Overcoming Communication Barriers Between People

Jack Prot

Good communication is not one and the same with talking other people into accepting your point of view. Regardless of how well you express yourself, it is impractical to think that others will always agree with you. However, others will understand you if you communicate well. When you send a message, you intend to communicate meaning, but the message itself does not contain the meaning. The meaning will be formed by your own perception and the perception of your receiver. To understand one another, you and your receiver must share similar meanings of communication. For instance, gestures, tone of voice, and other symbols.


In the modern world we are constantly bombarded with information ‘packaged’ in different forms like sights, sounds, scents, and so on. Our minds organize this stream of feelings into a mental map that represents our perception or reality. Perception can be defined as our individual interpretation of the world around us. In no case is the perception of a certain person the same as the world itself, just as no two maps are identical. As you view the world, your mind absorbs your experiences in a unique and personal way. Because people have different ideas, they will also have different perceptions. If you go to restaurant, for example, you might be impressed by the art hanging in the restaurant and the good food served.

Another person might be impressed by the good parking space in front of the restaurant, but this person might not like the food served. This is caused by unique perceptions of individuals. So when two people experienced the same event like eating in the same restaurant, their mental images of that event will not be the same. As senders, we choose the details that seem important and focus our attention on the most significant and general. This process is known as selective perception. As receivers, we try to fit new details into our patterns that we already have. However, we have a strange habit of distorting information instead of rearranging patterns when we find out that a detail does not quite fit. Overcoming differences in perception may be difficult. For this reason it is important to predict how your message will be received by anticipating the receiver’s reactions. You must always try to avoid misunderstandings by constantly reshaping your message. A lot people have the habit of applying a single solution to every communication problem while it is much more effective to find specific solutions to solve specific problems. It is necessary to always frame your messages in such a way that will have meaning for your listeners. In turn, you have to frame your own mind in such a way that you will find something useful in every message you receive.


Information which we receive is always ‘filtered’ or abbreviated resulting in changes of the original messages. In business, the filters between you and your receiver are many; executives, assistants, receptionists, answering machines, etc. Just getting through by telephone can take a week if you are calling someone who is protected by layers of gatekeepers. The biggest problem is what will happen to your message when it finally arrives at your receiver. It will be digested, distilled, and probably distorted. The same will happen to the messages sent to you which will also be translated by the same gatekeepers. The same can be said when playing the childhood game of ‘Telephone’. One person starts with a specific message. It is whispered down the line from person to person. Finally, the last receiver repeats what they have heard. Nearly one hundred percent of the time the message is a jumbled mess. To overcome filtering barriers, try to establish more than one communication channel, try to eliminate the middlemen, and decrease distortion by condensing the information to the bare essentials.


When choosing the words to develop your message, you are signaling to others that you are a member of a particular culture or subculture. This is implied by the tone and verbiage that you use. Each culture has its code in a sense. If you know the code, then you are or have been a part of that group. Your message will be experiencing barriers due to the nature of your code which consists of your language and vocabulary. For example, the language of a teacher differs from that of a police officer. This difference in their vocabularies will definitely have a profound impact on their capability to recognize and express ideas.

Barriers also exist because words can be interpreted in different ways. As we all know, language uses words as symbols to represent reality. This means that the word book can be automatically tied the physical thing that is a book. We might as well call a book a worm. Language is a random 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.

Words are not really precise on the literal or denotative level. People in the West usually agree on what a book is. However, your idea of a book is a composite of all the books you have ever read: novels, school textbooks, telephone directories, and self-help guides. Someone from another culture may have a different range of book experiences: comics, religious guides, and cooking manuals. While you both might agree on the general concept of a book, but the precise image in your minds differs.

The differences on the connotative or subjective level are much bigger. Here feelings play a significant role because you might interpret a book by your feelings about it. You may have very positive experiences reading books. The books you have read really made a difference in your life boosting your knowledge and facilitating your progress at school in your job. However, you might not be fond of books because you never enjoyed reading those long and boring texts assigned by your uninspiring teachers. To overcome language barriers, describe things thoroughly. The more specific and accurate your descriptions are, the better the chances the receiver has of interpreting your message the way in which you would like it to be perceived. Increase the accuracy of your messages by using language that describes rather than evaluates by presenting obvious facts, events, and circumstances. When you have to speak in public, always try to choose words your audience will understand.


Most of us simply do not listen well! Perhaps the most common barrier to reception is simply a lack of attention on the receiver’s part. Even if we try to concentrate on the words of the sender of a message, we all let our minds wander now and then. Essentially, 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. One effective technique to overcome listening barriers is to paraphrase what you have heard and understood. It is very helpful to try to stand in the shoes of the other speakers. It is also important to that urge we all have: jumping to conclusions. Try to get clarification by listening without interrupting the other and asking non-threatening questions. When all of this is done you will understand what the receiver has intended for you to hear. The knowledge you can gain is then limitless.


Every message contains two meanings: (1) the subject of the message itself; and (2) a relationship meaning, which identifies the most important reason for 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 during emotional times. Either they may be upset, or you might be upset. An angry person is inclined to distort or even ignore the words of the other person. Angry persons are usually incapable of presenting their feelings and ideas in an effective manner. This is not to say that you should avoid all communication when you are emotionally involved, but you should be aware of the potential for misunderstandings that go together with aroused emotions. To overcome emotional barriers during communication, it is important to monitor your own feelings and the feelings of others. Always try to control your negative feelings or anger. Most importantly recognize the probability for misunderstanding that usually goes along with emotional messages.


Each person was raised in a different setting. Along with parents and childhood influences, people are perceived things differently depending on their age, education, gender, social status, economic position, cultural background, temperament, health, beauty, popularity, religion, political beliefs, and so on. People can be influenced greatly by a passing mood.

All of these things can separate one person from another and make communication difficult. Differences in background are the hardest communication barrier to overcome. To overcome the barriers associated with differing backgrounds, avoid projecting your own background or culture onto others. Clarify your background and understand the background of others. Take into consideration their education, experiences, personalities, perceptions, and do not assume that certain behaviors mean the same thing to everyone.

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