Potential Barriers to Communication

Effective communication involves much more than use of language between a speaker or writer and the receiver. Body language is non-verbal communication that may not be equally understood by all people involved, and language is interpreted differently by different subgroups. In addition, people tend to make unspoken assumptions about perceptions, opinions, background knowledge and other factors of the recipient that may not be accurate.


Countless words in the English language have different meanings and can be misunderstood by different groups of people. For example, the word “cool” can mean trendy, popular or widely accepted; It can also mean aloof or reserved. So if someone points out to somebody else that a person is “cool," the listener, unless he knows that the word "cool" is sometimes used to denote popularity, may actually think that the person being described is unapproachable. Another example of language as a potential barrier to communication is the use of specialised vocabulary. If people from the same workplace are in a conversation with someone who doesn’t work with them, they may inadvertently use words or even whole subjects that exclude the other person.

Body Language

Our bodies may give messages that contradict our words. For example, not looking at the person speaking, crossing arms or legs to block out the speaker, or even doing another task while someone is speaking sends the message that you don’t care. People who are intuitively sensitive to the meanings of body language will pick up on this and, even if they do not consciously know what happened, they will “feel” the person's disinterest. Such subtle nuances cause communication barriers that are not easily smoothed over by explanations alone.


Many people hesitate to communicate freely because of a fear of rejection or a mistrust of others. People may also withhold communication due to fear of hurting the listener. A fear of rejection from the listener is a major cause of emotional barriers to communication.

Listening Skills

The average human mind can comprehend between 400-600 words per minute, but the average speaker only says approximately 125 words per minute. This means that unless the listener focuses with careful attention to active listening, chances of experiencing a communication barrier are very high.


How we perceive the world has a huge impact on how we communicate. If we think that life is unfair and the world is full of unfriendly people, our communication will reflect this negative perception. Communicating with people who have a very different perception of the world will result in a broken flow of ideas leading to a breakdown in communication. Assumptions fall into this category as well. People often assume that the people they communicate with share the same perception of a situation; As a result, they make comments that imply this shared perception. If the listeners do not agree, a communication barrier has been erected.


People employ all kinds of interpersonal behaviour that results in communication barriers. Withdrawal in social situations or becoming a workaholic and not being available are examples of how people create communication barriers. Games in relationships in which communication is used to manipulate another person is an excellent example of interpersonal communication barriers.

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About the Author

River Lin is an independent writer and consultant. With a Master's degree in teaching English as a second language from Ball State University. She lived in Japan for 15 years teaching and editing. Now based in the US, she works for a variety of clients. Published work can be found in print and online at various websites and