Effective communication is critical to the success of any relationship, both in our professional and personal lives. Barriers to communication frustrate our efforts to persuade, inform, entertain and connect with others. To improve our communication practices, it is first necessary to understand the obstacles that hinder effective communication.
Closed doors, poor lighting, separation across great distances and intrusive noises are examples of physical barriers that impede communication. In the best of circumstances, effective communication can be difficult. When physical barriers are added to the equation, communication can be all but impossible. According to communication scholar Aruna Koneru, physical barriers to communication "can make the entire process of communication convoluted and lead to miscommunication or ineffective communication."
Psychological barriers include emotional or attitudinal impediments, such as fear, mistrust, suspicion, or feelings of vulnerability. In their book, "More than Words: An Introduction to Communication," Richard Dimbleby and Graeme Burton identify psychological barriers as the most common cause of communication problems.
Communication can be complicated by cultural differences between individuals engaged in conversation. Different beliefs and value systems can cause confusion and misunderstanding. According to industrial sociologist Martin Hahn, cultural differences are not just based on race, nationality and ethnicity, but also age, gender, social status, economic position and political beliefs. Cultural differences can also lead to stereotyping. As Ohio State University professor Bernard Erven explains, stereotyping complicates communication when it causes people to believe they already know what a speaker is going to say based upon their cultural identity, rather than listening to the message with an open mind.
Communication is sometimes hindered by the very words we use to express our ideas. In the extreme, speakers of different languages may be unable to communicate without the assistance of a translator. Less formidable barriers include differences between speakers' accents or dialects, as well as the use of slang or jargon that may be unfamiliar.