Communication barriers in the workplace can keep your employees from giving you their best efforts. Learn how to overcome them.
Workplace communication is like any kind: People need to express themselves and understand the expressions of others to be able to get things done and foster a harmonious environment. But there are many communication barriers in the workplace.
Businesses bring together many people with differing communication styles, cultural differences, and even regional differences — not to mention the addition of widespread remote work that takes away many important nonverbal cues. It’s no wonder that many businesses see a dire need to overcome barriers to effective workplace communication.
There are several types of communication barriers in the workplace. Each of them can lead to lost productivity, difficulty with hiring and retention, failed projects, and bottom-line losses. Statistics bear this out:
- 13% of employees think their leaders provide effective communication
- 24% report good employee engagement feelings
- 75% of employees who are leaving report they would’ve stayed had they felt that leaders listened to their concerns and communicated better
These statistics were generally reported before the pandemic. The sudden switch to widespread remote work because of COVID-19 certainly added even more barriers to communication in the workplace.
75% of employees who are leaving report they would’ve stayed had they felt that leaders listened to their concerns and communicated better.
Workplace communication styles and channels
To understand how to overcome workplace communication barriers, it’s important to define the different channels and ways in which workplace communication flows. By understanding the components and channels as distinct pieces of the entire system, it’s a little easier to diagnose where communication suffers and implement a strategy to improve communication.
- Communicators. The individuals who create the messages.
- Content. The information the communicators want to get across.
- Delivery channel. This can include things like communication technology (phone, email, intranet sites, apps, video calls, etc.); verbal communication; the language used; and body language such as eye contact, gestures, and facial expressions
- Target audiences. The intended recipients of the communicators’ content. The audiences’ listening communication skills factor in here.
Developing effective communication strategies involves analyzing these components, identifying any communication barrier (or barriers), and then coming up with ways to relieve communication challenges by applying good communication skills.
Three common workplace communication barriers
There are, of course, hundreds of different workplace communication barriers, but they can often be filtered into these 3 categories:
1. Differing communication styles and skill levels
Sometimes, a communicator might prefer to shoot off a long, content-laden email to their target audience. Older generations are used to emails. However, if they’re sorting through 100-plus emails every morning, this information overload could result in losing the message. Younger employees may be expecting an instant message and not even check their email because there’s too much of it.
Some target audiences might want to speak with the communicator in-person to ask questions and get quick answers about that content. Using multiple channels and sticking to short, well-written messages that focus on key points is a good way to remedy some of these communication challenges.
Add language barriers to this area of communication, too. The global nature of business today often means that you’ll be working with people who speak different languages and may only have a rudimentary working knowledge of your language.
2. Physical barriers to communication
The actual physical layout of a workspace can create communication barriers. These can stem from poor working conditions with extreme temperatures, loud equipment, poor lighting, remote locations, or hierarchical layouts with closed office doors that have a negative impact — causing employees to feel too intimidated to approach management with questions or ideas.
3. Psychological barriers to communication
There are many talented, productive people out there who might be lacking confidence in their communications because of social anxiety. Some may have difficulty trying to maintain eye contact, even if they really are listening to you. This can also impede the sharing of important nonverbal communication, which makes up 55% of what we understand from an interaction.
Some people are very sensitive and have difficulty controlling their emotions. This which can cloud their content delivery and reception, or make them put up emotional barriers. This can have a significant impact on the communicator, the target audience, and even the content itself.
Solutions to break down barriers
it’s important for business leaders to address these issues and communicate effectively to prevent workplace conflict and boost employee engagement.
Whether you have one or more of these communication barriers, it’s important for business leaders to address these issues and communicate effectively to prevent workplace conflict and boost employee engagement.
Start by having some open discussions and soliciting feedback from employees about their experiences and perspectives before jumping in to tackle any perceived issues. It’s important to gather information about all parts of your communication systems (communicator, content, delivery channel, and target audience) to pinpoint areas to improve. Be receptive to the idea that you may have to change too!
What seems like a generational issue may actually be a lack of open doors between the C-suite and the front line. You might find multiple issues. Solutions might include:
- Opening more delivery channels
- Sending fewer, but sharper emails
- Having quick, regular check-ins to provide personalized information for employees
These solutions can help ensure everyone is receiving the right content in a way that makes sense. They should also help them do their jobs better.
Resolving workplace communication barriers
Every workplace experiences communication barriers, but with help and consideration, you can resolve them and make your workplace, remote or otherwise, a place of free, open, and positive communication that works well. Zenefits is here to help HR professionals and business leaders create effective communication strategies.