

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Group communication is a critical factor in the success of departmental, project and group work teams for companies. Such teams are usually formed to collaborate on new projects, for problem resolution or to coordinate business functions. Several common barriers get in the way of effective group communication.

Lack of Clear Goals

A lack of shared goals in a work team can lead to conflict in communication. This may result when company leaders don't adequately offer direction to a group or the group members don't work through the process of setting goals to frame their work activities. Effective goals are the basis for structuring group interaction, task assignments and progress assessment. The University of California, San Francisco "Team Building" Web page points out that clear focus on higher team goals is necessary to harmony in groups. Uncertain goals can cause individual members to develop their own ideas on group objectives and base their activities and input on those ideas.

Facts vs. Feelings

Inability to separate facts in discussions versus feelings of group members often leads to conflict. Conversations centered on facts relate to unchangeable or inflexible points, whereas emotional conversations involve expressions of personal feelings or concerns. If a group member addresses points of fact with emotional responses, he may impede the group's ability to move forward with concrete ideas. On the contrary, if a group member contends with someone's feelings or concerns, he may come across as insensitive or unsupportive, which limits group intimacy, trust and openness. The University of California, San Francisco site indicates that a team leader needs to actively promote group members' ability to share feelings and concerns.

Fighting Fair

Tension naturally arises in groups when they work toward shared goals and face challenges. This tension can lead to more fruitful results because it causes members to express concerns and feedback. However, the group's response to tension affects the benefits or drawbacks. Groups that have mutual respect among members tend to debate points or perspectives openly, but without personal comments. Groups that don't have a culture of openness, collaboration and mutual respect can experience lowered morale from tension. Group members can protect against personal attacks or arguments by staying calm, using clear and specific language to express feelings and not putting others down, according to the University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center.

Misunderstandings and Misconceptions

Misconceptions and errors can cause problems in groups. A group may divvy up tasks or responsibilities on a project, but not go through clarifying each person's role. This may lead to confusion about who assumed certain roles. This can lead to redundancy, in that two people work on the same task. It can also lead to an oversight if no one was certain who was assigned a role. Before finishing a meeting, it helps for members to review their expectations and understanding of the communication and task assignments. A University of Pittsburgh Web page on "Verbal Group Communication" also notes that a group member can help prevent misunderstandings by clarifying each statement and tying it to his next comment or question.


Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.

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