Humans logo

The Top 4 Obstacles to Effective Communication and How to Overcome Them

What kind of noise is in your channel?

By Denise SheltonPublished 3 years ago 5 min read
The Top 4 Obstacles to Effective Communication and How to Overcome Them
Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

Communications 101: The sender’s message travels to the receiver through a specific channel (radio signal, internet, handwritten note, spoken word, etc.), and the receiver interprets the message. Simple enough, but what happens when something interferes, distorting the message you’re trying to send? The result is that your communication is either flawed or fails.

This interference is called “channel noise.” When you become aware of the possibility of channel noise to disrupt communication, you can take steps to avoid it.

Noise in the channel can be a technical problem, static or feedback are good examples, but it can also be utterly unrelated to equipment failure. There are four kinds of obstacles to communication: physical, physiological, psychological, and semantic. Here are some examples:

Physical noise

By David Jackson on Unsplash
  • You’re trying to make a voice recording, but you keep picking up noise from a construction site across the street.
  • A woman at a concert tells her date that she has to go to the ladies’ room, but he can’t hear her because the music is too loud.
  • The marker you used on the sign advertising your yard sale wasn’t waterproof. It rained, so now your address is unreadable.

Physiological noise

By Etienne Boulanger on Unsplash
  • A deaf person is unaware of an important announcement broadcast over a P.A. system at an airport.
  • Someone speaking to you has such a severe speech impediment that you can’t understand what they are trying to tell you.
  • While explaining how to enroll in a new benefits program, a human resources manager speaks so fast that employees are unable to write down all the instructions.

Psychological noise

By Brian Wertheim on Unsplash
  • Someone representing a political party you disagree with suggests a solution to a problem. Still, you refuse to listen because you have decided in advance that whatever they have to say is wrong.
  • Your mother has you convinced that all square dancers are liars. When a square dancer tells you your car is about to be towed, you don’t believe him.

Semantic noise

By National Cancer Institute on Unsplash
  • A surgeon explains an upcoming operation to a patient using so much medical jargon and so many technical terms that the patient doesn’t understand what he’s saying.
  • A college mathematics professor who usually works with graduate students has to teach a remedial Algebra class. His inability to adapt his message to the skill level of his audience leaves the students confused and frustrated.
  • Spelling, grammar, and usage errors can sabotage even the most simple effort at communication.

Three ways to combat channel noise

Photo by julio Andres Rosario Ortiz on Unsplash

1. Know your audience

By CDC on Unsplash

When you’re about to communicate information, you must first consider your audience. Most of us do this instinctively when talking to young children by avoiding complex words and sentences and by keeping examples limited to things with which we know they are familiar.

It’s just as important to tailor the message to the receiver when communicating with adults. Think about the person or people with whom you are trying to communicate. What is their sex, age, ethnicity, belief system, and education level?

Are there any barriers to communication like language or physical disability? Is your audience likely to be receptive or hostile? Are they reluctant to accept what you’re saying because it’s bad news or because they believe that you have an ulterior motive? Sometimes, it’s best to have someone else deliver your message.

Amerian Advisors Group (AAG) sells reverse mortgages to seniors. Since many older people are highly skeptical of reverse mortgages, AAG chose actor Tom Selleck to do their commercials for several reasons.

Selleck is recognizable to most seniors because he starred in the popular 1980s television series Magnum, P.I. He also presents a positive image of stability from his personal and professional life. Selleck is around the same age as the borrowers AAG is attempting to attract, too. As a bonus, he’s a registered Independent voter who supported neither the Democratic nor the Republican candidate in the last presidential election.

2. Anticipate problems and put solutions in place

By Erik Mclean on Unsplash

If you know you’ll be giving a speech to a group of elderly nursing home residents, for instance, you may have a fair number of people in the audience who have hearing difficulty. Make sure your sound system is top-notch and that you speak in clear, simple sentences. Watch your diction and pause often, and ask if anyone has a question.

When writing a political opinion piece for a publication, your goal should be to influence decisions. You’re not going to do that if you offend people right off the bat. Avoid polarizing language and hyperbole. Don’t use a headline that tips your hand as to what your opinion will be. Require them to read the body of your argument to find out.

By Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

When addressing controversial subjects, look for common ground. Don’t go on personal attacks. If you do, you won’t change anybody’s mind; you’ll reinforce their existing attitude.

While you’re “preaching to the choir,” the sinners have moved on. Either that or they’ve geared up to troll you without even reading beyond the headline.

Even if your story sells, if it doesn’t inform others or give them something new to consider, you’re not communicating. You’re just making noise.

3. Be aware of your own bias

One of the obstacles to communication is how our background and experience have shaped our view of the world. I grew up in a family where education was revered, marriage was sacred, and independence outside the family was encouraged. When I was younger, I used to assume that pretty much everyone else shared those values. I was wrong.

By Rajiv Perera on Unsplash

One of my co-workers once told me that she would never get married. Her mother, who had married and divorced four husbands, had given her the impression that marriage never works out.

Another person I knew had parents and siblings who routinely betrayed him, so he didn’t trust his wife’s family either. Try not to make assumptions about other people’s values based on your own.

The desire to communicate is a trait common to all human beings. How we go about it determines whether or not our message is rejected, misunderstood, or received intact. Take responsibility for your message, and don’t blame your audience if they get it wrong. It’s your job to make sure they get it right.

how to

About the Creator

Denise Shelton

Denise Shelton writes on a variety of topics and in several different genres. Frequent subjects include history, politics, and opinion. She gleefully writes poetry The New Yorker wouldn't dare publish.

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights


There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.