In the last article, we considered why different messages need different mediums to be effectively communicated. But even with the right medium, there are still other things that can get in the way of the intended message being understood.
We refer to anything that can get in the way of the receiver understanding the message as a barrier. Some potential barriers to communication include age, distance, language, culture, or biases.
Choosing the correct medium for your message will help overcome some barriers. For example, choosing to communicate a delicate message in person or over video call so that the receiver can see your body language and not misinterpret your tone.
Understanding the potential barriers to communication before you send your message can help you prepare and reduce the amount of clarification needed on the back end due to miscommunication.
Barriers Between the Sender and Receiver
The most common kind of barrier involves a fundamental difference in the way in which the sender and receiver understand the world. This can occur because of any number of factors, including differences in age, culture, or language. The way we were raised and the environment we live in plays a huge role in the way we interpret information around us.
For example, if you were to tell someone “I need this done quickly,” “quickly” will mean something different to a 27-year-old man from the suburban south versus a 58-year-old woman living in LA county. In this instance, the solution to overcome the barrier isn’t to try and guess how you think the other person will interpret your words. Instead, use clear and specific language so that they know how you interpret the message.
The best way to overcome barriers to communication is to be specific in your language in order to avoid a guessing game of meaning.
Creating SMART goals is one way to do this. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.
Using our earlier example, instead of just saying “I need this project done quickly,” you could instead say “let’s have a proposal done by the end of the week and schedule a meeting for Monday to go over further action steps.” Setting a deadline for the end of the week makes this goal Time Bound, so you know when to check in to see if it has been completed. Narrowing down the project to start with the proposal also makes this goal both Measurable and Achievable by defining exactly what needs to be done within a reasonable timeline.
The less you leave up for interpretation in a message, the more the receiver will be able to focus on what you are actually saying instead of trying to parse out meaning.
In all communication, we need to approach it graciously and humbly. Even if we prepare and think about using specific language to overcome barriers ahead of time, there will still be moments of misinterpretation. When those happen, we should respond to them understandingly, not blaming the receiver for needing further clarification. Remember, there are many factors at play that determine how we process information, and just because you can complete the task at hand with the given information does not mean that that is what the receiver requires to get the job done.
Part of overcoming barriers to communication is learning to be flexible to communicate in the way that the receiver needs, which may not always be how you would want someone to communicate with you.
Gracie McBride is the Content and Systems Management Coordinator for The Crossroad.