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Chapter: Principles of Management : Directing

Barriers to Effective Communication

Barriers to communication are factors that block or significantly distort successful communication. Effective managerial communication skills helps overcome some, but not all, barriers to communication in organizations.




Barriers to communication are factors that block or significantly distort successful communication. Effective managerial communication skills helps overcome some, but not all, barriers to communication in organizations. The more prominent barriers to effective communication which every manager should be aware of is given below:


a) Filtering:


Filtering refers to a sender manipulating information so it will be seen more favourably by the receiver. The major determinant of filtering is the number of levels in an organization's structure. The more vertical levels in the organization's hierarchy, the more opportunities for filtering. Sometimes the information is filtered by the sender himself. If the sender is hiding some meaning and disclosing in such a fashion as appealing to the receiver, then he is "filtering" the message deliberately. A manager in the process of altering communication in his favour is attempting to filter the information.


Selective perception means seeing what one wants to see. The receiver, in the communication process, generally resorts to selective perception i.e., he selectively perceives the message based on the organizational requirements, the needs and characteristics, background of the employees etc. Perceptual distortion is one of the distressing barriers to the effective communication. People interpret what they see and call it a reality. In our regular activities, we tend to see those things that please us and to reject or ignore unpleasant things. Selective perception allows us to keep out dissonance (the existence of conflicting elements in our perceptual set) at a tolerable level. If we encounter something that does not fit out current image of reality, we structure the situation to minimize our dissonance. Thus, we manage to overlook many stimuli from the environment that do not fit into out current perception of the world. This process has significant implications for managerial activities. For example, the employment interviewer who expects a female job applicant to put her family ahead of her career is likely to see that in female applicants, regardless of whether the applicants feel that way or not.


c) Emotions:


How the receiver feels at the time of receipt of information influences effectively how he interprets the information. For example, if the receiver feels that the communicator is in a jovial mood, he interprets that the information being sent by the communicator to be good and interesting. Extreme emotions and jubilation or depression are quite likely to hinder the effectiveness of communication. A person's ability to encode a message can become impaired when the person is feeling strong emotions. For example, when you are angry, it is harder to consider the other person's viewpoint and to choose words carefully. The angrier you are, the harder this task becomes. Extreme emotions – such as jubilation or depression - are most likely to hinder effective communication. In such instances, we are most prone to disregard our rational and objective thinking processes and substitute emotional judgments.


d) Language:


Communicated message must be understandable to the receiver. Words mean different things to different people. Language reflects not only the personality of the individual but also the culture of society in which the individual is living. In organizations, people from different regions, different backgrounds, and speak different languages. People will have different academic backgrounds, different intellectual facilities, and hence the jargon they use varies. Often, communication gap arises because the language the sender is using may be incomprehensible, vague and indigestible. Language is a central element in communication. It may pose a barrier if its use obscures meaning and distorts intent. Words mean different things to different people. Age, education and cultural background are three of the more obvious variables that influence the language a person uses and the definitions he or she gives to words. Therefore, use simple, direct, declarative language.


Speak in brief sentences and use terms or words you have heard from you audience. As much as possible, speak in the language of the listener. Do not use jargon or technical language except with those who clearly understand it.


e) Stereotyping:


Stereotyping is the application of selective perception. When we have preconceived ideas about other people and refuse to discriminate between individual behaviours, we are applying selective perception to our relationship with other people. Stereotyping is a barrier to communications because those who stereotype others use selective perception in their communication and tend to hear only those things that confirm their stereotyped images. Consequently, stereotypes become more deeply ingrained as we find more "evidence" to confirm our original opinion. Stereotyping has a convenience function in our interpersonal relations. Since people are all different, ideally we should react and interact with each person differently. To do this, however, requires considerable psychological effort. It is much easier to categorize (stereotype) people so that we can interact with them as members of a particular category. Since the number of categories is small, we end up treating many people the same even though they are quite different. Our communications, then, may be directed at an individual as a member of a category at the sacrifice of the more effective communication on a personal level.


f) Status Difference:


The organizational hierarchy pose another barrier to communication within organization, especially when the communication is between employee and manager. This is so because the employee is dependent on the manager as the primary link to the organization and hence more likely to distort upward communication than either horizontal or downward communication. Effective supervisory skills make the supervisor more approachable and help reduce the risk of problems related to status differences. In addition, when employees feel secure, they are more likely to be straightforward in upward communication.


g) Use of Conflicting Signals:


A sender is using conflicting signals when he or she sends inconsistent messages. A vertical message might conflict with a nonverbal one. For example, if a manager says to his employees, "If you have a problem, just come to me. My door is always open", but he looks annoyed whenever an employee knocks on his door". Then we say the manager is sending conflicting messages. When signals conflict, the receivers of the message have to decide which, if any, to believe.


h) Reluctance to Communicate:


For a variety of reasons, managers are sometimes reluctant to transmit messages. The reasons could be:-


They may doubt their ability to do so.


They may dislike or be weary of writing or talking to others.


They may hesitate to deliver bad news because they do not want to face a negative reaction.


When someone gives in to these feelings, they become a barrier to effective communications.



i) Projection:


Projection has two meanings.


            Projecting one's own motives into others behavior. For example, managers who are motivated by money may assume their subordinates are also motivated by it. If the subordinate's prime motive is something other than money, serious problems may arise.


            The use of defense mechanism to avoid placing blame on oneself. As a defense mechanism, the projection phenomenon operates to protect the ego from unpleasant communications. Frequently, individuals who have a particular fault will see the same fault in others, making their own fault seem not so serious.


j) The "Halo Effect":


The term "halo effect" refers to the process of forming opinions based on one element from a group of elements and generalizing that perception to all other elements. For example, in an organization, a good attendance record may cause positive judgments about productivity, attitude, or quality of work. In performance evaluation system, the halo effect refers to the practice of singling out one trait of an employee (either good or bad) and using this as a basis for judgments of the total employee.



a) Formal Communication


Formal communication follows the route formally laid down in the organization structure. There are three directions in which communications flow: downward, upward and laterally (horizontal).


i) Downward Communication


Downward communication involves a message travelling to one or more receivers at the lower level in the hierarchy. The message frequently involves directions or performance feedback. The downward flow of communication generally corresponds to the formal organizational communications system, which is usually synonymous with the chain of command or line of authority. This system has received a great deal of attention from both managers and behavioral scientists since it is crucial to organizational functioning.


ii) Upward Communication


In upward communication, the message is directed toward a higher level in the hierarchy. It is often takes the form of progress reports or information about successes and failures of the individuals or work groups reporting to the receiver of the message. Sometimes employees also send suggestions or complaints upward through the organization's hierarchy.


The upward flow of communication involves two distinct manager-subordinate activities in addition to feedback:


            The participation by employees in formal organizational decisions.


                 Employee appeal is a result against formal organization decisions. The employee appeal is a result of the industrial democracy concept that provides for two-way communication in areas of disagreement.


iii) Horizontal Communication


When takes place among members of the same work group, among members of work groups at the same level, among managers at the same level or among any horizontally equivalent personnel, we describe it as lateral communications. In lateral communication, the sender and receiver(s) are at the same level in the hierarchy. Formal communications that travel laterally involve employees engaged in carrying out the same or related tasks.

The messages might concern advice, problem solving, or coordination of activities.





b) Informal Communication or Grapevine



Informal communication, generally associated with interpersonal communication, was primarily seen as a potential hindrance to effective organizational performance. This is no longer the case. Informal communication has become more important to ensuring the effective conduct of work in modern organizations.


Probably the most common term used for the informal communication in the workplace is “grapevine” and this communication that is sent through the organizational grapevine is often considered gossip or rumor. While grapevine communication can spread information quickly and can easily cross established organizational boundaries, the information it carries can be changed through the deletion or exaggeration crucial details thus causing the information inaccurate – even if it’s based on truth.


The use of the organizational grapevine as an informal communication channel often results when employees feel threatened, vulnerable, or when the organization is experiencing change and when communication from management is restricted and not forthcoming.



Guidelines for effective Communication


Senders of message must clarify in their minds what they want to communicate. Purpose of the message and making a plan to achieve the intended end must be clarified.

            Encoding and decoding be done with symbols that are familiar to the sender and the receiver of the message.


            For the planning of the communication, other people should be consulted and encouraged to participate.


            It is important to consider the needs of the receivers of the information. Whenever appropriate, one should communicate something that is of value to them, in the short run as well as in the more distant future.


            In communication, tone of voice, the choice of language and the congruency between what is said and how it is said influence the reactions of the receiver of the message.


            Communication is complete only when the message is understood by the receiver. And one


never knows whether communication is understood unless the sender gets a feedback. (vii) The function of communication is more than transmitting the information. It also deals with


emotions that are very important in interpersonal relationships between superiors, subordinates and colleagues in an organization.


(viii) Effective communicating is the responsibility not only of the sender but also of the receiver of the information.



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