“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
- G B Shaw
How do we ensure we aren’t a party to this? By being effective communicators of course!
Unfortunately, nobody teaches us how to express ideas clearly. We immerse ourselves in jargon and obediently follow guidelines. Rarely do we put serious effort towards expressing ourselves in a language that can be understood. And then wonder why our efforts and achievements fail to be understood or appreciated.
The challenge in this age of information is being able to communicate effectively.
The purpose of communication is to get your message across to others clearly and unambiguously. To convey your thoughts and ideas effectively. When you are not successful in this, the thoughts and ideas that you actually send do not necessarily reflect what you think, causing a communication breakdown and creating roadblocks that stand in the way of your goals – both personal and professional. To ensure successful communication, we must understand the very basics of the process of communication and the barriers involved.
The Communication Process
The communication process is comprised of five basic components: sender, message, channel, receiver, and response/feedback.
- Sender: The person sending the message. The responsibility to ensure that the message is understood lies with the sender.
- Message: The information sent by the sender to the receiver is the message. The message can be in the form of verbal, non-verbal or written inputs.
- Channel: All communication happens through a channel. Channel is basically the method, medium or manner through which a message is sent to its intended receiver. The basic channels are written, verbal, non-verbal, and electronic & multimedia. Examples of each are – letters, discussions, drama, emails and video conferences.
- Receiver/Recipient: The person receiving them
- Response/Feedback: Response/Feedback is an action or comment in answer to the communication received from the sender. Communication is clear when the receiver’s response is appropriate with the message from the sender.
Often times receivers have pre-conceived ideas or opinions about the topic being communicated, sometimes the channel used to communicate is wrong. In both instances there is miscommunication. It is therefore important for the sender to consider the barriers that may interfere with the receivers’ ability to understand the message. These barriers include the physical, language & semantics, interpersonal, psychological, cultural and organizational.
Barriers to Effective Communication
Barriers can arise at any stage of the communication process. The most common barriers are –
Distance and the medium used for communication can be major deterrents. For example, if you are to contact a person urgently but did not have his phone number. An email would not serve the purpose, right?
Noise – It’s not just the external noise around us – but also the Internal noise – our thoughts & emotions that stop us from listening well.
Noise could also be visual. Imagine you are watching a video and every few seconds ads or pop windows appear on the screen. This will cause you to lose track of what the video is all about.
Another Physical barrier is information overload. If at any point you have done multiple things, chances are you will be unable to do justice to any. Unless of course, you take the time to separate the tasks and prioritize them. An example could be – You are busy completing your assignment, for which you have to meet a few people and complete the write-up. In all this, your mother calls asking you to get a grocery item. In all likelihood, you will go home without buying it! You heard what she said and you may even have responded in the affirmative but with so much to do, missed acting upon it.
Linguistic & Semantic: The 2nd barrier to communication is Linguistic & Semantic – ie related to language and meaning of words.
Language causes the maximum problem, not only because we don’t know a language well enough but because words mean different things to different people. Added to that is the use of jargon. If you tell your grandfather that you are working on Python he would be puzzled wondering what you are doing with snakes! He doesn’t know that Python is a programming language.
Good communicators try to keep their language simple and are conscious of how the words may be interpreted by the listener.
Cross-Cultural: Today we work with people from different cultures and unless we are aware of their customs, social values, use of words and gestures we can end up conveying a very wrong message. The Chinese clap when they are sad so don’t be surprised if your Chinese friend claps when you convey a sad news. Today organizations give training to their people who work in international locations. You could do your own research and learn the cultural nuances as a preparation for future opportunities
Interpersonal Communication: Much of our everyday communication happens face-to-face. We exchange information through both verbal and non-verbal messages. This is Interpersonal Communication. There are many people who struggle to overcome this due to their shyness or total disinterest. Without interpersonal communication skills, it is very hard for an individual to find success in their professional and personal life.
Psychological: This set of barriers arises out of assumptions we make. These are Psychological in nature and cloud our understanding of reality. Learning to see things as they are and not through our psychological lenses will make us better communicators.
To understand this barrier let’s consider the film actor Deepika Padukone. She seems to have everything; her life is just perfect. This is because we are seeing things through the filter of her status, success and her persona. And then she opens out about her struggle with depression. Suddenly we have a whole new perspective on her life.
Organisational: These barriers crop up in organizations with hierarchical structures. Information flows upwards or downwards and distortions happen at each level. The more direct the communication is the less the chances of distortion, in such situations written communication is more effective. Systems can be put in place to ensure that transmission of information is proper.
In today’s closely networked world it is quite easy to think you are communicating well. Knowledge about the barriers will help you. But the onus is on each of us to ensure we overcome the barriers and communicate effectively.