6 Barriers that Keep People from Engaging in Effective Communication in the Workplace

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Effective communication should be a core business goal for any organization. A study by Gartner showed that 70% of business mistakes result from poor communication. Solve this problem, and you can significantly improve morale, workplace happiness, and productivity.

And yet, that’s often easier said than done. We all strive for effective communication. What we don’t often realize, though, are the barriers that keep us from achieving that goal in the first place. The best strategy, platform, or company-wide initiative matters little without taking these barriers into consideration.
This is a complex topic. It’s only natural to assume that not everyone will communicate on the same level. That doesn’t mean it’s not a goal worth striving for. Consider these 6 barriers keeping people from engaging in effective workplace communication, then build a strategy designed to topple and circumvent these problems naturally.

1) An Emphasis on One-Way Communication

Good communication is inherently mutual. In other words, it consists of more than one sender and one receiver. And yet, too often in the workplace, that’s exactly the model most people engage in.

Often, that problem is due to a strict corporate hierarchy. Especially in vertical organizational charts, managers tend to give orders, while their supervisees simply listen and implement. But that approach is too formal to truly be effective.

Not being able or feeling empowered to give feedback and ask questions don’t lead to much-improved productivity. Instead, each employee should feel empowered to offer their thoughts and ideas to multiple levels of the org chart. That process also has to be mutual; as the U.S. Office of Personnel Management outlines, constructive feedback from managers can improve job performance and productivity.

2) A Lack of Communication Baseline

A second common barrier is the simple lack of a baseline from which to communicate. The best efforts to implement two-way communication systems will fail if the people communicating are simply not on the same page.

That baseline tends to be information-based. You have to make sure that each of your employees engaging with each other work with the same knowledge level about the subject they’re communicating about.

Better information sharing about job expectations, divisional goals, and company-wide initiatives can go a long way towards breaking through this barrier. Once you emphasize internal communication, you can raise the baseline to a level that allows for more effective collaboration among your teams.

3) Language Differences and Nuances

It’s obvious that employees speaking different languages will not be able to communicate with each other effectively. What might not be as obvious is just how often this situation occurs.

One in five U.S. residents speaks a language other than English at home. The Hispanic workforce alone totals 27 million. The cultural differences are often subtle, but they can have a major impact on communication.

Hand gestures and other nonverbal cues can be interpreted very differently. You have to make sure that your teams are on the same page even and especially if they come from different backgrounds.

4) Generational and Demographic Variations

In addition to language differences, don’t forget about the impact that simply being born in a different generation can have. Much has been made of the clash between Millennials and Baby Boomers. Some of that is media hype, but it’s still based on at least a kernel of truth.

Generational and other demographic differences will create a natural communication gap between your various workers. It doesn’t end at cultural references, either. Millennials, for example, expect to be walked through and mentored on new projects, while Gen X and boomers prefer to try the same project on their own first.

You cannot completely eliminate this potential communication barrier. You can, however, account for it. Know your workforce, and build in training sessions specifically designed to bridge the gap and help each group understand the other better.

5) Location Constraints for Remote Workers

An increasing number of global workers are based in locations away from your physical headquarters. In fact, 43% of Americans told Gallup that they worked remotely at least sometime during the last year.

Working remotely has significant benefits that range from increased efficiency to higher employee morale. But even in the light of these benefits, don’t be fooled about the potential challenges this type of setup presents for your company.

Experts estimate that around 93% of our communication is actually nonverbal. In phone calls or emails, that nonverbal communication component can easily get lost. Location constraints thus present a barrier to internal communication that is impossible to underestimate.

6) Ineffective Communication and Collaboration Platforms

Finally, let’s discuss the types of platforms you offer your employees to better collaborate. Modern corporations and non-profits continue to rely on tools like email and phone for direct conversations. But is that still the best option to get your workforce to work together and communicate effectively?

Increasingly, the answer seems to be no. A few years ago, the Harvard Business Review proposed eliminating email for internal communication altogether, and its reasons still ring true today:

As more knowledge workers now acknowledge, the inbox-bound lifestyle created by an unstructured workflow is exhausting and anxiety-provoking. Humans are not wired to exist in a constant state of divided attention, and we need the ability to gain distance from work to reflect and recharge.

And that’s just one of the many potential problems. As mentioned above, email and phone communication losses the ability for nonverbal cues, hindering understanding in the process. And of course, they’re inherently exclusive, promoting not collaboration but a series of 1-on-1 communications that will not help improve teamwork across larger teams.

To break through this barrier, you’ll have to consider workplace communication more holistically. You need a communication platform designed for collaboration, and building the bridges you need to help your teams better work together. It’s the best way to build a foundation for effective communication that improves, not hampers, your productivity.

Implementing this type of platform will not be easy. It will require a shift in daily work processes and even philosophy from your various workers. And yet, the long-term benefits are well worth that initial change resistance. You are able to eliminate barriers, instead of building a more effective communication strategy that improves collaboration and communication in your workplace.