9 Barriers to Effective Communication

May 18, 2021 2 min read
9 Barriers to Effective Communication

In this short post, the Lazy Leader identifies 9 barriers to effective communication that may—if not addressed—contribute to the failure of business change projects.

Although my focus is on leading change and project management, the barriers to effective communication described could equally apply to any area of business management.

Effective communication is an essential leadership skill that’s often overlooked. For the project leader, it is crucial to successful project delivery. For the change leader, effective communication is the foundation for creating a climate of change.

However, achieving understanding is often difficult in an atmosphere of uncertainty and change, which is, unfortunately, the realm of the project manager and those leading business change.

Moreover, most change leaders and their sponsors tend to be over-optimistic about the accuracy and efficacy of communication. They often fail to take enough notice of the following barriers to effective communication.

9 Barriers to Effective Communication

In this list, I identify barriers to effective communication that will—if not addressed—contribute to the failure of business change projects.

  1. Uncertainty of message: when we are simply unsure of what to say and when to say it.
  2. Faulty presentation: this may occur by choosing the wrong medium, e.g., sending an email when a face-to-face meeting is better.
  3. Limited capacity of audience: where those receiving the message do not have the necessary training to interpret the information.
  4. Unstated assumptions: where both parties are unaware that they each have different assumptions about the message.
  5. Incompatible viewpoints: failure to communicate because both parties view circumstances from entirely different perspectives.
  6. Deception: deliberately withholding certain aspects of the message.
  7. Interference: noisy occurrences that affect our ability to concentrate when we need to have an important conversation, e.g., a noisy office or constant interruption.
  8. Lack of channels: where people who have information with which others may usefully benefit—and vice versa—but who are unaware of the needs of each other because there are no formal channels allowing such exchange of information.
  9. Cumulative distortion: the longer the chain of people receiving and passing information, the more distorted the message becomes by the time it reaches those last in the chain.

Resistance to Change

Later, in other posts, I will discuss remedies for overcoming the barriers to effective communication. However, I first need to introduce some ideas—and models—on resistance to change and stakeholder engagement. Only then can we think about communication, motivation, and the change process.

To summarize, I intend to consider the following points over the next few weeks as I address the topic of effective communication

  • Identifying the key challenges for the project.
  • Working with stakeholders to develop the vision.
  • Completing stakeholder management and communications plans.
  • Monitoring against progress and working to overcome resistance as it arises.

How do you communicate during the change process? Do you state the reasons for change? Do you listen to those resisting change? You are welcome to share your experiences in the comments.

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