In business, even a single miscommunication can result in a massive setback. Missed deadlines, lost opportunities, wasted time and money, employee and customer churn—these are just a few of the possible outcomes of poor internal communication.
Often, these miscommunications are not isolated incidents. Instead, they are symptoms of more serious barriers that may be affecting your entire organization:
- Language barriers
- Cultural barriers
- Physical barriers
- Psychological barriers
- Technological barriers
- Organizational barriers
Let’s discuss how to recognize (and address) each communication barrier above, and what to do if your organization is contending with multiple simultaneous barriers.
Communication barriers: What they are and how to eliminate them
Let’s examine each of the major barriers to effective communication—what they are, what they look like in practice, and ways to overcome them.
1 Language barriers
Language barriers involve miscommunications related to vernacular differences or translation difficulties.
Even when speaking the same language, dialects, accents, and unique communication quirks can all result in misunderstandings and other unintended consequences.
Likewise, people in the same organization may struggle with differences in vocabulary. If you’ve ever been asked if you have the bandwidth to think outside the box, can step up to the plate and swing for the fences, synergize efforts to pick the low-hanging fruit, or disrupt the conversation, you may be familiar with this frustration.
What to watch for: Frequent misunderstandings, complaints about lack of clarity, or disagreements that revolve around multiple interpretations of the same message.
Here are some ways you could address language barriers to communication:
- Encourage team members to use clear, concise language and avoid figurative language, jargon, and slang.
- Illustrate important points in critical documents and presentations with visual elements.
- Provide adequate training and educational resources around industry-specific terminology and branded terms.
- Offer continuing education benefits that could cover language courses for multilingual speakers.
- Give your team an advantage with a writing assistant like Grammarly Business, which can help primary and secondary English speakers alike improve their writing’s fluency.
2 Cultural barriers
Cultural barriers to communication stem from differences in social norms and values.
It’s important to be aware of ethnocentricity, or the assumption that all cultures share your values, beliefs, and lifestyle. Addressing ethnocentrism and emphasizing inclusion in your company culture will help team members feel valued and included, regardless of their background. Externally, you can educate your team on how to avoid business etiquette missteps in other cultures.
What to watch for: Stereotyping, ostracization, or other ethnocentric behaviors (or complaints about such behaviors), and team members avoiding each other.
To address cultural barriers to communication in the workplace, try the following:
- Implement regular sensitivity training sessions, paired with one-on-one meetings as needed to address any ongoing concerns.
- Establish clear rules around workplace etiquette and your brand culture, but stay open to revising those rules as your team—and the brand—evolves.
- Clarify and emphasize your brand’s values, why they matter, and how employees can exemplify those values. By creating a culture that emphasizes a shared set of values, you’ll foster a sense of belonging and break down cultural barriers.
- Create and share a brand style guide that includes rules and expectations around internal communication and etiquette.
3 Physical barriers
Distance is the most common physical barrier. As remote work becomes increasingly common, team members may find themselves sitting hundreds or even thousands of miles away from their colleagues. Without strong systems in place to keep them connected, they will struggle to communicate effectively.
What to watch for: Excessive tardiness (especially in multiple employees) related to demotivation, or distraction with physical causes (such as noise or discomfort). Complaints about difficulty concentrating or completing work.
Here are some ways to address physical barriers to communication in the workplace:
- Adopt and maintain up-to-date telecommunication technologies and consider allowing employees to work remotely if needed.
- Provide a comfortable, collaborative office with a minimum of external noise.
- Add private, closed office spaces for employees to collaborate or work without interruptions.
- Seat employees who work closely together in the same area.
4 Psychological barriers
Psychological barriers are caused by individual mindsets or mental health concerns.
Although disagreements are inevitable in most workplaces, sometimes these conflicts can cause serious problems. When employees with contrasting viewpoints and priorities also have clashing communication styles, their conflicts can negatively impact the whole team.
A lack of trust is a common psychological barrier that can make communication extremely difficult.
When employees feel unheard, unsupported, or undervalued, they will struggle to excel.
What to watch for: A lack of employee feedback or engagement, absenteeism, or a lack of collaboration between team members or teams.
Here are some ways to address psychological barriers to communication:
- Offer training and resources about understanding various business communication styles.
- Implement mandatory workplace anti-harassment training.
- Foster trust and solidarity by enlisting employees to offer suggestions for team-building exercises or events.
- Encourage open, honest communication by offering multiple channels for employee feedback, such as open office hours, anonymous surveys, and team meetings.
5 Technological barriers
Technological barriers to communication emerge when people don’t have the right tools or right training to use them.
There are three essential things your team needs to function effectively: up-to-date hardware, the right business communication tools, systems for their duties, and training in how to use these technologies effectively.
What to watch for: Frequent technological failures (such as computer crashes or poor internet connectivity), complaints about slow or poorly performing platforms, and misuse of technology rooted in a lack of understanding.
Here are some ways to address technological barriers to communication in the workplace:
- Upgrade or replace technology as necessary.
- Offer training and resources as necessary to educate employees on how to use newly upgraded or adopted technologies.
- Use communication tools with many functions that will easily fit into your brand’s existing structure and workflows.
- Develop rules around how and when to use specific communications channels in your brand style guide.
6 Organizational barriers
Organizational barriers to communication stem from a lack of understanding of your business structure and individual roles within it.
Organizational barriers can affect businesses of all sizes, and they often occur because employees are unaware of, or do not fully understand, an existing structure. Employees may not know how to share or request information. Communication silos and bottlenecks, meanwhile, are common symptoms of a structure that may need to be reorganized or clarified.
What to watch for: Team members frequently contacting the wrong individuals for specific information or insights and vital information being lost or delayed somewhere along the chain of command.
Here are some ways to address organizational barriers to communication in the workplace:
- Create a clear organizational structure (including roles and contact information) and ensure that it is widely available, easily accessible, and included in new-hire orientations.
- Review any changes to structure or expectations around communication promptly, both in writing and in person.
- Conduct regular audits and revising the structure as your organization evolves.
Overcoming multiple communication barriers
While there may be one barrier to effective communication that stands out at your organization, it will likely not be the only one. After all, not only are these barriers common, but also they tend to overlap—someone who is physically far from the rest of their team, for example, may experience depression or anxiety as a result.
Addressing one barrier is effective in the short term if a particular barrier has become a critical concern. However, solutions that can tackle multiple barriers are ideal for long-term success.
A multifunctional communication assistant like Grammarly, for example, can help your organization:
- Overcome language and cultural barriers by preventing misunderstandings related to spelling or grammar mistakes, potentially confusing phrases, and convoluted structure.
- Overcome psychological barriers by using an automated tone detector to analyze and adjust the tone of written communications to align with various communication styles.
- Overcome any number of other barriers with up to 50 customizable company style guides, against which any written document can be checked instantly.
Grammarly also integrates with a variety of programs, making it easy to implement and simplifying collaboration across many communication platforms.
Barriers to effective communication in the workplace can create a significant negative ripple effect that will only intensify the longer these barriers are left unchecked. Addressing them today will not only improve your internal communications now; it will also prevent issues in the future. The sooner it is addressed, the better.
Grammarly is a cutting-edge digital communication assistant that can help your organization overcome a wide variety of barriers to effective communication. Contact us to get Grammarly Business for your team today.