Communication Barriers


Identify possible barriers to interpersonal communication and the strategies that can be used to overcome such barriers, Aspects that you should consider amongst others, are the roles that  gender and cultural differences can play in communication.


There are many barriers to the process of interpersonal communication. In an organization – such as a project team – improving the process of interpersonal communication is as important as other project processes or protocols. It is with these communication key sets that people within an organization are able to understand each other regardless of their difference in departments, job functions and personal view or opinions.


Interpersonal communication barriers can be easily identified in instances when there is conflict or friction in the work environment. At this point the organization or team leader should immediately take measures to curb any conflict and train its members such that they will have an improved set of interpersonal communication skills. Overcoming these barriers only takes four steps to observe and follow and form into a habit:


Use Simple Words to Convey the Message.


To have an effective process of interpersonal communication, you have to simplify language. Say simple structure sentences that will be easy to understand. Everyone hates to decipher spoken words, reserve the deciphering to the writing and when speaking, keep it simple and easy to understand.


In a work environment, teammates can use word jargons to be able to understand each other using simple words or acronyms. Aside from this, the use of specialized acronyms will create a special bond that only the team will be able to understand.

Learn the Art of Listening


The process of interpersonal communication requires one to learn the art of listening. We say art because not everyone can do this. A person will always try to get his opinions across first before listening to the other person’s point of view. To master the art of listening, try these tips:


Listen Attentively – Listening does not mean hearing what the other person has to say. Hearing is not the same as listening. When we say listen, we mean to hear and understand. The speaker will know if the person he is speaking to is listening or not by randomly asking indirect questions about what he just said. But if he learns that the receiver was able to understand what he has just conveyed, then the process of interpersonal communication is a success.


Listen Proactively – Listening is actually a two-way communication and not one way as others believe or perceive to be. When two persons are communicating with each other, an effective process of interpersonal communication will require the use of asking questions while the other person is speaking. This will make the conversation richer and more interesting. Also, asking questions will keep the conversation in the right direction.

Keeping Composure While Communicating


The process of interpersonal communication is more effective if emotions are kept at bay. Keeping your composure while talking or negotiating with a business partner will maintain a mysterious air while at the same time keep you on the right track towards your goal.


When you are in a casual conversation, however, showing some emotions can be helpful to build rapport to the one you are talking to. Showing emotions will let the other person know that you have sympathy and compassion towards him and definitely are signs of genuine interest.


Constructive Criticism is Important


Feedback is perhaps the best sign that you are communicating with the other person on a more personal level. Both the sender and receiver of communications may use feedback for effective interpersonal communication. If used by the sender, it will be in the form of a question such as “Did you understand what I have just said?” While when used by the receiver, it can be in the form of a remark or a statement such as, “What a wonderful speech!”


When making a constructive criticism, be sure to say it only within the earshot of your subject. Remember, a constructive criticism for you can be misconstrued as a negative feedback.


To excel in the process of interpersonal communication, you must hone your skill in providing constructive criticism, especially for team leaders wherein they have to be mindful of the development of their team members. Expect many instances requiring constructive criticism as part of your job function.


One of the most important traits of a good manager is the ability to criticize constructively. Criticism keeps us all on edge and helps us to perform better.


My current boss, who never allowed me to be content with what I did. Even when I thought I did a great job he would always come up with a few opinions (criticism is nothing but an opinion) of how if could have been better. As usual, I did not like it most of the times. But when I reflected on the reasons behind his criticism I realized that he criticizes because he does not want me to be content. Complacency sets in when one is content. Being constantly criticized (of course, constructively) helps us perform better.


“In Project Management, Criticism is Inevitable” is what my boss said during our weekly meeting. He says,


“Keep an open mind when being criticized. Don’t let the criticism control you or change what you think about yourself. Ask yourself, can I learn anything from the criticism? Can I change anything? Should I change? 


I don’t take criticism well, and I tend to discount those people around me that criticize others too much. I need to take my own advice and learn to be more accepting of criticism, especially when it is constructive”


Progress through conflict is possible, and the route is twofold. First, self-knowledge and self-awareness are needed. Without these, our seemingly normal approaches to meaning-making and communication will never be clear enough that we can see them for what they are: a set of lenses that shape what we see, hear, say, understand, and interpret. Second, cultural fluency is needed, meaning familiarity with culture and the ability to act on that familiarity.[2] Cultural fluency means understanding what culture is, how it works, and the ways culture and communication are intertwined with conflicts.


Six Fundamental Patterns of Cultural Differences


In a world as complex as ours, each of us is shaped by many factors, and culture is one of the powerful forces that acts on us. Anthropologists Kevin Avruch and Peter Black explain the importance of culture this way:


One’s own culture provides the “lens” through which we view the world; the “logic”… by which we order it; the “grammar” … by which it makes sense. 1


In other words, culture is central to what we see, how we make sense of what we see, and how we express ourselves.


As people from different cultural groups take on the exciting challenge of working together, cultural values sometimes conflict. We can misunderstand each other, and react in ways that can hinder what are otherwise promising partnerships. Oftentimes, we aren’t aware that culture is acting upon us. Sometimes, we are not even aware that we have cultural values or assumptions that are different from others’.


Six fundamental patterns of cultural differences — ways in which cultures, as a whole, tend to vary from one another — are described below. The descriptions point out some of the recurring causes of cross-cultural communication difficulties. As you enter into multicultural dialogue or collaboration, keep these generalized differences in mind. Next time you find yourself in a confusing situation, and you suspect that cross-cultural differences are at play, try reviewing this list. Ask yourself how culture may be shaping your own reactions, and try to see the world from others’ points of view.


Different Communication Styles


The way people communicate varies widely between, and even within, cultures. One aspect of communication style is language usage. Across cultures, some words and phrases are used in different ways. For example, even in countries that share the English language, the meaning of “yes” varies from “maybe, I’ll consider it” to “definitely so,” with many shades in between.


Another major aspect of communication style is the degree of importance given to non-verbal communication. Non-verbal communication includes not only facial expressions and gestures; it also involves seating arrangements, personal distance, and sense of time. In addition, different norms regarding the appropriate degree of assertiveness in communicating can add to cultural misunderstandings. For instance, some white Americans typically consider raised voices to be a sign that a fight has begun, while some black, Jewish and Italian Americans often feel that an increase in volume is a sign of an exciting conversation among friends. Thus, some white Americans may react with greater alarm to a loud discussion than would members of some American ethnic or non-white racial groups.


Different Attitudes Toward Conflict


Some cultures view conflict as a positive thing, while others view it as something to be avoided. In theU.S., conflict is not usually desirable; but people often are encouraged to deal directly with conflicts that do arise. In fact, face-to-face meetings customarily are recommended as the way to work through whatever problems exist. In contrast, in many Eastern countries, open conflict is experienced as embarrassing or demeaning; as a rule, differences are best worked out quietly. A written exchange might be the favored means to address the conflict.


Different Approaches to Completing Tasks


From culture to culture, there are different ways that people move toward completing tasks. Some reasons include different access to resources, different judgments of the rewards associated with task completion, different notions of time, and varied ideas about how relationship-building and task-oriented work should go together.


When it comes to working together effectively on a task, cultures differ with respect to the importance placed on establishing relationships early on in the collaboration. A case in point, Asian and Hispanic cultures tend to attach more value to developing relationships at the beginning of a shared project and more emphasis on task completion toward the end as compared with European-Americans. European-Americans tend to focus immediately on the task at hand, and let relationships develop as they work on the task. This does not mean that people from any one of these cultural backgrounds are more or less committed to accomplishing the task, or value relationships more or less; it means they may pursue them differently.


Different Decision-Making Styles


The roles individuals play in decision-making vary widely from culture to culture. For example, in theU.S., decisions are frequently delegated — that is, an official assigns responsibility for a particular matter to a subordinate. In many Southern European and Latin American countries, there is a strong value placed on holding decision-making responsibilities oneself. When decisions are made by groups of people, majority rule is a common approach in theU.S.; inJapanconsensus is the preferred mode. Be aware that individuals’ expectations about their own roles in shaping a decision may be influenced by their cultural frame of reference.


Different Attitudes Toward Disclosure


In some cultures, it is not appropriate to be frank about emotions, about the reasons behind a conflict or a misunderstanding, or about personal information. Keep this in mind when you are in a dialogue or when you are working with others. When you are dealing with a conflict, be mindful that people may differ in what they feel comfortable revealing. Questions that may seem natural to you — What was the conflict about? What was your role in the conflict? What was the sequence of events? — may seem intrusive to others. The variation among cultures in attitudes toward disclosure is also something to consider before you conclude that you have an accurate reading of the views, experiences, and goals of the people with whom you are working.


Different Approaches to Knowing


Notable differences occur among cultural groups when it comes to epistemologies — that is, the ways people come to know things. European cultures tend to consider information acquired through cognitive means, such as counting and measuring, more valid than other ways of coming to know things. Compare that to African cultures’ preference for affective ways of knowing, including symbolic imagery and rhythm. Asian cultures’ epistemologies tend to emphasize the validity of knowledge gained through striving toward transcendence.


Recent popular works demonstrate that our own society is paying more attention to previously overlooked ways of knowing. Indeed, these different approaches to knowing could affect ways of analyzing a community problem or finding ways to resolve it. Some members of your group may want to do library research to understand a shared problem better and identify possible solutions. Others may prefer to visit places and people who have experienced challenges like the ones you are facing, and get a feeling for what has worked elsewhere.



Respecting Our Differences and Working Together


In addition to helping us to understand ourselves and our own cultural frames of reference, knowledge of these six patterns of cultural difference can help us to understand the people who are different from us. An appreciation of patterns of cultural difference can assist us in processing what it means to be different in ways that are respectful of others, not faultfinding or damaging.


Anthropologists Avruch and Black have noted that, when faced by an interaction that we do not understand, people tend to interpret the others involved as “abnormal,” “weird,” or “wrong.” This tendency, if indulged, gives rise on the individual level to prejudice. If this propensity is either consciously or unconsciously integrated into organizational structures, then prejudice takes root in our institutions — in the structures, laws, policies, and procedures that shape our lives. Consequently, it is vital that we learn to control the human tendency to translate “different from me” into “less than me.” We can learn to do this.


We can also learn to collaborate across cultural lines as individuals and as a society. Awareness of cultural differences doesn’t have to divide us from each other. It doesn’t have to paralyze us either, for fear of not saying the “right thing.” In fact, becoming more aware of our cultural differences, as well as exploring our similarities, can help us communicate with each other more effectively. Recognizing where cultural differences are at work is the first step toward understanding and respecting each other.


Learning about different ways that people communicate can enrich our lives. People’s different communication styles reflect deeper philosophies and world views which are the foundation of their culture. Understanding these deeper philosophies gives us a broader picture of what the world has to offer us.


Learning about people’s cultures has the potential to give us a mirror image of our own. We have the opportunity to challenge our assumptions about the “right” way of doing things, and consider a variety of approaches. We have a chance to learn new ways to solve problems that we had previously given up on, accepting the difficulties as “just the way things are.”


Lastly, if we are open to learning about people from other cultures, we become less lonely. Prejudice and stereotypes separate us from whole groups of people who could be friends and partners in working for change. Many of us long for real contact. Talking with people different from ourselves gives us hope and energizes us to take on the challenge of improving our communities and worlds.





Most of the above content was taken from an article in “ The Process of Interpersonal Communication: 4 ways to Overcome Interpersonal Communication Barrier- Oct 11 2004, PM crunch site”


Avruch, Kevin and Peter Black, “Conflict Resolution in Intercultural Settings: Problems and Prospects,” in Conflict Resolution Theory and Practice: Integration and Application, edited by Dennis Sandole and Hugo van der Merwe.New York:St. Martin’s Press, 1993.


This list and some of the explanatory text is drawn from DuPraw and Warfield (1991), an informally published workshop manual co-authored by one of the authors of this piece.


Nichols, Edwin J., a presentation made to the World Psychiatric Association and Association of Psychiatrists inNigeria,November 10, 1976.