13 Communication Blockers And How You Can Overcome Them
Recall a time where you left a conversation feeling bad or insecure about how it went. Maybe you felt like the other person was judging you, or talking down to you, making it difficult to have a productive conversation with them. How did the feelings of this one conversation change your outlook on them and your willingness to engage with them in the future? These feelings often stem from ‘communication blockers’, and they can be the cause of some severe fallout when they happen in the workplace.
Now, consider if this person was a colleague of yours who you had to work closely with. If every conversation left you feeling uneasy…would you be happy continuing to work with them? What if they were your manager? Would you be happy staying under their leadership? In this situation, many would start freshening up their resume and starting the search for a job where they could feel more valued and respected.
While it can be a complex task to identify these blockers since there are many reasons why they can enter a conversation, there are some valuable communication techniques that can help you overcome this common workplace struggle.
Before we can start sharing our top techniques for combatting communication blockers in the workplace, first, we have to understand what communication blockers are and what causes them.
What Is A Communication Blocker, And Why Do They Matter?
A communication blocker is a way of communicating that is disrespectful, demeaning, and negative – leaving those involved feeling anxious, stressed, and uneasy about the interaction. When communication blockers are frequently used in the workplace, it creates a toxic work environment and unhealthy divides between employees. If left unchecked, communication blockers can begin breaking down employee morale.
Communication blockers aren’t exclusively things that are verbally said. These blockers also include non-verbal communication. Body language is influential in our interactions and can be just as damaging as the words we say.
When employees communicate in this way, it can lead to a variety of problems, affecting people on both a personal and professional level. When people constantly feel undervalued and disrespected by their peers (or leadership), they can begin developing a diminished self-image, experience higher rates of stress, and begin to withdraw from their colleagues. This affects collaboration, lowering performance, and reducing participation overall.
Effective communication plays a vital role in a company’s success and is responsible for the growth in many aspects of any company. For example, communication is rated number 1 for creating and maintaining effective collaboration in the workplace. When communication begins to break down, it can lead to missed deadlines, higher stress in the workplace, poor attitudes, and drastically decreased productivity – which are all determining factors in a company’s employee morale.
What Can Cause Communication Blockers
Now that we know how to define communication blockers, we can begin to understand where they come from and why they become so prominent in the workplace.
Oftentimes, communication blockers stem from a lack of understanding or tolerance of individual differences. As companies become more diverse, it creates a new learning curve that has left many struggling to coexist in a workplace.
The most common causes of communication blockers include:
- Generational Gaps
Each generation has faced its own unique struggles and has developed its own communication styles with boundaries that may not be acceptable in other generations. While each generation has strengths they bring to the workplace, there is often a breakdown in communication and expectation when working together, which can show in their interactions with each other.
- Cultural Differences
Each culture has been raised with a different set of expectations. What is an acceptable conversation style in one culture, may be incredibly disrespectful in others. While cultural diversity is essential for any business to thrive, it also poses a significant challenge in workplace communication – but it can be easily accommodated with the right plan (we’ll get to that later!)
Many people still struggle to understand the diverse range of abilities throughout our population. Workplaces are becoming more accommodating for those with disabilities, and when colleagues struggle to understand others’ differences and see the value they bring in varying areas, it can foster a wide array of communication blockers that those individuals will have to face.
- Language Barriers
Language barriers can come in many different forms. It can be a different verbal language, such as English, Japanese, or Arabic, or it can be the way that communication tools and apps are used. Language can create difficult interactions if one (or both) of the people involved are failing to understand the other or be willing to find the best way to communicate.
- Company Status
Many companies have a hierarchy within them, such as the managing partners, the associates, the interns, etc. When companies have a variety of positions, and each one has differing levels of authority, it can influence how people interact with one another. While status isn’t important to everyone, there are many that enjoy having higher status than others, and it can show in the way they communicate and treat those around them, making authority a common cause of communication blockers for those individuals.
Most Common Communication Blockers
Communication blockers can be complex, especially given their wide array of root causes. Before you can begin planning to overcome them (or avoid them entirely), it’s important to be able to identify them within your company. The most common communication blockers in the modern workplace fall into two categories; Verbal and Non-Verbal.
Verbal Communication Blocker Techniques
When colleagues share ideas while collaborating, they can often be faced with unconstructive criticism being disguised as “constructive”. This can leave your employees holding back essential ideas on collaborative projects, and feeling unsupported by their team and by management.
- Accusations & Insinuations
If you listen closely to the conversations in your workplace, you may notice small phrases that are aimed to place blame on one person. This is often done by utilizing blanket statements or highlighting what one specific group of people did with an undertone aimed to point out the shortcomings of others, such as “programmers are known for pulling all-nighters, so of course, the software has bugs in it”.
- Excessive Use Of Jargon
While a certain level of jargon is going to happen in any workplace conversation, it can make one person feel belittled when the interaction seems to be drowning in it. Overuse of jargon is often closely tied to individuals who are trying to assert dominance or demonstrate their intellect above someone else’s. It is also used as a manipulation technique, where someone loads a conversation with technical terms in an attempt to confuse the other person. This can leave people feeling unheard, disrespected, and undervalued in their role.
- Solution Focused
While certain conversations are aimed at solving a problem, there are many where someone is simply trying to be heard and seek empathy or understanding from their colleagues. When the other party is only focused on solving the problem for them and not actively listening to the actual situation being discussed, it creates higher levels of frustration and leads to people feeling misunderstood and isolated.
- Intrusive Questioning
Asking questions is normal in many conversations, however, there is a social norm of the depth questions can go. When that line is crossed, people feel vulnerable – and often violated and exposed. This becomes additionally problematic when intrusive questions are asked by the leadership team, as employees feel they have to answer them and fear repercussions should they not be forthcoming with their answers.
Many people find abrasive language disrespectful and unprofessional, and it’s often frowned upon in company environments. When employees begin speaking bluntly to their colleagues, belittling them, talking down to them, swearing, or being aggressively demanding, it creates a power dynamic making the working environment unhealthy and also uncomfortable for everyone witnessing these interactions.
This can be a difficult one to recognize and even more difficult to accept when you’ve been the perpetrator of it. Presumptions happen when people think they know what’s going on and can assume what someone thinks, or is going to do or say. When people base their feelings and future interactions with someone on a ‘theory’ they have of that person, it leaves people feeling judged and misunderstood, making them exceptionally cautious of who they interact with and how they do so.
- Based On Stereotypical Expectations
Stereotypes are everywhere. For example: “Sales people only care about making money.” “X race is good at math.” “Y gender is more authoritative.” These are all some typical stereotypes you can find in the corporate world, and they are creating an environment that is offensive and often derogatory to wide groups of people. This quickly leads to a toxic workplace that affects people emotionally and mentally as well.
When someone constantly talks over their colleague, it creates an uneven power dynamic and indicates that the person speaking doesn’t have valued opinions and is silenced. This removes the opportunity for effective collaboration and can cause people to withdraw from their colleagues.
This can look like a lack of eye contact, few responses or acknowledgments, and shifts in focus. This signals to people that what they are saying is boring and unimportant to the person they are speaking to. When people feel like their voices don’t matter, they stop sharing their thoughts and ideas, reducing collaboration and involvement with their company on a wider scale.
- Tone Of Voice
Tone is the way a person is speaking to someone. It can range from casual to formal, funny to serious, or enthusiastic to matter-of-fact. If someone is speaking aggressively, it creates a feeling of unease, judgment, and often leads to defensiveness. This is similar with sarcasm. Often, when someone responds sarcastically, it makes the other person feel like they’re being mocked and made fun of. Tone of voice communicates how we feel about our message.
- Facial Expressions
The minute facial expressions we display while having a conversation with someone can be interpreted in a number of ways. When someone’s facial expressions portray negative emotions, it often manifests in the receiving person becoming self-conscious and becoming more aware of what they discuss with that colleague in future conversations.
- Talking About Colleagues To Others
While this can fall under verbal communication as well, this particular communication blocker has two big repercussions. First, it creates an environment where people are banding together against specific colleagues, who are usually aware of these conversations and are uneasy and stressed about being the topic of them. Second, this affects those who hear the conversations taking place and are faced with the knowledge that they could be the ones being talked about in the future, causing them to be extra careful with how they behave in the workplace and who they interact with.
How To Overcome Communication Blocker Techniques
With so many causes of communication blockers, and so many ways to engage in them, how can you overcome them in your workplace? You can minimize communication blockers in both yourself and your employees with some well-implemented steps and enforced expectations, making for a healthier workplace where your employees, and business, can thrive.
- Consider how different cultures and generations communicate and work to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each one. This will help you create a workplace that is inclusive to all and can be a positive environment where everyone can feel respected and relevant.
- Create standards of communication throughout the workplace. When you create these standards, it is essential to include the various methods of communication as well to ensure each employee knows how they are expected to interact with their colleagues in all aspects.
- Have a diverse team that plays a vital role in forming the communication standards, allowing employees to be involved, feel heard, and ensure the work environment is effective, respectful, and safe for everyone in the workplace.
- Ensure you have a strong management team to support a cross-cultural team that values supportive environments and who align with the company’s values.
- Make open, non-judgmental communication a priority.
- Address problems in an accepting way without placing blame, and work as a team to develop a solution. Use these moments as learning opportunities and encourage your team to navigate the problem alongside you.
- Mediate communication between employees when struggles arise within their working relationship in an understanding and fair way.
- Implement sensitivity training where needed.
Communication blockers have been deeply ingrained in the workplace for many years. With the changing demographics and dynamics the workplace offers, observe and consider how you can foster an environment for your employees where they can feel valued, heard, respected, and supported by their colleagues and management team.
When you begin identifying and implementing communication blocking techniques, you’ll be able to reframe the expectations of your employees and create a workplace that allows them (and your company) to continue growing and changing with the times, adapting to each new challenge and overcoming common struggles within the modern workplace.