4 Barriers to Effective Communication & What to Do About Them

I’m wondering how many words have actually been written about communication. Suffice it to say there have been a great many.    I suppose it is because we haven’t cracked it yet, this ability to convey messages so that what we say is heard in the way we mean it and conversely what we hear is received in the way it was meant.   Indeed, the road to clarity always seems to be under construction.

Even if we try to simplify our communication processes, barriers come up that can sabotage the message and render it ineffective by the time it gets to those who must act on it.  There are a lot of reasons for this.   Here are four that come to mind for me.

Cultural Barriers

There are many factors that make up what we refer to as “culture” but to me, cultural difference is about attitudes and beliefs that come from our personal environment and experience.  As such, two people could get the same message but interpret it in two entirely different ways simply because their frames of reference and language differ.

Here is an example from a Scandinavian advertising campaign.  It was developed for the vacuum cleaner Manufacturer, Electrolux, then interpreted and  used, without modification, in the company’s American campaign.  It read, “Nothing Sucks like an Electrolux”  

What To Do

  • Consider the cultural makeup of the intended audience.
  • Seek to understand where there are differences.
  • Fashion the message to ensure that it says what you mean and also takes those differences into account.

Linguistic Barriers

Variance in expression or colloquialism is common even among those who speak the same language.

When my parents brought our family to Canada from England, there were a lot of expressions we used that were interpreted differently in our new country.  This once placed my mother in an embarrassing situation when she was sitting around a table with her co-workers one day discussing the time they each got up in the morning to get ready for work. When it came to my mother’s turn to speak, she said, “My husband knocks me up every morning at 7:30”.

It was only after the laughter had died down did someone explain to her the North American meaning associated with what she had just said.

What To Do

  • Minimize the use of slang and idioms when delivering the message
  • Keep the language used in the message simple and as free as possible from business speak or (dare I say it) sports metaphors.
  • Make clarity and simplicity the goal over showcasing linguistic ability.


We all have them.  Bias is, after all, shaped by our experiences and who we are.  It becomes an obstacle to effective communication though when we consciously or subconsciously choose to speak only to those who are more likely to understand and agree with us.  It’s natural.  But in leadership, it is also important to extend the reach of our message to those whose biases do not necessarily align with our own.

The workplace, for example, now employs more than one generation of people.  Each generation has its view of the world.  Each generation also has its challenges.  And yet, the messages you send must finds ways to reach and engage everyone to be effective.

What To Do

  • Acknowledge your own biases first
  • Look through the lens of those who are least likely to align with your views
  • Listen.
  • Fashion your message to include something that everyone can relate to.


It was Oscar Wilde who said, “When you assume, you make an ass out of U and Me”  

Assumptions sabotage effective communication and have the potential to lead everyone down unintended paths.  For instance, you may assume that because people are nodding while you speak, they understand and agree with what you are saying. Similarly, if you invite questions about your message and get none, it would be easy to assume there are none.   The truth is, few people will risk the potential embarrassment of being the only one who doesn’t agree with or understand your message or doesn’t know what to ask.   To assume they do would be a mistake.

What to do

  • Work on the basis that all your assumptions could be false
  • Make your assumptions known to others to determine their validity
  • Anticipate questions and concerns that could come out of your message and bring them up to encourage conversation


Communication barriers are always going to be with us because humans are complex beings. I think that’s what makes it a challenge…and sometimes a great source of fun.  The following is a fine illustration of how easily we can get things wrong even in everyday conversation.

What do you think?


Filed under communication, diversity, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Organizational Effectiveness, Uncategorized

47 responses to “4 Barriers to Effective Communication & What to Do About Them

  1. Pingback: 4 Barriers to Effective Communication & What to Do About Them | digitalNow | Scoop.it

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  3. When I was 19 I thought people who didn’t understand what I was talking about were stupid.
    At 29 I thought I could teach t hem to understand
    At 39 I had absolutely no idea what the problem was
    At 49 I figured out it was me who needed to learn how to communicate…

    I may be a slow learner!

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Annabel ~ When it comes to learning to communicate with each other, I suspect we are all slow learners. Let me know what you learn at 59 would you? It kind of passed me by. 🙂


    HIGwyn am oscar odongo when I join primary school it was a hard time for me to get use to new language but slowly I try to learn some it means that language barriers is a problem in communication ,

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Odongo ~ Yes, that’s a big one. If the way we express ourselves in our own language can get in the way of understanding, certainly not speaking the same language at all compounds the challenge. Thanks for adding that.

  5. There may be a short delay 🙂

  6. Pingback: 4 Barriers to Effective Communication & What to Do About Them | Success Leadership | Scoop.it

  7. i dont really understand dis cummunication barriers all about

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Rosemaarie ~ Thank you. There’s a certain irony in that. But mostly it highlights the need for us all not to take for granted that because we understand what we are saying, others will too. 🙂

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  9. Pingback: EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION » Blog Archive » Barriers to communication in counselling and psychotherapy

  10. gorata edward


  11. Leo jimu

    This is great stuff man
    and i loved the way you potraid the example

  12. Pingback: 4 Barriers to Effective Communication & What to Do About Them | Unit 01 Communication And Employability Skills For IT | Scoop.it

  13. Anned

    I can totally relate to this, I’m an Asian college student and I now live in Europe, although English has always been the medium through which I communicate, the degree I’m following is in Italian. I put my studies on hold for a year to learn Italian. I like your point on Linguistic barriers: variance in expression. I believe, language itself shouldn’t be a barrier in achieving your goals. whats your opinion on this?

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Anned ~ While I agree that language shouldn’t be a barrier on its own, I think for many people, it is tied so closely to one’s own culture that there is often a reluctance to go farther afield and explore. I think too, that learning another language is one way of opening up the mind to possibilities not previously considered. And, I believe effective communication begins with an open mind.
      You are obviously not allowing a language barrier to get in the way of achieving your goals. Your focus, and your patience, will, I think, take you far.
      Best wishes on your studies and thank you for taking the time to comment here.

  14. hi how can i improve my communication skills

  15. Lordwell Gopo

    it’s so interesting & educative,i like it thank u.Yes language difference is a very good example of barriers to effective communication and its so funny.i just remember the past three months when i was talking to somebody who spoke with a language different from mine,i was laughing,laughing and laughing up until my ribs began to ache.

  16. Listening is a great art of communication.

  17. Lordwell Gopo

    misinterpretation of nonverbal cues is also a barrier to communication for example if somebody is hungry his or her face may appear as if he or she is annoyed or have a mood that is rath

    er or somewhat rude and therefore not free to talk to hence people may avoid that person even if there is something important they might want to ask from him or her.knowing about communication skills is so intresting.i’m happy because i have found the exact information that i have been looking for, from this site.

  18. johnika thurus

    good one

  19. nanyunja margret

    i appreciate da work done

  20. Everybody speaks about the barriers but nobody tells what to do…thanks for doing so..:) I think communication altogether becomes noise when expression is incorrect, commonness is not the base, message is indirect and interpretation is uncertain. We cannot expect commonness within the presences of these barriers.

  21. In Malaysia there are many cultures, we have major cultures of chinese, indian and malay. We learn each other culture as fast as we could and we are teach to respect each other, we still enjoyed having different friends with different cultures and we excel by respecting each other. Then came the immigrants and we need to learn more…never ending story that is.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Learning about each other is indeed a never-ending story. And, as you say, just when we think we have it right, it’s wrong! Thank you for sharing your experience here. 🙂

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  23. Pingback: What are the obstacles to effective communication? How can I overcome these when engaging in official business communications? | yanxiaowen1205

  24. Kekere oluwayemisi victoria

    I think religious should also be barrier,because in northern part of nigeria where there is eleha’s or rather say muslims,u cnt communicate with them if u are not there people

  25. sherifa luna

    too good.

  26. Pingback: Who Is Reading This? | Jessica Andreta

  27. Henry

    Include the references for more help.

  28. Pingback: Health and Social Care Unit 1: Developing Effective Communication (P4) – Site Title

  29. Pingback: Barriers and enablers to communication – Communication in Health Promotion

  30. Love your examples of barriers to communication.

    Nothing sucks like an Electrolux had me chuckling out loud hehe.

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