Overcoming the Barriers to Effective Communication

Overcoming the Barriers to Effective Communication

What to do when someone doesn’t get you?

Have you ever wondered why some people just don’t understand what you mean? What you’re thinking and saying seem so clear to you and yet so misunderstood by the person you are talking to. You are left with wrinkling your forehead and pulling out your hair trying to understand the barriers to effective communication.

It is important to realize that another person’s perception about your communication is everything. People frequently perceive the meanings of our communicated messages very differently than our actual intentions. This is a fact of life and will happen over and over again. It is normal. The crucial point here is: “What can we do about this barrier to effective communication?”

Depending on our response, these situations can either spiral downward and descend into a nasty exchange with destructive qualities, or be elevated to a dignified level where the truth of the sender’s intention can be carefully uncovered. How you plan your steps to creating effective communication is the key to a happy or a miserable outcome.

Consider Darrell and his boss, Ken. Darrell is a junior accountant who always wants to please and secretly looks for approval from his superior wanting some indication that he has done a fine job. As a new person in his field he relies heavily upon the accolades of others as he hones his self image as an up and coming professional.

His boss a seasoned executive, who rose through the ranks by attending the school of hard knocks, was a more forceful person by nature, and while he could be kind and respectful of others he had a penchant for efficiency, which sometimes eclipsed his gentler side, setting up barriers to effective communication.

Whenever Ken gave instructions to his new accountant he did so with precision, speed and exacting accuracy, so as to minimize unnecessary use of time and maximize efficiency. His new employee could handle this for a short while, rationalizing that it would get better as his boss wouldn’t always be this way.

As time went on however, Darrell began to feel unappreciated and uncared for, perceiving his boss’s behavior as brusque and unappreciative. In fact he felt that his new boss did not even like him, even though he was providing competent and effective service to his new company. He began to avoid talking with Ken at coffee and even began talking about him in disparaging ways behind his back. Even though Ken was a bit rough around the edges, he had over the years, become attuned to sudden behavior changes in his employees.

Fortunately for everyone he was able to use some of the points that he learned in his “Barriers to Effective Communication” course, and confronted his new staff member in a way that enabled him to discuss the problem. Darrell was relieved to learn that his boss was very happy with the service rendered to the company and that he was only trying to get his job done as efficiently as possible. In fact he explained that he was trying to give Darrell adequate space so he could test his wings and not feel hampered by Ken as he found his way in the marketplace.

Fortunately for Darrell and Ken this episode had a happy ending. Ken could see that  something was wrong and used his skill of inquiry to diffuse Darrell’s misperceptions.

When someone appears to misunderstand what you mean, what can you do?

Stay away from thinking in terms of right and wrong.

This will lead to blame and will set up barriers to effective communication. Accept responsibility for your part in the communication breakdown. Whenever there is misunderstanding in a relationship; both parties have a part to play in the disharmony. Asking yourself questions such as, “I wonder what we could have done differently,” or “I wonder if I offended him,” or “We’re in this thing together and we need to find a resolution together.” This way of thinking prepares you for open dialogue where a solution can be found.

Be aware of your effect on other people and adapt your responses to their needs.

If you tend to be more forceful in your style you may need to compensate for your demeanor by being intentionally understanding and softening your stance when you are dealing with a person who appears sensitive. If you are more sensitive by nature remind yourself that some people are bolder in their communications. This does not necessarily mean that they dislike you, they may just have a higher need for efficiency and as a result, it may appear that their directness is targeted at you personally when in fact they are trying to protect their own need for ‘getting it done’!


Do not assume anything if you have uneasy feelings about what was said or done. Learn to check things out with the other person directly when you have doubts about a situation. Be assertive enough to get the correct information and remove significant barriers to communication.

Raise touchy issues gently so others will want to listen to you.

Starting your sentences in a careful manner will enable you to enter into difficult issues with grace and poise, while keeping you in a hopeful, expectant mind-set. Here are some starter sentences to use:

  • “I was curious about something you said yesterday and I’m wondering if…”
  • “It would really help me if you could clarify what you meant when…”
  • “I would like it if…”
  • “I thought I may have confused you yesterday and I’m wondering if…”
  • “Would it be possible to have coffee together soon to just run over a couple of things?”

Remember, the way we phrase our sentences and how we use our tone of voice and body gestures can serve to enhance our message or serve as barriers to effective communication.

Misperceptions are a part of life. The key to successfully handling these issues is to talk openly and honestly with one another so as to repeatedly clarify communication until we have full understanding. Perceptions are real but they are not always truth. Barriers to effective communication are removed through effective dialogue employing the skill of Interpersonal Listening and Feedback. This pays handsome rewards for those who persevere. “Going for the gold” in human communication is always about moving from perception to truth. Why not go for the Gold?

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