Communication skills can be learnt and practised to maximise communication effectiveness. Skilled communicators understand that there are a range of potential barriers to communication that can hinder the process, and they know how to overcome each barrier. Understanding the impacts of various barriers to communication, as well as effective techniques for getting around them, can help to improve your communication skills on and off the job.
Communication Media Limitations
People communicate using a variety of means in addition to in-person speech. People may communicate over the phone, via e-mail or through written correspondence, each of which lacks certain elements of in-person communication that convey vital information. Telephone conversations do not include body language, for example, which can cause listeners to misinterpret speakers' true meanings. E-mail lacks both body language and voice tone, as another example, which can cause sarcastic or humorous messages to seem hostile or cynical. Skilled communicators know how to adapt their messages to transmit effectively within each medium's unique limitations.
People from diverse cultures can experience difficulty in understanding each other's perspectives. Cultural colloquialisms and local phrases often derive their meaning from strictly local traditions and understandings, which can be completely irrelevant to people from other cultures. The American phrase "knock it out of the park" may convey meaning to fellow Americans and baseball fans worldwide, for example, but it might not mean anything to a Dutch businessperson. Skilled communicators overcome this barrier by understanding when colloquialisms are called for, and when more straightforward language is more effective.
Pre-conceived notions, prejudices and other ingrained biases can hamper effective communication, causing listeners to unknowingly use selective hearing and selective retention to screen out statements that contradict their preconceived ideas. Contradicting a prejudice or bias during communication can cause listeners to doubt speakers' credibility, and can divert conversations into confrontational sidebars. Effective communicators learn to keep an open mind while speaking and listening, respecting others' unique perspectives and doing their best to avoid taboo topics of conversation.
Practicing communication skills and learning to overcome barriers to communication can be truly helpful for individuals, but problems can arise if not all parties to a conversation are skilled communicators. Avoiding prejudices, for example, can be virtually useless if you are speaking with someone who allows prejudices to dictate their opinions. Using straightforward language with international business partners can help them to understand you, as another example, but that doesn't help you if your counterparts use cultural idioms that you don't understand. Skilled communicators learn to overcome a lack of communication skills in their conversation counterparts, seeing through their communication mistakes to ascertain their true meanings.