There are certain external roadblocks to effective communication such as poor timing of communication, poor choice of the channel of communication of information, incomplete, inadequate or unclear information, and network breakdown and so on, which can affect the proper reception of the communication.
In addition, there are personal factors which may cause the interpretation of the communication differently than it was intended by the sender. The communication may be received in a way in which the receiver wants to receive, depending upon the stimuli present, emotions or prejudices for or against a concept or ideology or personal conflicts between the sender and the receiver, so that instead of interpreting the content of the communication, the intent of the sender may be interpreted.
According to Rogers and Roethlisberger, the communication effectiveness is always influenced by “our very natural tendency to judge, to evaluate, to approve or disapprove the statement of the other person or other group”. This evaluation tendency may alter the meaning of the entire communication.
Accordingly, management should not only attempt to eliminate all external barriers so that the communication is clear and to the point, but also try to understand the perceptions and the attitudes of the receiver. Only then can the communication have its maximum effect.
Some of the organizational and interpersonal barriers are described as follows:
Noise is any external factor which interferes with the effectiveness of communication. The term is derived from noise or static effects in telephone conversation or radio wave transmission.
It may cause interference in the process of communication by distraction or by blocking a part of the message or by diluting the strength of the message. Some of the sources contributing towards noise factor are:
i. Poor timing:
The manager must know when to communicate. A message that requires action in the distant future may be forgotten by the time action is to be taken. Similarly, a last minute urgent communication with a deadline may put too much pressure on the receiver and may result in resentment. The message must be sent at an appropriate time to avoid these problems.
ii. Inappropriate channel:
Poor choice of channel of communication can also be contributory to the misunderstanding of the message. The manager must decide whether the communication would be most effective if it is in writing or by a telephone call or a face-to-face conversation or a combination of these modes.
If the communication has been initiated through a telephone call, then it may be necessary to confirm the message of the call in writing. The face-to-face communication emphasizes the strength of the message because it is supported by non-verbal gestures such as eye contact, hand gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice and so on.
iii. Improper or inadequate information:
The information must be meaningful to the employees. It must be precise and to the point. Too little or too much information endangers effective communication. Ambiguity or use of words that can lend to different interpretations should be avoided.
iv. Physical distractions:
The manager must realize that in the case of face-to-face communication, any distraction can interfere with the process. Telephone interruptions, walk-in visitors or attending to other matters or other disturbances should be avoided.
v. Organizational structure:
The organizational structure should be such that the chain of command and channels of communication are clearly established and the responsibility and authority are clearly assigned and are traceable. Communication may be blocked or distorted if the channels are not clear or if the passages are blocked or if there are bottlenecks or dead ends.
vi. Information overload:
As dynamic changes are continuously occurring in our lives, in our society and in our organizations, they create a mass of information to be processed for effective decision making. Overload occurs when individuals receive more information than they are capable of processing. Individuals may respond to information overload in a variety of ways including the following:
i. Failing to process or ignoring some information.
ii. Processing the information incorrectly.
iii. Searching for people to help process some of the information.
iv. Lowering the quality of information processing.
Network breakdown may be caused intentionally or it may be due to information overload or time pressures under which communication has to be acted upon. Some factors contributing to such disruption may be:
i. Important negative information may be withheld by the managers.
ii. The secretary may forget to forward a memo.
iii. There may be professional jealousy resulting in closed channels.
There are many interpersonal barriers that disrupt the effectiveness of the communication process and generally involve such characteristics of either the sender or the receiver that cause communication problems. Some of these are:
Filtering refers to intentionally withholding or deliberately manipulating information by the sender, either because the sender believes that the receiver does not need all the information or that the receiver is better off not knowing all aspects of a given situation. It could also be that the receiver is simply told what he wants to hear.
The extent of filtering may also depend upon the number of levels in the organizational structure. The more vertical levels there are the more likely the filtering.
ii. Semantic barriers:
These barriers occur due to differences in individual interpretations of words and symbols. The words and paragraphs must be interpreted with the same meaning as was intended. The choice of a wrong word or a coma at a wrong place in a sentence can sometimes alter the meaning of the intended message.
Many times, we have to explain that “it was not what I meant”, or “you misunderstood my message” and so on due to poor choice of words. For example, “boy, not girl” has a different interpretation than “boy not, girl”.
Similarly, a nightclub advertisement sign, “clean and decent dancing every night except Sunday” could lead to two interpretations. First, that there is no dancing on Sundays and second that there is dancing on Sundays but it is not clean and decent.
An interesting commercial about taking aspirin for a headache says, “Nothing works better than aspirin for a headache”. Well, if “nothing” works better than aspirin, then it is better to take nothing. Similarly, when discussing a problem employee, a departmental head may tell his assistant to “get rid of the problem”.
He may mean to warn the employee or transfer him to another department. But the assistant may fire the employee believing that this was meant by the message. Accordingly, it is advisable that if there are any grounds for misunderstanding in a message, it be confirmed with the sender.
Perception relates to the process through which we receive and interpret information from our environment and create a meaningful world out of it. Different people may perceive the same situation differently.
Hearing what we want to hear and ignoring information that conflicts with what we know can totally distort the intent or the content of the message. Some of the perceptual situations that may distort a manager’s assessment of people resulting in reduced effectiveness of communication are:
i. He may perceive women to be less efficient managers or old people less hard working and lacking drive and creativity.
ii. He may make total assessment of a person based on a single trait. Punctuality alone or loyalty alone may cause a favourable perception in the mind of the manager.
iii. He may assume that his subordinate’s perception about things and situations are similar to his own. For example, a manager who accepts added responsibility and challenges with enthusiasm may expect the same from his subordinates. This perception limits the manager’s ability to effectively respond to and deal with individual differences and different views about work situations.
The management must realize and recognize these differences in perceptions and take steps to understand the environment. A successful manager must be aware of the impact of factors that affect perception by interacting with others and should also possess the ability to influence or change the perceptions of others where necessary so that events and situations are interpreted as accurately and objectively as possible.
Communication as an exchange of meaning is bounded by culture. Managers need to understand that senders and receivers from different cultures may encode and decode their messages differently.
Studies have shown that the greater the differences between the sender’s and receiver’s cultures, the greater the chance for miscommunication. For example, Coca-Cola company lost sales in many countries, where their advertisement” Coke Adds Life” was interpreted as “Coke brings you back from the dead.” Some of the other cultural differences that can lead to miscommunication as a result of misperception, misinterpretation and misevaluation are:
i. Advertisement about Action Man Soldier toys, where toy soldiers were in toy tanks holding machine guns were not permitted in West Germany where they were interpreted as promoting violence.
ii. In Austria and France, children are not permitted to do television commercials.
iii. Most Jewish people will not work on Saturdays and most Muslims will not work on Friday afternoons.
iv. Establishing deadlines to accomplish work assignments is considered rude in most Middle East countries.
v. Punctuality in some countries is not considered important.
vi. Many important meetings and activities are contemplated after consultations with astrologers in India.
vii. Selling cosmetics in Muslim countries, beef products to Hindus or tobacco products to Sikhs in India would not be acceptable.
Accordingly, management must be aware of and recognize these cultural barriers and identify these cultural differences and attempt to minimize any adverse effects on communication effectiveness due to these differences.
a. Sender credibility:
When the sender of the communication has high credibility in the eyes of the receiver, then the message is taken much more seriously and accepted at face value. If the receiver has confidence, trust and respect for the sender of the communication, then the decoding and the interpretation of the message will lead to a meaning that would be closer to the intended meaning of the sender. Conversely, if the sender is not trusted, the receiver will scrutinize the message heavily and deliberately look for hidden meanings or tricks and may end up distorting the entire message. Similarly, if the source is believed to be an expert in a particular field then the listener may pay close attention to the message and believe it specially if the message is related to the field of expertise. For example, an expert nuclear engineer may be viewed as a credible source on building a nuclear power plant and may be totally disregarded regarding his views on abortion.
The interpretation of the communication also depends upon the state of mind of the receiver at the time when message is received. The same message received when the receiver is angry, frustrated or depressed may be interpreted differently as compared to when he is happy. Extreme emotions are most likely to hinder effective communication because rational judgments are replaced by emotional judgments.
c. Multi-meaning words:
The very nature of our language constitutes a source of communication breakdown. Doing the job “right away” or “in no time” or asking to “wait a minute”, all do not convey the exact or exactly understood communication. Many words in English language sound the same but have different meanings, such as, “write” (communicate), “rite (ceremony), “right” (not left), “right” (privilege) and “right” (correct).
Language characteristics can lead to encoding and decoding errors which can create barriers to communication. Similarly, words with multiple meanings may be interpreted differently. For example, the 500 most common English words have an average of 28 definitions each. The word “run” can be used in many different ways. For example:
i. Babe Ruth scored a “run”.
ii. She has a “run” in her stocking.
iii. Did you see him “run?”
iv. What headlines do you want to “run” today?
v. v. There was a “run” on the bank today
vi. vi. Who will “run” for President this year?
vii. vii. Please “run” my bath water, and so on.
Given such multiple meanings, the managers must make sure that they use the word in the same manner as the receiver is expected to understand it.
The final source of communication process problems is the nature of the feedback or lack of it. Feedback is the only way to ascertain as to how the message was interpreted. Feedback may be for the purpose of communicating the results of an action or it may be for asking questions about communication for further clarification.
A student who misunderstands a question in the exam but does not have provision to ask for clarification may end up giving the wrong answer. The omission of feedback can cause another problem in that the sender may have another message that depends upon the response to the first message. Thus no feedback or a wrong feedback will create problems with subsequent communication.