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Communication in the workplace is important. In fact, communication skills are among the most sought after by employers in all industries. Despite the importance of communication, though, many people and organizations create barriers to effective communication. Whether brought on by physical barriers like closed doors or mental barriers like insecurity, the result is often not conducive to a productive and pleasant work environment.
Managers and others can work together to overcome communication barriers for a more productive workplace.
Language is a common barrier to effective communication. However, it’s not just speaking different languages that can hinder communication. When people use technical terms, jargon, or acronyms that others don’t understand, communication suffers, even if everyone speaks the same language. To avoid misunderstandings, confusion and communication breakdowns, make a point of speaking in a way that everyone can understand. If you’re explaining a technical process, for instance, break it down for others who don’t have the same background, and explain terminology that may not be familiar. Avoid using jargon or idioms, especially when communicating with those who do not speak English as their first language.
While texting, email and social media have made it possible for people to remain in touch no matter where they happen to be, that doesn’t mean technology has improved communication. Nearly everyone can provide an example of a communication breakdown caused by technology, whether it’s an email that never arrives or a misunderstanding of the tone of a written message. Because technological communication removes the nonverbal cues that help us interpret messages -- like body language and intonation -- written words can be easily misinterpreted. Therefore, when a message is important, or you want to make sure your intentions are clear, it may be better to have a conversation in person rather than via text.
Sometimes, communication is hindered by attitudinal barriers. When a listener simply doesn’t want to hear what you have to say, they aren’t going to. For instance, someone who is upset or angry may not be ready to hear an explanation, and will either ignore you or choose to hear only part of what you are saying. In the workplace, individuals who are resistant to change or lack motivation may also put up barriers to communication. In these cases, effective communication will only happen when both sides are willing and open to it.
Sometimes, we create our own emotional and attitudinal barriers to communication. Insecurity or fear about how someone may react may cause you to carefully measure everything you say, or avoid sharing what’s really on your mind for fear it will be used against you or that others will react negatively. To overcome this barrier, you need to have confidence in your knowledge and abilities. When you do, you’ll communicate clearly without being bogged down by insecurities.
In some companies, the organization of the company itself creates barriers to communication. When the channels of communication aren’t clear – or open – and employees don’t know who to go to for what, communication suffers. If the organization doesn’t place a priority on communication, or communicate often or clearly enough, then misunderstandings, frustration and other problems can arise.
An adjunct instructor at Central Maine Community College, Kristen Hamlin is also a freelance writer and editor, specializing in careers, business, education, and lifestyle topics. The author of Graduate! Everything You Need to Succeed After College (Capital Books), which covers everything from career and financial advice to furnishing your first apartment, her work has also appeared in Young Money, Lewiston Auburn Magazine, USA Today, and a variety of online outlets. She's also been quoted as a career expert in many newspapers and magazines, including Cosmopolitan and Parade. She has a B.A. in Communication from Stonehill College, and a Master of Liberal Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.