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Overcoming interpersonal barriers to communication

Brandi Gratis

Brandi Gratis

February 04, 2022

In this series, we discuss The Seven Barriers of Communication. This post is dedicated to interpersonal barriers. Stay tuned as we discuss each.

One of the trickiest obstacles to effective communication is interpersonal barriers. The basis for everyday communication is the ability to interact with others face-to-face and exchange information clearly through verbal and non-verbal messages. Without interpersonal communication skills, it’s very hard for individuals to find success in their professional and personal lives.

Luckily, you can practice and improve upon these skills. By identifying behavior patterns that stop us from connecting with others, we can form better habits that enhance all the relationships in our lives.

Why interpersonal communication skills are essential in the workplace (and beyond)

Whether we like it or not, the impressions we make when speaking to others set the tone for the rest of our interactions. Within a few moments, co-workers and clients often form lasting opinions about us based on how we communicate.

However, tone, attitude, energy levels, and body language vary from person to person and can change based on other factors, such as mood and environment.

Imagine coming to work after a stressful morning where everything went wrong. Those frustrations stay on your mind and affect your mood long after the initial events have passed. You start the day with a meeting in which you’re distracted, and others mistake your stress for disinterest. When you check in with team members for progress reports, you cross your arms and tap your foot, appearing impatient. Then, when someone asks you for information, you sigh loudly and handle their requests at a slow pace.

All of these behaviors send a message to the people around you. You don’t enjoy what you’re doing. Helping them is bothersome, and you don’t have the energy to be positive and productive. An occasional bad day isn’t a big deal, but if it becomes a pattern, it will cause ongoing problems.

The people you communicate with will often reflect the same energy they received from you. So, it’s beneficial to be aware of the impression you make on others and put your best foot forward in all interactions.

What are interpersonal barriers to communication?

Interpersonal barriers are any negative patterns of behavior that hinder you from communicating or discourage others from communicating with you.

In many cases, miscommunication results from unintentional verbal or non-verbal cues. We may misinterpret someone’s facial expressions or choice of words and form opinions based on that misunderstanding. At other times, conflicts develop simply because people express themselves differently.

Barriers can also stem from the workplace culture and leadership, making it difficult for employees to voice their concerns or questions. In more detail, let’s look at a few types of interpersonal communication barriers.

Examples of interpersonal barriers

All of us have struggled to connect with others at some point, but this problem can be perpetual and destructive for some. Poor self-esteem, social anxiety, arrogance, and other issues can make it difficult for people to feel comfortable opening up to others. As a result, they struggle to communicate their feelings accurately and interpret the feelings of others. You or your co-workers might experience these struggles in the following ways:

1. Lack of participation

Communicating with someone who doesn’t want to is impossible. People can appear unwilling to communicate when they don’t speak up when they should, dodge direct questions, or use defensive body language.

2. Lack of open-mindedness

It’s tough to communicate with someone who refuses to explore different points of view, opinions, or ideas about the world. We must be able to get along with people of different viewpoints to function at a basic level with others.

3. Lack of trust

Working together is difficult when team members don’t trust one another to do their jobs well. Micromanaging and undermining others are signs of distrust. Not only does this discourage people from sharing ideas, but it prevents the team from achieving goals.

4. Lack of transparency

Closing off communication is the precursor to distrust. When we hold back information that others need, we create an unnecessary hardship for them. Being open and honest is the best way to build trust and empower others to make good decisions.

5. Lack of patience

Everyone has different strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. Try not to get upset when someone performs a task or approaches a problem differently from how you would do it. Being patient with others will help you stay calm when your personalities or work styles clash.

6. Lack of organization

Sometimes, a poorly organized environment creates interpersonal barriers. Do people know where to go for help or answers? Does everyone have a clear understanding of their roles? People can’t communicate well if they feel like there’s no order and their concerns will never be addressed.

Overcoming interpersonal barriers

Whether you’re struggling to reach out to others or you’re dealing with someone who seems difficult to connect with, there are many things you can practice to improve the situation.

Use simple language

When we’re having difficulty connecting, overly complex words and ideas might be the things standing in the way. Break down your conversation into its simplest parts and try again. We all have biases, backgrounds, and interpretations of the world, and it’s easy for two people to have entirely different views of the conversation. Leave as little up to interpretation as possible, and stick to the facts.

Practice active listening

When we’re struggling to communicate, we often spend too much time focusing on our own words and not enough time listening and responding. Next time you conflict with someone, try asking questions and actively listening to the answer. The goal isn’t to find new and different ways to restate your opinions or ‘win’ the argument. Don’t cut off your speaker, and ask follow-up questions. After all, listening is half of communication.

Stay calm

The hardest part of working through a communication barrier is checking your frustrations. Remember, you’re not going to get your point across any clearer by seeming annoyed. Stay calm, and most importantly, be patient. Give the conversation the time it needs.

Provide feedback

We could all learn a lot about our communication styles and skills if we got more feedback from others. Don’t be afraid to share constructive criticism when it would help the other person communicate more productively.

Ask, don’t assume

When you don’t understand someone else’s perspective or method, don’t assume yours is the right one. Instead of trying to take over or undermine others, be honest and humble. Let them know you’re unfamiliar with their approach and genuinely want to know more. If the other person is making a mistake, they’re more likely to be receptive to your suggestions after you try to understand them.

Final thoughts

Fostering good interpersonal communications as a company is challenging as your organization grows. A bigger workforce creates more opportunities for misunderstandings. However, if you encourage empathy and inclusivity throughout your culture, employees are more likely to adopt similar habits and develop positive relationships with peers.

We can all strive to listen without judgment, go into situations with an open mind, and be patient with others. When we’re more aware of how behavior affects everyone around us, we can significantly improve our communication.

This post was originally published on January 9, 2017, and updated most recently on November 20, 2023.



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