Physical barriers to effective communication

Physical factors can be barriers to effective communication, whether the communication is among a group or between two individuals. Identifying and taking steps to eliminate and prevent physical barriers opens the door to preventing message distortion and allows the message to be expressed and received without distraction.


Environmental conditions can affect how effective a message is communicated to listeners. A prime example is when members of an audience fidget or fan themselves in a room where the climate is too hot or too cold. In this scenario, listeners are too concerned with their own comfort to be totally engaged by a speaker. In an outside setting, inclement weather such as rain or heavy winds can battle against effective communication.

Cell Phones

A cell phone that suddenly announces its presence with a loud ring or by playing a musical tone can interfere with effective communication. A phone can intrude a gathering of listeners or two people in direct communication. If one person accepts a call while already engaged in a conversation, the message can be conveyed that the phone conversation is more important. This physical barrier can further lead to attitudinal barriers. Ideas or topics can be forgotten or overlooked when the conversation resumes.

Nearby Noises

If there are competing noises and sights within range of a communication, these can interfere with the message being transmitted. For example, two mothers speaking to each other in a park might be distracted by concerns over the safety of their children playing nearby. A loud aircraft passing overhead or a passing car with loud music can put an instant pause in a conversation because those involved cannot hear each other. Also, a crying baby, an incessant nearby noise or another conversation where the participants are loud or unruly, along with other outside influences, all compete with effective communication.


The distance between a communicator and a listener can be a barrier. This distance can be either too close or too far. A stranger, or even a casual acquaintance, who stands too close to you may cause you to inwardly question why he is invading your personal space, instead of listening to what he is saying. Or, you may be unable to completely hear someone who stands too far away.

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About the Author

Christopher John has been a freelance journalist since 2003. He has written for regional newspapers such as "The Metro Forum" and the "West Tennessee Examiner." John has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Memphis State University.