Barriers to good communication
You learned about communicating your needs in the earliest training ground of your childhood. When you were helpless a infant your caregivers kept you alive by supplying food, shelter and emotional warmth. To get what you wanted, as babies you cried, and when you could speak, you learned to ask. Ideally your caregivers reassured you that your needs were important, and taught you how to express these needs clearly. If your primary caregivers were too busy, or emotionally distant, you may have learned your needs weren’t important. Worse yet, you may have been punished when you asked for help, and discovered that expressing or even having needs is dangerous.
Often you assume you know how another person feels based on your own experiences. For example, when you hear the word “tree” what kind of tree springs to mind? Personally, I see a birch tree. Someone from the tropics might see a palm tree. Same word, different interpretations. Granted, misinterpreting information about a tree is not earth-shattering and probably won’t cause any real damage. But differing impressions and experiences with such loaded concepts as anger, confusion, need and commitment can lead to some major glitches in the communication process.
Most people are pretty adept at transmitting factual information – names, dates, numbers – to one another. But how about your feelings, wishes, understanding, concerns and decisions? That’s when things get messy. Subjective information is full of gray areas, a fogginess generated by fear, expectations, resentments, assumptions, jargon and past experience. You bring all of these elements to your face-to-face encounters with others. Good communication is more than just sending a message; it involves making sure that the message you send is the message received; and that the message you receive is the message that was sent. Easier said than done.
Every communicative act is based on something that conveys meaning, and that conveyance is the message. The communication process is triggered when the sender makes a conscious or an unconscious decision to share the message with another person—the receiver. The message may be either verbal (spoken or written) or nonverbal (body language, physical appearance, or vocal tone). Messages may also come from the context—or place and time—of the communication. For instance, if you choose to make a critical comment to someone, the place and the time you choose to make that comment will make a big impact on how it will be received.
Every message is sent and received through one of our five senses—it is seen, heard, touched, tasted, or smelled. The sensory media through which messages are sent and received are communication channels. In a work setting, messages may be seen through body movement, letters, memos, newsletters, bulletin board notices, signs, emails, and so on. Messages that are heard come through conversations, interviews, presentations, telephones, radios, and other audio media. Sight and sound are the two most frequent communication channels used in our society. When the receiver gets the message (through seeing, hearing, feeling, touching, or smelling), he or she will usually give feedback (return message) unconsciously or consciously. Thus, the communications process is on-going.
Effective communication occurs when your actions and words match. If they don’t, then the sender or receiver is responsible for offering clarity or asking for it. This requires an awareness of your feelings, words, body language, and how we communicate them to others. People who are successful communicators take full responsibility for success in the communication process. These people take responsibility for being certain that you understand what they are saying. They recognize that barriers to good communications exist so they speak in simple, grammatical, and understandable terms. They also give examples, ask for feedback, put what they said previously in different words, and make it easy for you to gain the true intent of their communications. However, this in no way frees the listener from responsibility from the process. Without proper listening, communication does not occur.
The worst assumption a sender can make is that the message will be received as intended. So many things can go wrong during the communications process that you should always assume that something will go wrong and frequently check in with the receive to make sure they are understanding your message. Barriers to good communications are always present. For instance, the language itself can be a barrier—unclear wording, slang, jargon, the tone. Another barrier is the failure of the sender to realize that his or her body language might contradict the spoken message. Poor listening skills can also constitute a barrier.