Barriers in Business Communication - Organization Behavior

Hindrance and obstructions that come in the way of communication make it ineffective. These barriers may be categorized into the following groups.

1)     Semantic barriers: the obstructions that come in the process of encoding or decoding the message are known as semantic barriers. Some of them are as follows:

I.            Different language: employees at organization have no common language. This is obvious barrier when there is no common vehicle to convey ideas and feelings, organizations and multinational companies. Even competent translators fail to convey the exact meaning of, different words of different languages. As company's operation expands and extends to different countries, the language barrier widens more.

II.            Words: words and symbols used have several meanings depending upon the context in which they are used. Same word can have different meanings. Unless the context of words and symbols used  is know, the receiver may misinterpret them because of his preconceived  ideas.

III.            Pictures: maps, graphs, charts, blue prints, and three dimensional models etc. pictures should be supported with proper words; otherwise the receiver may get confused and might not understand properly.

IV.            Actions: actions include gestures, movements, body language. Body language can be lip movement, eye movement, breathing movement, smiles, frowns, expression. Proper actions make communication effective.

V.            Poor vocabulary:  it hinders the communicator to convey written or verbal message in right sense. The communicator should use the clear and precise meaning of the used words and their appropriate replacement, if needed.

2)     Emotional or psychological barriers: these arise from motives, attitudes, judgment, sentiments, emotions, and social values of participants. These create psychological distance that hinders the communication, or partly filters it out, or causes misinterpretation, thereby making the communication inadequate. Following are some emotional barriers:

I.            Loss in transmission and retentions: communication when passed through various levels in an organization, its accuracy gets decreases, a part of information is lost in transmit. It is said that about 30% of the information is lost at each level of transmission. Poor retention of the information is again a malady. Workers retain only 50% of information and supervisors retain 60% of it.

II.            Distrust of communication: his own subordinates sometimes distrust the communication, especially when he lacks self-confidence, or is less competent in his position. Frequently he makes illogical decisions and then reviews his own decision when he fails to implement them.

III.            Failure to communicate: sometimes managers' do not communicate the needed messages to their subordinates either due to laziness, or they arbitrarily assume that everybody has got the information, or they may hide information deliberately to embarrass the subordinate.

IV.            Undue reliance on the written word (order): in this case, employees hesitate in accepting the face-to-face verbal communication of their superiors because the oral orders of superiors are not consistent with the written policies of the organization. Only written communication is taken seriously making organizational verbal communication ineffective.

V.            Inattention of the receiver: it is a common phenomenon that people simply fail to react to bulletins, notices, minutes and reports.

3)     Physical barriers: some physical barriers are as follows:

I.            Noise: any disturbance or interference that reduces the clarity and effectiveness of communication is called noise. It may be physical or psychological, written or visual. Noise distracts the persons communicating and acts as barrier to communication. Loud noise of speaker playing outside or noise due to machines, affect listening process of persons communicating.

II.            Improper time: also hinders the process of communication. For example, a phone call at midnight, interrupting sleep, further irritates the receiver, if message is not urgent.

III.            Distance: sender has to speak loudly to convey the message to a far distance. Similarly, communication may be ineffective if proper use of fax, telephone is not made in import-export transactions, because of distance of miles.

4)     Organizational barriers: the barriers, which are related to the functioning of the organization, are known as the organizational barriers. Major barriers are as follows:

I.            Organizational policy: it provides overall guidelines, which might be in forn of written documents; or it has to be inferred from organizational practice, particularly at the top level. Of the policy creates hindrance in the free flow of communication in different direction, communication would not be smooth and effective.

II.            Organizational rules and regulations: organizational rules and regulations prescribing the different sub-matter along the formal communication may restrict the flow of messages and act as hindrance I the communication process. Sometimes it happens that important messages are omitted or manipulated. Observance of rigid rules and regulations related to communication, causes delay of message and discouragement of employee in conveying their creative and innovative ideas.

III.            Status relationship in the organization: superior-subordinate relationship also blocks the flow of communication, particularly in upward direction. The greater the difference in hierarchical positions in terms of their status, greater is the difficulty in communication.

IV.            Structure of the organization: in greater number of managerial levels, communication gets delayed as it moves along the hierarchical line. Also, the chances of the communication getting distorted are greater as the number of filtering points is higher.

V.            Lack of organizational facilities: facilities like meeting, conferences, complaint or suggestion boxes, open door system etc. are provided for smooth adequate, clear and timely flow of communication. If these facilities are not properly emphasize generally fail to communication effectively.

VI.            Wrong choice of channel: there are many mediums and  channels of communications like face-to -face, oral, written, telephone, e-mail and audiovisual. Each channel is not ideal and perfect in every situation, if persuasion is to be made by sales manager, face-to-face communication is required in case of formal relation, but in communicating with illiterate, this channel fail. Illiterate people are to be communicated orally.

5)     Personal barriers: as communication is basically an interpersonal process, many personal factors inherent in the sender and receiver influence the flow of communication.

I.            Barriers in superiors: superiors play an important role in communication. Because of their hierarchical position, superiors act as barriers in an number of ways as follows:

a)      Attitude of superiors: if the attitude is unfavorable, there is greater possibility of filtering or coloring of the information. Managers at intermediate levels may color the information, sometimes intentionally, with a view to twist the situation in their favor.

b)     Fear of challenge to authority: superiors many tomes withhold the upward or downward flow of information for the fear of disclose of their own weaknesses, especially when superior lacks self-confidence.

c)      Underestimation of their subordinates: the superiors generally perceive that their subordinates are less competent and are not capable of advising their superiors. This stops the superiors to talk to their subordinates.

d)     Ignoring the juniors: superiors ignore their juniors and do not pass the information, just as to maintain their importance.

e)      Insistence on following the proper channel: superiors do like any by passing in communication. They think it to be adverse for their authority and hence insist on proper channel.


II.            Barriers regarding subordinates: factors like attitude, lack of time etc. adversely affect the subordinates' participation in communication process. Two more factors, blocking upward communication are:


a)      Unwillingness to communicate: the subordinate generally are not willing to communication upward any information which is likely to affect them adversely. Of they feel that supply of such adverse information is necessary for control purposes they would modify it in such a way so as not to harm their interest.


b)     Lack of proper incentive: lack of incentive to communicate also prevents the subordinates from communicating upward. They are pushed down when they perform poorly, but may not be rewarded when they work marvelously well and offer a novel suggestion.

III.            Poor listening: most people just hear, but not attentively. If they listen, they listen selectively, taking the "desires part" and ignoring the  "undesired part" of the message. They listen not what the other is saying but what they want to listen. These poor listening retards the communication flow and prevents understanding of the real meaning.

IV.            Egotism: it is opposite to transmission of understanding, the most vital aspect of communication. The self-centered persons think that their own ideas are more important and others are wrong. Such people are very bad listeners. If a person wants other people to understand him, he has to understand them. Such level of understanding diminishes with egotism, and as a result, the communication process is hindered.

V.            Emotions: positive emotions such as love, affection and smooth the flow of communication whereas negative emotions such as hatred, anger, anxiety obstruct the communication process. Effective communication requires a smooth heart and a silent mind.

VI.            Selective perception: our sensory receptors have their own limitation. As a result we  perceive not the whole spectrum, but few selective symbols based upon our needs, motives, experience, background, etc. we do not see the reality as it is, but interpret what we see and call it reality. We cannot communicate the whole, due to selective perception. because of different perceptions, neutral words conveying certain positive message convey the opposite meanings as they reach to the receiver. It results into misunderstandings and misinterpretations and make communication ineffective.

6)     Socio Psychological barriers: some socio psychological barriers are as follows:

I.            Attitude and opinions: person attitudes and opinions often act as barriers to effective communication. If information agrees with our opinions and attitudes, we tend to receive it favorably. It fits comfortably in the filter of our mind. But if  information disagrees with our views and tends to run contrary to our accepted beliefs, we do not react favorably.

II.           Closed mind: a person with a closed mind is very difficult to communicate with. He is man with deeply in trained prejudices. And he is not prepared to reconsider his opinions. He is the kind of man who will say, "look, my mind is made up. I know what I know and I do not want to  know anything else. So just don't bother me".

III.          Status-consciousness: status consciousness exists in every organization and is one of the major barriers to effective communication. Subordinates are afraid of communicating upward any unpleasant information. They are either too conscious of their inferior status or too afraid of being snubbed. Status-conscious superiors think that consulting their juniors would be compromising their dignity.

7)     Cultural barriers: it has been pointed out earlier in this book that, especially in international environment, cultural differences often cause communication problems. The same category of words, phrases, symbols, actions, colors mean different things to people of different countries/cultural backgrounds. For example, in western countries black color is associated with death and mourning while in the Far East white is the color of mourning. In the United States people love to be called by their first name while in Britain people are more formal and like to be addressed by their or their last name. in the hierarchical structure of Indian society and business environment also, the last name is important.

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