In business as in life, miscommunications are commonplace enough that it’s easy to write them off as one-time mistakes instead of symptoms of a more systemic problem. Yet communication barriers in business cost an average of $62.4 million annually, whereas companies with more effective communication practices produce up to 47% higher returns to shareholders.

Common miscommunications scenarios in business include a “company-wide” email that reaches all but one team, a meeting that creates more issues than it resolves, and a social media post that should have been a blog article, to name a few.

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Avoiding the high cost of poor communication means identifying the most significant barriers to effective business communication and taking steps to overcome them. First things first: Let’s take a look at what a communication barrier is and what types you might expect to find in your organization.

What is a communication barrier?

A communication barrier is a disconnect that prevents a message from being received as intended. In some cases, the message may not reach its intended audience at all or may only reach part of the audience. In other cases, the message may be fragmented, poorly translated, or simply misunderstood by the recipient(s).

In business, the consequences of such miscommunication can be significant. In crises, failing to send the right message to the right people can cost lives. But even outside of emergencies, an unsent report or misinterpreted memo can cause confusion and frustration, as well as losses in productivity, engagement, and revenue.

The negative repercussions multiply, of course, when businesses fail to address the barriers that cause these miscommunications.

Types of communication barriers in business

Here are some of the most common and impactful communication barriers in business:

  • Incorrect or inadequate communication channels
  • Language differences
  • Cultural differences
  • Departmental differences
  • Mismatched communication styles
  • Excessively complex messaging
  • Lack of context
  • Rushed communication
  • Ineffective timing

Let’s explore what each of these looks like in the real world and discuss some practices your company can implement now to begin taking down these barriers.

Incorrect or inadequate communication channels

One of the major tenets of effective business communication is pairing the right channel with the right message. Using the wrong channel can make your message ineffective. For example, an urgent notice may seem less time-sensitive if sent by email versus text. Response times may be delayed as a result. In another example, calling a customer when they would have preferred an email can negatively impact a business relationship. 

Ways to overcome this barrier:

  • Review the channels you have available to ensure they are sufficient. If you only have email and chat available, that may be insufficient for all audiences.
  • Choose rich, direct channels, such as email, for longer, more complicated messages; save simpler messages for channels such as text or chat.
  • Keep your audience’s preferred channels in mind and adjust your approach accordingly. You may even send the same message differently to subsets of your audience based on their preferred channel of communication.
  • Update legacy communication channels regularly to avoid technical difficulties.

Language differences

Multilingual speakers may struggle to use and understand certain words or phrases when the language they are asked to communicate in is not their primary language. When your business has a global reach, it is crucial to ensure that the messages you send are not lost in translation. 

At best, this type of misunderstanding can cause confusion and discomfort. At worst, it could result in offending an employee or customer—as KFC famously discovered when their tagline was mistranslated in Chinese.

Ways to overcome this barrier:

  • Whenever possible, urge team members to avoid using jargon, idioms, and colloquialisms that may be difficult to translate accurately.
  • Always proofread written communications. A digital communication assistant like Grammarly Business offers enhanced speed and accuracy for an optimal workflow.

Cultural differences

Disparate cultural perspectives can both enrich a work environment and also be a barrier to communication in business. Namely, conflicting values and ethnocentrism are significant issues that can severely damage internal and external business relationships and your overall brand reputation if left unresolved.

Ways to overcome this barrier:

  • Ensure your brand values are clearly communicated to all employees as a reminder that you are all on the same team.
  • Schedule regular sensitivity trainings to encourage open-mindedness and mutual respect between team members.
  • Advocate professionalism, but also empathy. Using an automated tone detector like Grammarly’s can help team members achieve an appropriate balance of both in their written communications.

Departmental differences

Another type of business communication barrier involves vernacular. Your marketing department, for example, may communicate very differently than your IT department. This can create a disconnect when the two need to work together. The ensuing miscommunications can lower both teams’ productivity and efficiency, increase stress, and decrease employee engagement and satisfaction.

Ways to overcome this barrier:

  • Increase contact between teams. By spending some time together, the teams can get to know each other and understand their communication styles and needs.
  • Train and support all team members to ensure they truly listen and ask questions if they find they don’t understand something when communicating with another department.
  • Encourage consistency across different departments using an easily accessible brand style guide.

Mismatched communication styles

Even if two people speak the same language and share the same cultural background, they may still have difficulty connecting if their communication styles are too different

A direct report with a functional style, for example, may find it challenging to work effectively without a clear set of steps to follow. Meanwhile, a customer who prefers a more personal approach will respond better to a friendlier, more casual approach than a client who is analytical and just wants to know the facts.

Ways to overcome this barrier:

  • Always consider your audience’s communication style—which you can determine from what you’ve observed about them—and then adjust your approach to meet their needs. For the direct report with a functional style, for example, you may adjust your communication to ensure that after each conversation, you review next steps with them so they feel confident going forward.
  • If you do not know your audience’s style, asking questions like “What are you most interested in learning more about?” can help.

Excessively complex messaging

We’ve all received that rambling message from a colleague that leaves us scratching our heads and wondering, “What was the point again?” Keeping messages clear and concise will help avoid unnecessary confusion and frustration for employees and customers alike.

Ways to overcome this barrier:

  • Remove any sentences or paragraphs that don’t support your main point and encourage colleagues to do the same.
  • Make your emails skimmable by using bullet points or other formatting tools to draw colleagues’ eyes to the important information and make it easy for them to digest. (Not to mention, it ensures you actually know what the point of your email is.)
  • Use Grammarly to identify and revise run-on sentences, restructure paragraphs for clarity, and help make your message more engaging.

Lack of context

Another common culprit of unclear communication is a lack of context. This can be an easy trap to fall into when overcorrecting for the barrier above. While it’s essential to be concise, pruning too much of the message results in a loss of meaning that can leave recipients dumbfounded.

Ways to overcome this barrier:

  • Lead by example, and always include the most critical information first. This ensures that nothing vital will be forgotten or accidentally removed when revising.
  • Focus on keeping your message skimmable. Organizing the information can help you clarify and determine what is necessary.
  • Ask yourself, “What are my audience’s priorities? What do they need to know from this message?” and use that as a guideline to ensure you’re including what you need to and excluding the excess.   

Rushed communication

Whether a deadline is right around the corner or it’s almost time to clock out and go pick up the kids from soccer practice, we’ve all had times where we rushed through a conversation or message draft. 

As important as it is to be punctual, pushing too hard to beat the clock can result in a garbled message. You might forget an important task when sending out assignments for the week, for example, or even send an internal email to a customer or client by mistake.

Ways to overcome this barrier:

  • Try (and encourage your colleagues to try) blocking out time during the day solely for composing and responding to written communications to avoid a last-minute rush.
  • Use a digital business communication tool like Grammarly to speed up the editing process for written communications.
  • When you need to end a verbal communication quickly, be polite but firm—explain why you need to leave and indicate a time to continue the conversation if necessary.

Ineffective timing

The saying “timing is everything” may be a cliché, but it’s also true. There is a vast difference between sending customers a mass marketing text at 3 p.m. versus 3 a.m.—as anyone who has been rudely awakened by a late-night message can attest. Likewise, employees are likely to respond much more quickly to an email sent during their working hours than one sent over the weekend. 

Ways to overcome this barrier:

  • Whenever possible, avoid communications outside of established business hours. (This time frame may look different for internal versus external communications.)
  • Always check your audience’s time zone. This is especially important when communicating with remote workers and international customers.
  • For mass communications, segment audiences by location when possible and stagger delivery times.

Overcoming barriers and improving communication

Imagine the road ahead of your business. Is it clear and easy to navigate, or is it blocked by obstacles that may slow or even derail your progress?

Removing barriers to communication in business is about more than improving circumstances in your company now. It’s about paving the way for your teams and your brand to grow and evolve easily and sustainably in the years to come.

The quick tips listed above will help kick-start the revolution, but for long-term success, you’ll need a few good tools in place to maintain your progress. Grammarly’s digital writing assistant offers several features that can help your business address various potential communication barriers, including a tone detector, spelling and grammar checks, and a company style guides feature. The latter will help ensure all written communications align with both your brand voice and values.

Grammarly Business is an AI-driven business communication assistant that can help eliminate common communication barriers in business whilst simultaneously improving your teams’ everyday communication practices. To learn more, contact us, or get started with Grammarly Business today.

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