Psychological Barriers

Psychological Barriers to Effective Communication

Psychological barriers are due to the emotional character and mental limitations of human beings. These barriers result in absent-mindedness, the fear of expressing one’s ideas to others, excitement and emotional instability—all accounting for an overwhelming number of communication problems.

Any psychological state can affect your ability to send and receive a message.

This is due to the way your mind works and the way that this affects your behaviour. For example, when you are upset, you will have a hard time listening effectively to a message.

Psychological needs and feelings are the prime barriers to the organizational communication process where both interactant—the sender and the receiver—could be affected.

Psychological barrier is one of numerous barriers within the subclass of intra-personal barriersOpens in new window.

Some common forms of psychological barriers include:

1.   False assumptions

Communication failure may occur if a sender fails to communicate instructions well because s/he assumes that the receiver has understood the message, but the fact could be that the receiver only partially understood what was communicated or didn’t understood at all; both situations can cause communication breakdown.

The capacity of senders to understand is often shaped by their personal experience and no two people are alike in this regard.

An assumption of the sender that the receiver knows how to do something or follow instructions is often wrong and can be misleading.

Likewise, the receiver may also wish to be understood in a certain way and encourage false assumptions by the sender.

For example, in order to prevent false assumptions, a quality control manager should first check whether the workers are familiar with Six Sigma standards before pulling them up for its non-adherence.

2.   Anger

Emotional state can pose damaging barrier to communication. If the sender is angry when he or she sends the message, it will affect the way in which the receiver interprets the message.

The sender may come across as aggressive and unapproachable. The receiver might feel threatened or fearful with the result that the receiver might perceive the message in a different way.

3.   Attitudes and Values

An attitude is a pre-learned disposition and can be linked closely to a person’s belief and value systems.

Whether your attitude is positive or negative, it can influence the communication process either positively or negatively.

If one of your beliefs is being threatened, you are likely to react emotionally instead of listening attentively to the message.

If the sender of a message has a positive attitude, it may persuade the receiver to actually do what the sender requested.

If the sender has a negative attitude, the receiver may not be inclined to meet the terms of the request.

4.   Negative Self-image

Negative self-image can affect both the sender and receiver in the communication process, leading in communication breakdown.

If the sender has a negative self-image, he or she may not be able to relay the message appropriately. Again, the message may be forceless and lacking in conviction.

Likewise, if someone on the receiving end has a poor self-image or lacking self-confidence, he or she might entertain fearful thought—judging oneself as not intelligent enough to understand the message.

5.   Fear and Defensiveness

When a sender is fearful or defensive about the subject matter that needs to be communicated, the sender may go too far in the attempt to communicate and alienate the receiver(s) with melodramatic gestures and words.

Instead of accepting the mistake, the sender might try to justify the action or refuse to admit the mistake altogether, creating further misunderstanding.

Such defensive behaviour may also ruin the sender’s credibility with receiver(s). Likewise, when a receiver is fearful, he or she may not understand what is being said, leading one to stop listening, which would lead to more mistakes in future.

6.   Implications and Inferences

  • An implication is a meaning derived through connotation rather than through specific details.
  • An inference is a conclusion drawn from connotation rather than from specific details.

A communicator who implies something can cause a receiver to infer a meaning different from what was intended.

For example, a person who says that his work is undervalued may mean to suggest that he doesn’t get enough positive feedback from his supervisor. Without specific detail, however, the receiver of the message might infer that the speaker believes his salary isn’t huge enough.

We may have good reason to expect that our inferences will be correct, but they may prove incorrect due to some unpredicted situation.

As inferences go beyond the facts in making certain statements, they can give wrong signals.

We interpret symbols on the basis of assumptions, which usually prove correct, but there is a probability that they may sometimes prove incorrect.

This type of inference is also termed premature evaluation where the receiver has the tendency to judge prematurely without understanding the frame of reference. To guard against this communication barrier, senders should always use specific language, and receivers should clarify meaning by asking questions.

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7.   Abstracting

We use language to communicate our experience and feelings, but we are less likely to communicate every detail because of the tendency to focus our attention on only some of the details.

While we prepare a business report on our observations of the various events in the market, we abstract the selected information and present only the information which is relevant.

The observations will not be perfect. Hence, communication would also be imperfect because our experience of the event is also not complete.

When we try to convert our experience and observation into words, we further abstract it by using selected words, which involve leaving out the details.

For example, if we try to describe a simple object like a shoe completely, we would require several volumes for it, which would still be insufficient to describe the object.

8.   Close-mindedness, Overconfidence and Apathy

People are sometimes not prepared to receive new information on a subject about which they assume to know everything. Thus, their mind is closed to new ideas, facts and suggestions.

When a person is in this state of mind, such a person runs the risk of showing overconfidence.

For example, If an employee approaches his closed-minded boss with some suggestions to improve the work of a business unit, the boss might retort by saying ‘I am an expert in this field’, ‘I have been doing this job since 1967; I have all the know-how in my head.

There's nothing possibly new to learn—at least not from a rookie!’ Thus, he completely rejects the information and recommendations of the communicator even before he knows the real facts.

Close-mindedness may cause a person to be unwilling to learn new ideas. It is best to approach communication with humility and a willingness to learn, for it is almost impossible to know everything about any particular field.

At the other extremes is an apathetic sender or receiver who creates a barrier due to a lack of emotion or interest in what is being sent or received.

Apathy causes communication to break down because it interrupts effective listening. It is for this reason that an apathetic speaker does not relate information well and may leave out key points.

9.   Distortion, filtering and editing

When a message Opens in new window is transmitted through translations, interpretations, explanations and simplifications, it tends to lose originality and becomes distorted.

The accuracy of the message is lost and the transmission becomes imperfect as the message goes through the filters of translations and simplifications.

This is due to manipulation of information by the sender so that it is seen as more favorable by the receiver because the sender wants some results of his own. This happens mostly in organizations where there is emphasis on status differences and strong career mobility aspirations. It also happens where there are more vertical levels and upward communication gets distorted and filtered.

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Grapevine is also a reason for distortion. The message in grapevineOpens in new window receives fresh additions with every repetition until it gets worst. Thus, often, the original information, especially orally communicated through formal and informal channels, gets distorted.

Sometimes only little of it is retained. Adopting written communication for important messages can reduce distortion and imminent misunderstanding.

10.   Poor listening

Poor listening behaviourOpens in new window can pose major communication problems. Misunderstanding and conflicts can be reduced if people would listen to the message with enough attention.

Most people do not listen very well due to various distractions, emotions, excitement, indifference, aggressiveness and wandering attention.

One of the major reasons for bad listening is an individual’s continual thinking about his own problems and worries. The poor listener always feels that the thought in his mind is more interesting than what the speaker is saying.

11.   Emotion

Emotions are our feelings about the world around us. Usually, positive emotions such as joy, love or affection do not interfere with communication; it is the negative emotions that create barriers.

An emotionally excited communicator is unable to organize his message properly. He expresses his blurred thoughts with gesticulationsOpens in new window and keeps on repeating the same words.

He does not understand that the message he wants to convey is ruled by uncontrolled emotion and he is misdirected as the emotion makes him turn a blind eye to reason.

Anyone who comes across such an irritated person becomes a victim of his unfocused negative emotions. The perplexed, nervous and excited state of mind never allows smooth flow of communication.

12.   Information overload

Whenever the information we have to work with exceeds our processing capacity, the result is an information overload. Thus, the communicator could select, ignore, pass or even forget information. Hence, there is loss of information and less effective communication.