Types of Communication Barriers

So-called ‘bad’ communication is pretty simple. Bad communication is what happens when you’re not able to get your ideas and feelings through to the other person – when you’re misunderstood. In order to overcome bad communication or unnecessary barriers to understanding, you need to have a plan and a goal for every important conversation you are involved in. Making the assumption that others feel, hear and understand things in the same way you do can be a sure way to ‘mess up’ a conversation. We therefore need to be careful not to focus so much on our own agenda that we forget that we are just half of the conversation.

For effective communication to take place, each person has to understand what the other is saying and what they mean by the words they use. At the simplest level we need to be using words which have a common meaning and we should check that meaning. For example, we may use words such as ‘quickly’, ‘soon’, ‘right’, and so forth, but are we always sure that what we understand them to mean is what the other person understands? People are often frustrated because what they mean is not what others understand. The leader who gives someone a job to do ‘quickly’ without explaining what they mean can be left waiting much longer than they would like for a result. Similarly, doing something ‘soon’ may mean a lot longer for kids than most parents would like.  The same goes for asking for a given ‘quality’ of result – this needs clarification in order to be meaningful.

So, you should ideally be thinking very carefully about the words you intend to use and then be specific about what some of the more ambiguous words mean. For instance, “I’d like this done by the end of the day”,  or “If you finish your presentation by Tuesday, I will have time to read it before it’s delivered on Wednesday morning” leaves much less room for misunderstanding or confusion about what is being said.

In general terms, to avoid misunderstandings based on different perceptions of what we mean, we need to always check the other person’s experience when it comes to our communication. This means that we should develop a good appreciation of all the possible barriers that might arise so that we can take these into account ahead of time. You will notice that the list below is not only about poor word choices.

Things which can create barriers in conversations:

  • Using vague, ambiguous or confusing words, terms, jargon and phrases
  • Using body language that is inconsistent with the words we are using
  • Not paying attention to the other person in the conversation
  • Not listening in general
  • Talking over the other person/interrupting
  • Pretending (to be interested, friendly, sincere, and so on)
  • Talking down
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Being sarcastic
  • Knocking down ideas
  • Scoring conversational points

Of course, we may not do these things most of the time. Even occasionally engaging in just one or two of these behaviours may have a highly detrimental effect on any communication.

So what can we do to help a conversation or to assist the communication to flow more smoothly?

Things which remove barriers in conversations:

  • Planning our words, terms and phrases carefully
  • Talking in plain language wherever possible
  • Using body language consistently
  • Being welcoming/smiling as often as appropriate
  • Using introductory small talk in the early stages of a conversation
  • Maintaining good eye contact
  • Listening attentively
  • Sharing your experience where appropriate
  • Being open and honest
  • Asking for feedback
  • Being prepared to try to understand how the other person feels
  • Agreeing (when you do)
  • Checking your understanding as often as necessary

The above behaviours may seem obvious when you review them in a list like this but it’s amazing how few of them we may actually use in our everyday conversations, even though the impact on the overall quality of the communication can be significant when this is done well.

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at



Colin is the Director of ResourceZone International. He has 30 years of ministry experience as a pastor, college lecturer and consultant/coach to consultants, denominational leaders and local church pastors. He can be reached at



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About the Editor and Primary Author

Colin Noyes

Colin Noyes is a Brisbane (Australia) based coach and consultant with extensive experience in the areas of organisational health and growth, change management, leadership development, recruiting/staff development and coaching. Read more

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