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Overcoming communication barriers between people

Overcoming communication barriers between people

Take two metal cans and punch a small hole in the bottom of each can. Insert one end of the string from the outside of the can. Tie a couple of knots in the end of the string, and do the same with the other end of the string using the other can.

Sounds familiar? Regardless of one’s geographical location, a tin can telephone is a favourite toy among children.  

This basic communication model implies that while we think communicating is easy, there are actually various factors that affect our message. Sometimes, the thing we want to say ends up misconstrued. To overcome communication barriers between people, it’s imperative to first determine them.

Differences in perception
Our minds organise streams of sensation – such as sights, sounds, scents and so on – into a mental map that represents our perception or reality. As you view the world, your mind absorbs your experiences in a unique and personal way. Therefore, the ideas you want to express differ from other people. As senders, we choose the details that seem important and focus our attention on the most relevant, while receivers try to fit new details into their existing pattern. If a detail doesn’t quite fit, we distort the information rather than rearrange the existing pattern.

Incorrect filtering
Filtering is screening out before a message is passed on to someone else. In business, there can be many filters between you and your receiver – for example, secretaries, receptionists, answering machines, etc. To overcome filtering barriers, try to send your message through different methods (i.e. phone, email, text message), lessen intermediates or ‘middle-people’, and make the message as simple as possible.

Language differences
Language is an arbitrary code that depends on shared definitions, but there is a limit on how we 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.

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 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. 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.

Differing emotional states
Communication can break down when the receiver reacts negatively to either the subject of the message, or the relationship between sender and receiver. An upset person tends to ignore or distort what the other person is saying and is often unable to present feelings and ideas effectively. To overcome emotional barriers, be aware of – and attempt to control – the feelings that arise in yourself and in others as you communicate. Most importantly, be alert to the greater potential for misunderstanding that accompanies emotional messages.

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, field of knowledge, personalities and perceptions of others – and don’t assume that certain behaviours mean the same thing to everyone.

Source: Martin Hahn Ph.D., an industrial sociologist with more than 20 years of experience in teaching, management consulting, and corporate training. The above article (edited by Editor) is an excerpt from the eBook titled 'Overcoming Communication Barriers between People and in Organisations'.

Contributed by Joanne Ng, Regional Business Support Manager, Appco Group Asia.