People come in touch with us on a daily basis. We interact with one another through conversation, our expressions and body language, social media, email, phone, and other methods.
To develop our friendships, plan vacations, mend marriages, arrange dinner reservations, purchase a car, offer opinions, seek assistance, negotiate contracts, and many other activities, we need to communicate.
Effective communication is a crucial skill in our lives, but it isn’t always easy.
There are numerous barriers that impede the transmission of information from one person to another.
Some common barriers to effective communication
Regardless of the form of communication: verbal, nonverbal, written, listening, or visual: if we don’t communicate effectively, we put ourselves and others in danger.
Aside from physical and technological obstructions, there are six barriers to successful communication that everyone should work to overcome.
Unclear communication is one of the major barriers to effective communication.
When the message someone sends isn’t clear, it can be difficult for others to understand and correctly interpret.
Examples: The nonverbal cues we use while communicating (facial expressions, tone of voice, body language) can impact how someone else perceives our message.
Example: A person asks, “Do you like my dress?” with a big smile.
The nonverbal cues (facial expression and tone of voice) show that the person is pleased with their choice of outfit. If someone else doesn’t like the dress or perceives it as inappropriate for the event, they might respond “no” out of fear of hurting the person’s feelings.
Inappropriate communication can include a wide range of methods that we use to express our thoughts and opinions.
The tone, context, words used, or other elements may come across as offensive or rude when that wasn’t the intent of the sender.
In some cases, someone may not have the language skills (e.g., language barrier, learning disability) to clearly communicate what they mean.
Example: A woman at a dinner party makes an off-color joke regarding infidelity that is overheard by the man’s wife.
The woman didn’t intend for anyone but her husband to hear her dark humor, but because of their location in the room, her words were heard by the wrong person.
Responses to inappropriate communication
When someone says or writes something that offends us, it’s easy to misunderstand their intent.
We may feel hurt, personally attacked, or even fearful for our safety. It can be difficult not to respond in an emotionally charged manner.
Sometimes we say things we don’t mean because we’re angry, and later regret our words.
Example: A father makes an off-color joke about infidelity at the dinner table across from his daughter.
She clearly hears him using derogatory language and becomes very upset by his comments. The girl goes to her room and writes a scathing letter accusing her father of being a terrible person.
Without considering the hurt his words have caused, he writes back demanding an apology for her behavior.
Assuming everyone has the same concept of what “communication” entails can lead to poor communication.
Whether we’re speaking with someone face-to-face or through email, there are often cues that help us interpret what the other person is saying.
We may look at their facial expressions, intonation, and body language to help us better understand the meaning behind their words.
Example: A woman asks her friend if they can get together soon.
The friend doesn’t respond for several days because she assumed the woman was joking with her, not being serious about setting up a time to get together.
When they finally talk, the woman is disappointed with how long it took her friend to respond.
Not everyone wants to hear what others have to say. Whether the message is about personal choices or business matters, there are times when people simply don’t want their attention drawn to certain subjects.
Example: A woman begins to talk to her co-worker about the new diet she’s following. When the co-worker doesn’t seem interested, she continues to talk about it anyway.
The coworker finally says something along the lines of “I don’t want to hear about your diet” and walks away.
Lack of/incorrect feedback
We all have different ways in which we communicate, and that can lead to misunderstandings about what someone else is trying to say.
Sometimes people are unsure how to convey their message in the best way possible because they lack language skills. Other times, when someone’s words are misunderstood or misperceived, it’s partly due to their way of speaking.
Example: A man asks a woman to go out with him, but she doesn’t understand what he means by his question. She hears the words but doesn’t know how to respond since she’s never been asked out before.
When he sees her reaction to his question, he realizes his phrasing was unclear and clarifies his statement so she understands what he’s asking.
We all have different reasons for communicating. Some people are interested in hearing feedback, while others don’t care about the response to their comments.
People who are only thinking of themselves may not consider how their words could affect others. Sometimes it’s hard to tell why someone is saying something to us.
Example: A woman shares that she’s struggling with infertility, but the tone of her voice shows no emotion. Her friend assumes she doesn’t want advice or support and doesn’t say anything more about it.
The next time they get together, the woman is surprised that her friend didn’t ask how things were going.
We all want things done in a certain way, but sometimes our expectations are too high.
Everyone has different obligations and responsibilities that may prevent them from doing what another person is asking of them.
Sometimes there’s nothing to be done about an issue because everyone involved would need to make changes for it to become possible.
Example: After a friend asks for help moving, her friend says she’ll be there and gives an estimate of how long it will take. The movers never show up and the woman is stuck waiting for them.
When she calls to ask what happened, her friend explains that her kids got sick and she had to make a doctor’s appointment. She offers to help in another way, but the woman refuses since she doesn’t want to wait anymore.
People often try to find different ways of expressing their thoughts, but that leads to misunderstandings if their words are misheard or misperceived.
The trick is to pay attention not only to what they’re saying but how they say it.
Example: A woman asks a man if he wants to see “The Hunger Games” with her, but she’s unsure of his response. She doesn’t know whether he’d be interested in the subject matter so she clarifies herself by saying, “I don’t mean ‘see’ as in go and watch the movie, but I could make us some popcorn and we could watch it on my computer.”
We all face difficulties when communicating, but there are some common problems that are especially challenging for women.
Some of these include:
- Unwanted advice or unsolicited feedback.
Many people don’t mean to give bad advice, but their words don’t always come across that way.
- Being talked over or interrupted.
It can be painful to feel like your thoughts are being ignored, especially after you’ve made the effort to speak up about something important.
- Getting defensive when someone’s feedback isn’t wanted.
Instead of reacting defensively, it helps to take a step back and understand where the other person is coming from.
- Missing the point of what someone else is saying when they’re sharing their thoughts and feelings.
Sometimes when people share, it’s an attempt to find common ground between them.
- Not knowing how to respond when someone shares something important with you or asks for your advice.
When that happens, it can be helpful to take a moment to think about what they’re saying and then give them your thoughts.
- Feeling like you need to change yourself for another person.
It’s normal to have limits on how much time, energy, or resources you have available, so it’s important to consider whether the situation is worth it before giving too much of yourself.
- Unwanted pressure to conform.
Even though we all change over time, it can be painful when people expect you to be different from you are or expect you to end friendships with certain people because of their beliefs, opinions, or likes/dislikes.
Communication does not have to be a struggle. Over time, both women and men can become better at speaking up for themselves and showing empathy towards others.
The key is to make sure that you’re listening with clear ears, an open mind, and a caring heart.
If something someone says hurts you, take a moment before responding so that you can articulate how it makes you feel. There’s no need to get into a big fight that might take the friendship in the wrong direction.
As long as you’re willing to work together to find solutions, you should be able to resolve issues successfully.