Social distancing and remote working brought workplace communication barriers into the national spotlight. Enter: the siren song of 2020:
The fact is, those same communication barriers existed long before the days of working from home. Frontline employees, in particular, have traditionally dealt with:
- Limited access to company information
- Static communication vehicles, such as break room posters
- Rigid hierarchies that don’t transfer feedback effectively
As a result, organizations are adopting new tools and techniques to address common workplace barriers to communication. And, they’re looking to do it quickly.
What Are Barriers To Communication?
Let’s start at the top. What are communication barriers?
Communication barriers are anything that interferes with the process of communication. Those barriers can be anything from physical workspace to listening abilities to cultural differences.
In the workplace, barriers to communication usually take one of these forms:
- Employee to employee
- Manager to employee
- Organization to employee
But, there are many different barriers of communication with examples. For instance, a manager’s communication style might not match up with the employee’s. That could lead to a general misunderstanding or cause the employee to tune out completely.
With organizational barriers, employees might not be receiving the information they need through the channel most useful for them. For example, a business that only sends company news through an emailed newsletter is leaving out frontline employees without access to a company email address.
Impacts Of Barriers To Effective Communication At Work
According to a survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit, consequences of poor communication at work include added stress on employees, failure to complete a project, and loss of sales or clients.
Barriers to effective communication that go unaddressed can severely impact workplace culture, such as:
- Misaligned goals between the organization and employees
- Uninformed employees working directly with customers
- Lower employee loyalty
- Decreased employee engagement
Organizational barriers of communication can also be costly.
A survey found companies with 100,000 employees on average lost a stunning $62.4 million annually.
Now, let’s deep dive into types of communication barriers, starting with what are the barriers of communication?
What Are The Barriers Of Communication In The Workplace?
Communication barriers can pop up during any interaction. And, they’re always not based on tangible factors, like workspace or technology. Some barriers are more psychological or culturally influenced.
10 Common Types Of Communication Barriers In The Workplace
Here are some of the most common barriers of communication with examples.
Sometimes poor communication is not what you say but how you say it. One person’s communication style may not always jive with the other.
For example, a manager might prefer to give their employee detailed directions for completing a task. If that employee prefers having more autonomy, you might be at risk for future communication mishaps.
Different languages and cultures make up highly productive and diverse organizations. So, communicating in dialects your employees aren’t familiar with makes it difficult for them to grasp information. Nor is it culturally embracing.
As an example, businesses that distribute company documents in one language are inclusive of employees whose native language is different.
Physical aspects, like different working locations or time zones, can create a literal communication barrier. If managers don’t plan ahead, they may miss their employees before they clock out for the day.
The 2020 global shutdown caused businesses to adjust their physical working conditions overnight. As a result, in-office employees have transitioned to remote technology to continue doing business.
And, frontline workforces have historically been dispersed from other team members. Having the right tools makes it easier for everyone to communicate effectively, no matter where they are.
Speak of the devil – in today’s working environment, digital tools are necessary for team communication and collaboration. Without the right technology, employees may miss important company news or lack the resources to properly handle a workplace situation.
For instance, businesses without a mobile communication solution may not be reaching their frontline employees as frequently as they need to. If at all.
Listening, or lack thereof, is one of the most common barriers to effective communication.
Communication is the exchange of information. Which means it’s imperative the person on the other end is receiving, comprehending, and acknowledging the information being shared.
Lapses in listening usually end with a misunderstanding or disengagement because the person does not feel heard. Either way, it can lead to ineffective communication and pose a risk to team performance if not addressed.
With so many communication vehicles available at our fingertips, it’s hard to know what the right option is. It’s easy to go with what is familiar, but that isn’t always better.
Communication channels should always be selected based on what tools are available and who the receiving audience is. Office-based employees may respond better to emails, whereas frontline employees may need something quicker.
Another common communication barrier is a lack of understanding. For example, an employee may simply not have the know-how about a particular product they’re asked about. When that happens, information can come out like jargon, and both parties are left feeling frustrated.
Outside factors, like distractions or general disinterest, can also impact communication. No matter the cause of the misunderstanding, it’s important to identify where the missteps arise and work to correct them.
Communication etiquette is a lesser-known obstacle in the workplace that’s becoming more apparent as work and personal lives blend together.
In terms of etiquette, many organizations encourage employees to unplug at the end of the day. Others may require around-the-clock work, but employees may not know they’re expected to respond during out of work hours unless that is communicated.
Employee engagement can impact almost any aspect of a business, including effective communication.
Engaged employees are more likely to listen carefully, provide input, and go the extra mile. Alternatively, an employee’s disengagement can affect their ability to carry out tasks or efficiently work with customers.
When communication failures increase, consider checking in with the employee. If their satisfaction with the company is low, it’s likely to be interfering with their ability to effectively work in a team.
Do any of these sound familiar to you?
- A retail employee learns about a new product from a customer
- A product is recalled after mass distribution
- Employee safety incidents increase rapidly at certain plants
Each of the situations signals a breakdown in communication because of organizational structure.
This type of communication barrier is usually found in companies with rigid hierarchies. Why? Because information that travels through various levels is more likely to be altered or not received altogether.
Flat organizations provide a more open atmosphere with information and feedback shared freely. As a result, employees are more likely to have access to the technology, tools, and information they need to communicate successfully.
Tips To Overcome Barriers to Effective Communication
Communication barriers happen. The great thing is these issues are simple to address with the right tools in hand.
Companies with more efficient internal communications benefit from:
- Aligned and productive workforces
- Decreased operational costs
- More knowledgeable customer interactions
- Increased employee retention
- More engaged, collaborative, and motivated employees
- Improved business performance
Here are a few tips to overcome these obstacles and make way for more effective communication in the workplace.
- Establish, foster, and prioritize an inclusive workplace culture. Make sure your employee communication tools have inline translation to reach team members in the language they’re most comfortable using.
- Provide communication training for new managers. The bulk of communication breakdown happens between manager and employee. Training can help a manager both improve and manage communication skills within their team.
- Be clear, concise, and consistent in your message. Frontline employees are always on the go and appreciate brevity when it comes to company news. For critical information, clarity equals action.
- Remember, the small things matter. Nonverbal communication speaks volumes, even through video messaging. Factors like tone, eye contact, or body language can make a significant impact when trying to get a message across.
- Leverage the right tools for the right message. Not every message deserves a face-to-face meeting (remember those?). In fact, that’s not scalable for any growing business. Remember to leverage the tools available to you to reach who you need when you need time.
Need help finding the solution best suited for your team? Here are the 7 best business communication tools for frontline teams:
- Mobile Chat: Frontline employees need a real-time communication channel to get answers when they’re on-the-go or interacting with customers.
- Video and Photo Sharing: Image and video sharing capabilities give employees a more seamless channel for submitting maintenance reports.
- File Sharing: Having a secure, centralized location to access digital files is a great way to help save employees’ time.
- Newsfeeds: Targeted news feeds help management share important updates with the right employees at the right time.
- Employee Directory: Employee directories make it easier for frontline workers to know who to go to when they need them.
- Shift Schedules: Digital access to shift schedules helps employees know when they need to be at work without physically going in.
- Inline Translation: Inline translation breaks down barriers by making it easier to communicate with employees, no matter their native language.