Communication Barriers: 7 Ways to Understand Others Better

Communication barriers lead to miscommunication and if there is one thing which you can blame most of your life’s misfortunes on that would be it. Let’s face it: clear and concise exchange of information isn’t easy. If it was easy, the world would be a much better and less complicated place.



The very nature of communication is that it involves several parties. And that’s where it gets complex: you can only be responsible for yourself, not for what others understand. Plus, once your message is out in the open, it is most likely to encounter external noise and disturbances. In one of his famous sayings, George Bernard Shaw even stretches the issue further:



The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

– George Bernard Shaw



But you can always try to be as understandable as possible. It’s always better to communicate than not.



By Tsilatipac (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


Like with most things, your ability to communicate clearly can be learned through practice and analysis. So instead of blaming others for not understanding you, a good way to approach it is by starting with yourself.



What are the main reasons for miscommunication?


Miscommunication can happen due to many reasons. Most of the time it occurs because the receiver (etc. your friend) interpreted the message differently than the sender (etc. you) intended. Here are some of the most common reasons of why this can happen.


Frames of reference.
Even if two (or more) individuals hear exactly same words, they may assign different meanings to them. These meanings depend on their past experiences and current expectations.


Semantics. It is the meaning and use of certain words. For instance, industry professionals and organizations adopt their own expert language which is understandable only in certain groups and ‘s hard to understand for the outsiders.


Value Judgements. It’s a noise which happens when a receiver evaluates sender’s message and judges it as non-important before he or she finished transmitting it. Such value judgments are usually based on experience from former interaction with the sender or a similar person.


Selective listening. Selective listening may cause the receiver to block or distort the information to match his or hers expectations. It is your value judgments, needs and expectations at work, making you hear only what you want to hear.


Filtering. It’s a reverse selective listening. When sending a message, you consciously or unconsciously include only the parts information that are relevant or support your position. While there seems to be nothing wrong with that, people often tend to leave out important pieces of information that can harm their position. For example, most of the time advertisements state only the positive facts without including the downside of an argument.


Distrust. When there’s a lack of trust, it often provokes one or more of the barriers mentioned above to happen. Thus, it’s also considered as a source of the noise.



How can you prevent such miscommunications?



Honestly, no one is safe from the communication barriers. We encounter loads of them every day. But it is possible to minimize them.


To avoid miscommunication and misunderstandings, you need to be aware of how you send and receive messages. As a sender, you can improve your message transmission by applying these proven techniques.



1. Use multiple channels. Communicating through more than a single channel or mode of communication can be very effective.  For example, efficient use of body language combined with words can instantly help others to get your point. Other examples can be combining your words with visual aids – slides, graphs, extra sounds or even people.


2. Be complete and on point.  To be complete and precise you need to do your homework. Specifics require additional insights and examples, and always help to better illustrate your point. To be capable of providing extra information, you should make the background of the topic clear together with all the most important details.


3. Claim your own message. Using personal pronouns such as “I” or “mine” sends an impression of being accountable for the message and its content. Avoid general statements to leave less room for doubt.


4. Be congruent. Doing one thing and saying the other always confuses. Your actions should support the message. When you match your words, your message is received more efficiently.


5. Language simplification. Make your message easy to understand for everyone by avoiding technical and internal jargons. Be folksy and explain things as if you’re teaching a class of young students. Dense language always adds more noise in the communication, so beware of it, unless you talk with the experts in your field.


6. Maintain credibility. Sender’s credibility depends on the receiver’s belief that the sender is trustworthy. You can only influence others when you have a certain expertise on a topic and you are perceived as reliable enough to deliver the relevant information accurately.


7. Obtain feedback. Without feedback, there is no way how you can see whether your message was understood correctly and if there are any improvements to be made.



Importance of active listening


Photo by John-Mark Kuznietsov.



Communication requires at least two parties. Therefore, being a good listener is also an art and essential element for preventing miscommunication. As the information receiver, you should always give feedback to the sender by sharing your understanding of what has been communicated and asking for feedback on your interpretation.



To better comprehend the message you can make use of the technique called active listening.


Active listening is a way of seeing things from a sender’s point of view or at least genuine effort to do so. Active listeners tend to indicate their understanding using verbal and non-verbal communication. There are three skills in active listening:


SensingYour ability to recognize the non-verbal (body language) messages of the sender.


AttendingSending verbal, vocal and visual messages to the sender to indicate full attention.


ReflectingDuring reflection, you summarize your understandings and feelings gained from the news and then tell it back to the originator. Such action encourages the speaker to elaborate on the message and information shared. Reflecting also includes asking extra questions that push the conversation forward and helps to explore the sender’s feelings, additional details and motives.

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