5 Common Communication Barriers in Businesses

Mike Hanks
January 18, 2016

We’ve all experienced it. A message intended to be communicated to the entire company but didn’t reach you.

Ineffective communication is common in businesses and can decrease employee productivity significantly. According to McKinsey & Company, only 39% of an employee's time during the average workweek is spent on role-specific tasks. That leaves 61% of the employees time spent on other tasks like responding to emails or searching and gathering information.

How does a business improve communication to increase productivity? It starts by identifying the communication barriers.

Communication Barriers in Business

1. Legacy Systems

How many of your systems seem outdated? For many businesses, outdated systems are common and full of patches and workarounds in efforts to get as much as they can from their investment.

In some cases, these remedies may be all your business needs. But if these remedies are not done by professionals, they can cause incompatibilities, missed communication opportunities, and ultimately lead to an increase in operating costs.

2. Physical Separation

There are many benefits to communicating in person, like seeing posture, body language, and other nonverbal cues. But between long commutes and balancing work and family, more and more companies are offering remote positions. As this trend continues to pick up, physical separation doesn’t need to be a communication barrier.

Making use of conference calls or video communications can provide businesses with an in-person meeting even when communicating with others at home – or across the globe with customers, vendors, and partners.

3. Wrong Communication Channel

Choosing the right communication channel can increase comprehension and the overall effectiveness of your message.

A common rule when choosing a communication channel is this: the more complicated your message, the richer and more direct your channel should be. One example? A 2-minute video introducing a complex topic. On the other hand, if the message is simple or easy to understand, an indirect communication channel is more appropriate, such as a data-packed infographic.

Regardless of the channel, treat each channel like real in-person communication by keeping the message clear and concise.

4. Not Understanding Your Audience's Needs

In order to properly communicate, your audience must be engaged. If the audience is not engaged, they may become bored and miss key takeaways. Engaging your audience requires a few simple steps:

Set the stage and don’t assume everyone knows what you know
Ask a question to get them intrigued
Provide the answer in uncomplicated or technical terms (industry jargon), unless the audience is very familiar with the topic

Remember, it is better to spend a few extra moments up front to make sure everyone understands the topic and is engaged than to continue and risk your audience missing main points.

5. Distractions

Distractions cause problems. Even the smallest noise or pop-up can disrupts someone's focus on what you are saying. While every team meeting won’t be a success, there are a few steps that can be taken to minimize distractions.

Before setting the stage, ask your audience to put away electronic devices and step away from what they are currently doing. If you are hosting a video conference, close extra browser windows and disable desktop notifications, and test the software before the meeting. These extra steps only take a few extra moments but can provide clearer and more effective communication and avoid future issues from misinterpretation or missing key takeaways.

Avoiding common communication barriers, such as physical separation, wrong communication channels, not understanding the audiences’ need, or distractions, is essential for the success of a business. Be sure your company has the skills to communicate effectively and the technology needed. Review the company’s current technologies and identify if there are needs for improvement, new technology, or simply to unify the technology that your company currently utilizes.

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