Personal physical and semantic barriers to effective communication

Updated July 20, 2017

Communication is the exchange of information between individuals based on a common system of signals, behaviours and signs. There are many types of communication barriers that prevent the message from being conveyed to the recipient, which diminish the effective exchange of ideas or thoughts and can cause frustration. Barriers to communication can be personal, physical, semantic and cultural.

Personal Barriers

Personal communication barriers are based on the beliefs and outlook of a person. If a person has a negative worldview, for instance, then all communication that occurs will be filtered according to that. If a boss communicates to an employee that he must take care to spell check before handing in a memo, the employee with a negative personal view may receive the construction as negative and become angry or fearful for his job. Bias is another type of personal barrier. For example, if a person is biased against all doctors, she will not receive feedback from a doctor positively and may ignore the doctor's advice. Social class, education and gender are additional types of personal barriers.

Physical Barriers

Physical barriers include noise that is independent of the individuals communicating. This creates distraction. Examples of physical barriers to communication include road construction, loud music, texting while conversing, poorly arranged desks and uncomfortable meeting places. Physical barriers also affect written communication; for example, a written letter that is smudged or faded.


Semantic barriers occur when there is disagreement about the words being used, often based on individuals being from different cultures, disallowing the parties involved to determine a common meaning of the words used. This most often occurs when the parties involved speak different languages. Additional instances of semantic barriers occur when the use of jargon that is terminology-specific to a certain field or use of colloquial words or statements which can be specific to a region. For example, a doctor explaining a diagnosis to a patient will deliver the message less effectively if he relies solely on medical terminology.


Physiological barriers are caused by bodily dysfunction. This can include hearing impairment, vision impairment and speech disorders. For a person who is not able to hear, see or speak well or at all, communication becomes much more difficult. Communicating to someone who has a physiological barrier requires clear, direct messages, as someone with vision loss cannot perceive nonverbal cues and a person with hearing loss cannot hear the rate and tone of your voice in expressing emotion. Physiological barriers apply to personal, physical and semantic barriers. The challenges faced by those with physiological barriers and those communicating to persons with physiological barriers can be personal (e.g., bias against people with a disability), physical (e.g., being attentive about facing a person with hearing loss so one's lips can be read) and semantic (e.g., realising that those with physiological barriers may have diminished use of colloquial terms, thus altering speech accordingly).

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About the Author

Houston-based Zoha Natiq holds her Master of Education in counseling and works at a large local college, assisting students with their career goals. She has been writing for more than 10 years, both fiction and nonfiction, utilizing her knowledge of human behavior and the psyche.