Three barriers to effective communication

Updated April 17, 2017

When communication is blocked, hindered or distorted, it can have unpleasant and even dangerous consequences. Businesses requires efficient and effective communication in order to function properly. Effective communication is also a necessary prerequisite for a healthy personal relation. One of the typical problems with a troubled marriage is a lack of communication.


Communication involves at least two people, a message and rules that determine how that message is sent and received. Linguists, semiologists, social scientists and philosophers of language have studied different aspects on how language and communication work and function. One of the most influential philosophers is the Jurgen Habermas from Germany. In the "Theory of Communicative Action," Habermas claims that language and communicative action always presupposed an ideal speech community. Any time a knowledge claim is made, a scientific claim, an ethical claim or a personal, emotional claim, it presupposes that the claim can be supported through argument. In other words, language and communication are always guided by an argumentative and logical structure. On the other hand, the ideal speech community is a theoretical presupposition. In reality, real speech is distorted and hindered in empirical speech communities for a variety of reasons.

Language Barriers

Effective communication can be hindered on the side of the sender or speaker, on the side of the receiver or hearer, and in the interaction between the two. If the speaker is inattentive to the person or group he is speaking to, he might be unaware that his message is not being effectively conveyed. A good example is the teacher-student relationship in the classroom. Effective teaching requires being aware of the student's needs and knowledge level. An inattentive teacher is unaware that the student is not understanding the point. If the language is unclear, ambiguous and inarticulate, this also interferes with the message

Emotional Barriers

Emotional barriers often interfere with communication. Feelings of anger, hostility and resentfulness, on the one hand, and feelings of joy and elation on the other hand, can all interfere with interpreting a message correctly. If you dislike the person speaking to you, such as a boss or colleague, you can put a biased spin on the message being sent to you. If you are infatuated with a boss or colleague, you might interpret their words or interest in an overly personal way. All communication has emotional overtones, and as a consequence, has the potential for the type of distortion that Habermas discusses.


Communication between a sender and receiver always involves an act of interpretation on the part of the sender and on the part of the receiver. Interpretation involves reading non-verbal cues, such as body language and tone, as well as verbal cues. As a consequence, the act of interpreting communication is always subject to distortion or misinterpretation. Another barrier in the act of interpretation is selective hearing. We sometime tend to hear what we want to hear and ignore unpleasant or uninteresting parts of the message.

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About the Author

Robert Russell began writing online professionally in 2010. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and is currently working on a book project exploring the relationship between art, entertainment and culture. He is the guitar player for the nationally touring cajun/zydeco band Creole Stomp. Russell travels with his laptop and writes many of his articles on the road between gigs.