The attitude of both the sender and the receiver can act as a major obstacle in the communication process.
However, it is not always possible to be aware of all of these influences as they are heavily reliant on personal characteristics.
Some of the principal barriers here include:
- relationship between communicators
- personal belief and perception
Messages are more easily understood when both the sender and receiver can empathise with each other, as well as with what is being said. Personal attributes can be involved here, some of which cannot be altered, such as gender, race or physique; but all can influence behaviour, and reactions to the behaviour of others. Attitudes can also create barriers – people have a tendency not to listen to others who have a different viewpoint from their own.
The ability to empathise with someone else may not be easy and the relationship between the people involved in any communication process may form a barrier to the effectiveness of communication. If the relationship is good, communication is more likely to succeed.
Personal Belief and Perception
The biases that people have developed during their lifetimes may distort the messages they receive. People are affected by previous experiences, attitudes, values and feelings and all of these can influence the messages being communicated. It is human nature to evaluate others based on these personal attitudes, but this can have a negative effect on communication and cause some aspects of the message to become lost in the transmission. Stereotyping is a significant barrier to communication. It typifies people so that they are dealt with quickly, without any effort as they are regarded as part of a homogenous group with identical traits. Stereotyping is dangerous because it causes people to act as though they already know the message that is coming from the sender. Judgements are made about who is communicating the message, rather than the message itself and the receiver automatically becomes less objective.
Culture and geography can create obstacles to effective communication. Very often, words or phrases from different parts of the world, or even different parts of the same country, can have different meanings. Non-verbal communication such as body language or gestures can also have different meanings. An example of these variances can be seen in the different interpretations of head shaking. In western societies this means no, while head nodding means yes. To many traditional Greeks and Middle Easterners, an upward head nod means no.
If the person communicating is regarded as an authority on a particular subject, understanding is increased as more credence is attached to what is being communicated. More attention tends to be paid if the person communicating the message is in a position of superiority, e.g. if someone is listening to a speaker, attention will automatically be greater if the listener has admiration and respect for that speaker.
When the sender displays high levels of emotion, the receiver can become distracted. If too much attention is paid to the emotional message being conveyed, important information such as factual information may not be understood. On the other hand, the receiver may completely ignore the emotional message and concentrate on the factual information instead. In both cases, the message is distorted because the entire message is not being absorbed.
Overcoming Mental Barriers
How to develop empathy with the person you are communicating with:
- Put yourself in their place and try to see yourself through their eyes to understand their point of view.
- Listen actively and objectively to the message, not the person communicating the message.
- Take time to learn about various cultures and become more familiar with the cultures of people you are regularly communicating with.
- Realise that a person’s status can affect the message you perceive. Just because they are in a position of authority, it does not necessarily follow that what they are communicating is correct.
- Be aware that a person’s emotional state when either sending or receiving messages can unconsciously affect how the messages are transmitted and can affect how others interpret the message sent.
It may not always be possible to completely control mental barriers, but even awareness of their existence by the sender or the receiver can help to ensure the smooth flow of communication.