Sometimes messages can get lost or misunderstood, particularly in the current climate where most of us are working from home, and we don’t have the visual cues of our colleagues to go on. Blundel et al. (2013: 27-28) suggest that communication is about overcoming barriers, but failure is endemic.

Understanding the various factors which create communication barriers can help us to anticipate and try to overcome those barriers. According to Blundel et al. (2013: 27-28), common communication barriers include:

Technological – technical failures can lead to messages not being delivered. In these instances, it’s a good idea to have a back-up system in place. For example, another way of contacting the person you are trying to reach, or regularly checking spam folders for messages that may have wound up in there by mistake.

Physical – sometimes people may not be able to hear you or see any visual aids. Do you have a strategy in place to identify and correct such issues? For example, in a presentation, you could start by asking the audience if they can hear you.

Physiological – for example, where the receiver may not receive a message due to blindness, be sure to encode it in a suitable format.

Psychological – e.g. if a message from an external stakeholder is ignored due to bias resulting from the group, then why has this been allowed to develop within the organisation?

Cultural – being aware of cultural diversity within your organisation can help reduce misunderstandings in the interpretation of a message.

Linguistic – linguistic factors such as jargon or misplaced emphasis can create a barrier between sender and receiver. Tailor your email to your audience. For example, if they don’t work in the same field as you, they may not know the technical jargon within it. Use words that everyone you are communicating to will understand.

Political – for example, if a message from an internal stakeholder is not sent because an individual is marginalised, then why is the organisation not encouraging a more open climate?

Economic – for example, if a message is not available to a public sector organisation due to lack of resources, then why is the company unable to exert pressure for additional funding?

Many barriers can cause communication to break down. The key is to think ahead about what those barriers could be and put strategies in place to identify and overcome them. This could be from having a back-up for when the technology is refusing to work to using language that everyone will understand, or thinking about how other people will interpret what you have written.

I hope you have found the points above useful. If you want to improve communications with your team, have a look at our article on interpreting communication.


Blundel, R., Ippolito, K. and Donnarumma, D. (2013) Effective Organisational Communication, Perspectives, Principles and Practices, 4th ed. Harlow: Pearson

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