When you send a message, you intend to communicate meaning, but the message itself doesn’t contain meaning. The meaning exists in your mind and in the mind of your receiver. To understand one another, you and your receiver must share similar meanings for words, gestures, tone of voice, and other symbols.
1. Differences in perception
The world constantly bombards us with information: sights, sounds, scents, and so on. Our minds organize this stream of sensation into a mental map that represents our perception or reality. In no case is the perception of a certain person the same as the world itself, and no two maps are identical. As you view the world, your mind absorbs your experiences in a unique and personal way. Because your perceptions are unique, the ideas you want to express differ from other people’s Even when two people have experienced the same event, their mental images of that event will not be identical. As senders, we choose the details that seem important and focus our attention on the most relevant and general, a process known as selective perception. As receivers, we try to fit new details into our existing pattern. If a detail doesn’t quite fit, we are inclined to distort the information rather than rearrange the pattern.
2. Incorrect filtering
Filtering is screening out before a message is passed on to someone else. In business, the filters between you and your receiver are many; secretaries, assistants, receptionists, answering machines, etc. Those same gatekeepers may also ‘translate’ your receiver’s ideas and responses before passing them on to you. To overcome filtering barriers, try to establish more than one communication channel, eliminate as many intermediaries as possible, and decrease distortion by condensing message information to the bare essentials.
3. Language problems
When you choose the words for your message, you signal that you are a member of a particular culture or subculture and that you know the code. The nature of your code imposes its own barriers on your message. Barriers also exist because words can be interpreted in more than one way. Language is an arbitrary code that depends on shared definitions, but there’s a limit to how completely any of us share the same meaning for a given word. To overcome language barriers, use the most specific and accurate words possible. Always try to use words your audience will understand. Increase the accuracy of your messages by using language that describes rather than evaluates and by presenting observable facts, events, and circumstances.
4. Poor listening
Perhaps the most common barrier to reception is simply a lack of attention on the receiver’s part. We all let our minds wander now and then, regardless of how hard we try to concentrate. People are essentially likely to drift off when they are forced to listen to information that is difficult to understand or that has little direct bearing on their own lives. Too few of us simply do not listen well! To overcome barriers, paraphrase what you have understood, try to view the situation through the eyes of other speakers and resist jumping to conclusions. Clarify meaning by asking non-threatening questions, and listen without interrupting.
5. Differing emotional states
Every message contains both a content meaning, which deals with the subject of the message, and a relationship meaning, which suggests the nature of the interaction between sender and receiver. Communication can break down when the receiver reacts negatively to either of these meanings. You may have to deal with people when they are upset or when you are. An upset person tends to ignore or distort what the other person is saying and is often unable to present feelings and ideas effectively. This is not to say that you should avoid all communication when you are emotionally involved, but you should be alert to the greater potential for misunderstanding that accompanies aroused emotions. To overcome emotional barriers, be aware of the feelings that arise in your self and in others as you communicate, and attempt to control them. Most important, be alert to the greater potential for misunderstanding that accompanies emotional messages.
6. Differing backgrounds
Differences in background can be one of the hardest communication barriers to overcome. Age, education, gender, social status, economic position, cultural background, temperament, health, beauty, popularity, religion, political belief, even a passing mood can all separate one person from another and make understanding difficult. To overcome the barriers associated with differing backgrounds, avoid projecting your own background or culture onto others. Clarify your own and understand the background of others, spheres of knowledge, personalities and perceptions and don’t assume that certain behaviors mean the same thing to everyone.
If you would like to get custom-made advice about your communication problems, please feel free to email me at email@example.com. All requests will be handled professionally and your communication problem will be handled in strict confidence.
Martin Hahn Ph. D. is an industrial sociologist with more than 20 years experience in teaching, management consulting, and corporate training.