Barriers to effective communication

Two students laughing together. One covers his face with a text book.

Figure 9.6 Stop interrupting me — I'm trying to learn. (Photo: Carrie Teicher)

A breakdown can occur at any point in the communication process. Barriers (obstacles) can inhibit communication, resulting in misunderstanding or distortion of the message (Figure 9.6). This can lead to conflicts of views and the inability to make effective decisions. Barriers can also prevent the achievement of the project or programme goals.

Generally communication barriers can be categorised as follows:

  • Physical barriers include difficulties in hearing and seeing.
  • Intellectual barriers may occur because of the natural ability, home background or schooling that affects the perception and understanding of the receiver.
  • Emotional barriers include the readiness, willingness or eagerness of the receiver — and the emotional status of the educator.
  • Environmental barriers might occur if there is too much noise or if the room is too congested.
  • Cultural barriers include those customs, beliefs or religious attitudes that may cause problems. Economic and social class differences and language variation, as well as age differences, may also be difficult to overcome. Either too high or too low status of the educator (sender) compared to the audience may affect communication.

Remember that you cannot necessarily avoid or overcome all these barriers, but should try to find ways of minimising them.

List some of the barriers to effective communication that you have encountered in your health education activities, whether as a health worker or a recipient of health education.

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You may have come across many different barriers to health education work, including several of the ones discussed in this study session. Some situations involve several barriers — for example, if someone is in a room that is noisy (environmental) and their hearing isn't very good (physical), and because they are low status (cultural) they have been put at the back, this will all make it much harder for them to understand the messages being delivered.

To overcome communication barriers:

  • The sender must know their audience's background and be able to adjust their message (Figure 9.7).
  • The messages the sender communicates must be timely, meaningful and relevant to the recipients and applicable to their situation.

A large group of people from the community are gathered together to listen to a health talk.

Figure 9.7 In a group session you are never sure whether people will be receptive to your health messages — or whether they may present barriers. (Photo: AMREF/Thomas Somanu)

Even if all the barriers have been removed, communication could still be a failure without good presentation. Good presentation requires a firm understanding of the subject and establishing a positive relationship with the audience as well as choosing the right channels or media.

Last modified: Monday, 23 June 2014, 10:36 PM