Effective communication in the workplace can help a company achieve its goals. There are physical barriers that can affect how employees interact with one another, but it’s possible to identify and resolve them. Learning about natural and artificial communication obstacles can allow you to prevent misunderstandings among your teammates and lead successful interactions that boost employee productivity.
In this article, we discuss the definition of physical communication barriers, lists eight examples, and explain how to overcome them in the work environment.
What are physical barriers to communication?
Physical communication barriers are factors that interfere with a conversation. They can materialize from the natural environment or be a product of human creation. The elements can prevent the sender from delivering a message to the receiver, or they can cause the receiver to misinterpret the message.
In the workplace, physical barriers can affect the efficiency of communication between coworkers. They are also easy to identify, which can make it easy for employees to reduce the impact of the barriers, send clear messages to their colleagues, and examine messages in the correct contexts.
8 physical barriers to communication
Here are eight examples of physical communication barriers that can manifest in the workplace:
Noise is a sound or malfunction that interrupts the sending and reception of messages during a conversation. It can affect how the context sounds to the listener, which can influence the interpretation they make. For instance, when two employees speak over coffee in the office, the loudness of construction outside can cause one employee to mishear the verbal communication of their coworker.
Noise can also hinder the performance of technology. If the hum of a malfunctioning computer continues during a conference call, then professionals may not be able to understand one another.
Written communication can encounter noise as an obstacle. A misspelled word or lack of detail in an email or document can cause misunderstandings among the reader. If you want to lessen the effects of noise on communication, you can:
Speak in quiet environments when meeting in person.
Practice patience when repeating explanations to ensure your coworkers have heard and understood the right context.
Stop technological noise by repairing the source of malfunctions.
Compose error-free messages that appeal to the reader’s interests and include only relevant details.
2. Message distortion
Message distortion occurs when the receiver assigns a different meaning to a message than the sender intended. It can happen during all phases of a communication process.
When the sender creates a message, they may omit an important detail that requires the receiver to ask for clarification. The channel that transports the message may malfunction, causing the context of the conversation to look different to the receiver than it did in its original format. When the receiver examines the message, they may misread the words and draw an incorrect conclusion.
Senders can remedy message distortion by proofreading their messages before extending them to the other party. For instance, an employee can ensure their words communicate the urgency of a work situation or have the right tone to establish a positive relationship with a client. They can choose the right medium to transport the message, which can decrease the amount of noise interference. Receivers can review their messages carefully to ensure they have all the information, and they can ask for clarification before developing an interpretation.
The layout of a physical work environment can affect how well employees communicate. Examples of obstacles include:
The distance between offices
The absence of a conference or break room
The closed doors of a manager’s workspace
For example, if professionals in the marketing department want to collaborate with the sales team for a campaign, but their division is on the other side of the building. They use email and phone calls to compensate for the distance, but the reliance on technology allows other communication barriers to form. Employees may not interact as often because the workplace architecture is inaccessible.
When building an office, professionals can consider how much their work requires them to contact teammates and organize desks and office supplies to make communication easier.
For example, the company can implement an open-door policy that allows entry-level employees to walk into the offices of their supervisors when they have questions. Associates can also build an open floor plan that enables them to collaborate face-to-face without walls and doors blocking access. Accessible architecture can reduce noise and streamline the sending and receiving of important messages.
4. Technical difficulties
Technical difficulties are malfunctions in the tools that employees use to interact with one another. For example, if the internet connection during a virtual video call is disrupted, then it can be challenging to decipher the audio, and the clarity of the video on the screen may decrease. Professionals may not be able to understand what the other parties are communicating.
Another example is a glitch in the program a department uses to send instant group messages, which delays the reception of communication and causes shifts in the company’s workflow.
Employees can solve technical difficulties by performing maintenance on their communication tools. For example, they can test the performance of audio and video before entering a conference call and troubleshoot software programs before entering important conversations online.
They can also prepare themselves to use alternative avenues to send messages that aren’t experiencing technical issues. When conversing with coworkers, it can be important to select a medium that has the least amount of noise.
Time can impact the promptness and clarity of communication. It can be challenging to convey the urgency of a work situation when the receiver reads and interprets a message later than the sender intended. Time barriers may occur when employees work in different time zones. For example, a manager who works on the West Coast schedules a conference call, but their coworker who works on the East Coast misinterprets the agenda because they didn’t translate the time to their location.
Employees who interact with colleagues who live in different countries may also encounter this problem. They may aim to find a moment to speak that’s appropriate to speak with everyone. To overcome time conflicts, you can:
Include multiple copies of an itinerary that includes the exact occasion listed in multiple time zones.
Establish a consistent schedule that enables coworkers to interact with one another, regardless of where they work.
Record conversations and send them to unavailable parties, which can ensure they understand the context of the message.
Distance between coworkers can influence the flow of communication. Employees who telecommute to their workplaces may encounter this problem. They may not work in the same physical spaces as members of their team, so many of their interactions take place over the phone or in virtual environments, such as emails and instant chat programs. Since they can’t see their coworkers’ body language and facial expressions, it may be challenging to understand messages.
Using video calling programs can minimize the impact of distance. Professionals can enable the webcam on their computers or cameras on their smartphones to display their faces as they speak to their coworkers virtually. They can also see the faces of their coworkers, which can serve as an alternative to interacting in person. Attending frequent video chat calls can help build camaraderie between remote employees. They can also ask for clarity after hearing messages and use written communication to confirm the details of verbal conversations.
7. Surplus of information
Too much information in one conversation can cause the receiver to misunderstand the context. When the sender delivers multiple messages at once, the receiver may choose to focus on one part without giving enough attention to the other parts. They may miss important details or need clarification on what the sender meant, which can prolong the conversation and the time it may take to reach a solution.
For example, if a manager sends back-to-back emails about preparation for a special event, the employee may respond to two of the messages, while the rest of them become lost in their inboxes.
To avoid a surplus of information, you can:
Identify the parts of a message that are most important for your coworkers to know.
Ensure your colleague understands the previous discussion before transitioning to a new topic.
Keep your messages specific and concise, which can prevent the flow of unnecessary details that can distract the employee from the core message.
For instance, a manager can create a checklist that allows the employee to complete tasks at certain intervals, which keeps them from feeling overwhelmed.
Video: How To Still Be Productive While Dealing With Information Overload
This video will provide helpful strategies for managing information overload so that you can make the most of your time and still be productive.
The environment is an example of a physical barrier to communication that’s natural. The sounds of inclement weather can affect a conversation, regardless of whether employees interact in person or virtual spaces.
For example, in an office, thunder from an ongoing rainstorm can be strong enough to drown verbal communication that’s happening indoors. Incessant rain can also cause a loss of electricity, which can sever internet connections needed for sending and receiving emails or sending messages online. Employees may need a signal to reach a coworker by phone, which can be challenging, with heavy winds affecting cell phone towers.
Other types of weather, such as scorching heat and blistering cold, can impact the safety of work environments. Professionals may also prepare for the aftermath of natural disasters that are prominent during certain times of the year.
Although natural elements may be out of employers’ control, employees can establish emergency action plans to contact one another if their usual methods are unavailable. They can send urgent messages to members of their team when they sense inclement weather, which can reschedule important work conversations for later. They can also develop an emergency response system that communicates with employees.
I hope you find this article helpful.