Barriers to Effective Communication: Semantic, Psychological

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Communication has been defined as the transmission of meaning or understanding. Yet by far, most of the communication in organisations or between persons fails to satisfy this criterion. Communication quite often fails to convey the meaning or develop an understanding of the communication sufficient enough to bring about a change in the behaviour of the recipient. The failure in communication arises because of certain blockages or barriers between the sender and the receiver. In order to make a communication meaningful, it must be ensured that these barriers to effective communication are removed.

barriers to effective communication

Type of Barriers to Effective Communication

One of the biggest dangers in communication is to assume that communication has taken place. The barriers that interfere with the understanding of the communication are of three kinds:

  • Semantic
  • Psychological
  • Organisational

Semantic Barriers

Words, action or a feeling, can have several meanings. Difficulty in understanding may arise even in the case of words which have different contextual meanings in different regions/countries. Semantic difficulty also arises because of unfamiliarity with words, for example, a word of a foreign language or a technical word. An effective communication is one which uses words appropriate to the environment and mental framework of the receiver. This ensures that communication is grasped properly and implemented effectively.

Semantic barrier can also be created if body language is inconsistent with the verbal communication. A manager who praises the honesty and sincerity of his/her subordinate in a sarcastic tone creates doubts in the minds of the subordinate as to the course of action s/he should adopt in a given situation in future. The same kind of barrier is created by a divergence between the verbal language and the action language of the superiors. When action and language are used jointly, the actions often have more powerful influence on other’s actions than words. A management may, for example, profess its belief in being guided solely by the merit of employees while making promotions. But if employees observe that, in actual practice, promotions are made on considerations other than merit, the management’s professed policy is bound to be affected by a semantic barrier.

Psychological Barriers

Psychological barriers are the prime barriers in inter-personal communication. The meaning that is ascribed to a message depends upon the emotional or psychological status of both the parties concerned. As such, the psychological barriers may be set up either by the receiver or the sender of the message. Emotions which dominate our  mood at the time, e.g., anger, anxiety, fear, happiness, etc., will affect our  interpretation of the message particular kind of situation, event, happening or words and symbols are capable of being interpreted differently by different people depending on their psychological states. A receiver who is suspicious or hostile, either as a consequence of his/her feeling of insecurity or because of his/her past experience with the sender of the communication, is more likely to start ‘reading between the lines’ and ascribe a distorted meaning to the message

Organisational Barriers

Organisations provide a formal framework through which communication is designed to flow. The structuring of the flow itself tends to act as a barrier against free flow of communication between persons and levels in the organisation. Rules may prescribe how communications are to move from one level to another in upward or downward directions. Not only is there a possibility of delay in the communication reaching its destination, but also there is every possibility of communication getting distorted through the process of filtering. A critical information that has lost its criticality because of the actions of the intervening levels may jeopardize the position of the manager as well as the organisation itself.

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