How To Overcome Barriers to Effective Communication in the Office

Aug 18, 2015

How To Overcome Barriers to Effective Communication in the Office

As we discussed last week, clear communication is crucial in business. Poor communication is associated with increased conflicts, lower efficiency, lower employee engagement, and decreased accountability and has a negative impact on the company's financial performance.

We typically believe that communication is complete once we have conveyed our message. But what if our message was not perceived as we intended? How would we even know? Two-way communication is the answer.

Too often we focus on ourselves rather than on the receiver, which can lead to confusion and conflict. Sometimes we even catch ourselves thinking about our response instead of focusing on what the other person is saying. What causes this? Defensiveness (we feel someone is attacking us), superiority (we feel we know more than the other person does), and ego (we feel we are the center of the activity). We need to shift our focus away from ourselves and truly focus on the other person's message to be better communicators.

Personal biases can also affect communication. If we have a preconception about the other person (Suzy is a complainer, Jim is lazy, etc.), we may dismiss the message. Often it is necessary to put our personal feelings aside to truly focus on the message itself.

We do not all see things the same way or see as clearly under stress. What we see and believe at a given moment is influenced by our psychological frames of reference—beliefs, values, knowledge, experiences, and goals—all of which form our thinking conditions, or barriers that affect our ability to communicate. These barriers include the following:

  1. Relating—a condition of low stress, high clarity in thinking, and the ability to consider perspectives of others—an excellent thinking condition for effective communication.
  2. Reflecting—a condition of low stress, high clarity in thinking, and ample time to draw upon memories, feelings, and thoughts—another excellent thinking condition for clear communication.
  3. Responding—a condition in which our energy is used for acting or deciding but not thinking—so we do not consider different perspectives and we are subject to our own biases.
  4. Reacting—a condition of high stress and low clarity—often resulting in miscommunication.

These barriers are filters that we use to decide what is useful for us at any given time. No one can completely avoid these obstacles, but they can be overcome through active listening and feedback.

All of us can hear, but not all of us can listen. Hearing and listening are not the same thing. Hearing is involuntary, and listening involves the reception and interpretation of what is heard. It decodes the sound heard into meaning. As the Greek philosopher Epictetus said, We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak. The problem is that most of the time only part of our brain is paying attention, and it is easy for attention to drift. This happens to all of us. Active listening corrects this problem. This involves listening with a purpose and requires the same amount of or more energy than speaking. Active listening forces the listener to hear various messages, understand the meaning, and then verify the meaning by offering feedback.

How do we become active listeners?

  • Do not finish the sentences of others.
  • Be aware of personal biases.
  • Plan responses after the other person has finished speaking, not while the person is speaking.
  • Provide feedback, but do not interrupt incessantly.
  • Take brief notes to concentrate on what is being said and to document the communication.

After actively listening, we need to verify the meaning of the message received through providing feedback or restating the other person's message in our own words. This shows that we have correctly understood the message. When both parties have clear communication, cohesive, efficient, productive teamwork will result, and people are simply happier when they are not confused.

Could your company benefit from improved communication? Managers who communicate effectively with their employees significantly increase employee engagement, which has a direct correlation to the company's bottom line. Consider ZERORISK HR's Clear Direction Team & Communication Development Program. It provides a comparison of a manager's emotional intelligence competencies and motivators with each of his or her key direct reports, peers, and direct manager and guides him or her on how he or she can best work with each person. Managers will be better equipped to manage down, sideways, and upward more effectively.

ZERORISK helps organizations build great cultures by identifying, developing, and retaining top talent. The ZERORISK Hiring System blends a revolutionary behavioral science with state-of-the-art technology to reduce unwanted turnover and improve employee performance. For more information contact us at (800) 827-5991.

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