5 deadly communication barriers and how to solve them

by Amara Pope
communication barriers

Hello? … Hello? …Hello??

Over 80% of Americans think that employee communication is a key factor in creating trust with their employers.

It’s clear as day that bad communication not only creates an unpleasant work culture but also hinders the productive output of an organization. Despite this, many organizations don’t place a priority on communication – but COMMUNICATION IS KEY.

Presumably, they may focus on other objectives that may have immediate financial ramifications. However, if you don’t prioritize internal communications, every other area of your business will suffer – especially your bottom line!

Communication problems can plague all companies, both big and small. We understand that they can be complex and difficult to solve so in order to come up with effective solutions, we offer you some ways to recognize the specific barriers that are causing internal communications to falter.

See if you can recognize the following communication barriers in your organization:

1. Hierarchical barriers

Hierarchies are necessary for organizations to function, but communication issues often arise when two employees of differing statuses interact with one another.

For the person in a more senior position, there can be a temptation to dismiss the messages passed on by a subordinate, simply because the subordinate is on a lower rung in the organization’s hierarchy.

Similarly, a subordinate may be less inclined to communicate authentically with someone of a higher rank because they may be afraid to inadvertently offend them and damage their own career opportunities or result in a loss of income.

Solution: Encourage feedback

The easiest fix for this problem is for senior members of staff to regularly solicit feedback from subordinates. It’s important to emphasize that honest, constructive feedback is welcome – and will not incur any backlash in terms of career progression.

In a study on employee engagement, 80% of workers who are unhappy with their direct manager feel disengaged at work. Line managers should regularly have one-on-one meetings with their team members, where both parties can communicate on leveled terms.

Despite differences in status, it’s crucial to remember that all employees are working together to fulfill the organization’s goals. If negative feedback and constructive criticism help the organization to flourish, then this should be thoroughly encouraged.

If senior leaders are not able to take constructive criticism without being offended, this needs to be addressed. For the organization to thrive, large egos might have to be pushed to the side!

2. Problematic workplace layouts

The layout of your office can have a wonderful or destructive effect on internal communications.

Open-plan offices were initially created by German engineers as a way to break down barriers and enable teams to communicate more freely. Unfortunately, business leaders quickly realized that this concept could be leveraged as a way to pack as many workers into a single space as possible, while reducing overhead costs.

Despite employees being in close proximity with one another, open-plan offices can actually make communications more difficult. In these types of environments, workers lack privacy and are constantly exposed to sights and noises around them. Here, employees are often tempted to erect physical barriers (such as putting on headphones) just to get some work done.

On the other end of the spectrum, when senior managers are locked away in their private offices, this implies that they don’t want to be interrupted. In situations where leaders are not immediately available, communications tend to plummet.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to creating a welcoming and productive office layout, the best solution can be achieved by surveying your employees.

Solution: Bespoke workplace design

Yodle, a NYC-based marketing solutions company, experienced communication problems when it started taking on significant numbers of new employees as a result of rapid growth. Yodle’s workplace evolved in a haphazard way to accommodate these new workers, and chaos ensued.

After surveying their employees, the company realized that a traditional, interactive workplace was needed – but there was also demand for a semi-enclosed “quiet car” area where employees could work in silence, undisturbed. We all need quiet time sometimes, to get down to business and focus.

By asking your employees what type of working environment would make them feel most comfortable, productive and open to communication, you can start to plan out what your office space should look like — be creative and innovate new ways that accommodate different working styles.

It’s worth noting that introverts and extroverts typically require very different working environments. A team of outgoing HR associates may thrive in an open-plan office; while a team of introverted graphic designers would find the same environment unbearable.

As with Yodle, you might find that your organization demands a traditional workplace in addition to a quiet area, to accommodate everyone’s needs.
This doesn’t have to be pricey to fix either, simply realigning the office furniture in a way that creates busy spaces and quiet spaces can help separate workers with different working styles. If you do that though, be sure there is also a space where all workers can congregate and converse.


3. Office politics

In some organizations, employees believe that withholding information from their coworkers will help them to further their own career ambitions. By gossiping and keeping others in the dark, they hope to execute their own agenda and rise within the organization.

While this kind of mentality can sometimes help to further an individual’s career, it rarely helps the organization as a whole. To combat this, it’s wise to impose a culture of open communication – from the top down.

Senior managers should lead by example. Withholding information from employees only results in an unfriendly, clandestine workplace culture.

Solution: Promote transparency

According to a 2014 study by the American Psychological Association, one-quarter of employees do not trust their employers. Embracing transparency helps to improve employee trust, as well as internal communications.

In another survey, employees stated that transparency was the top factor in determining their happiness and satisfaction in the workplace.

One of the easiest ways to embrace transparency is to convey important business metrics to all employees. For instance, instead of hiding net profit and loss figures every month, openly display them at company meetings. Keep everyone in the loop and this may not only increase productivity in the workplace, but also foster a sense of teamwork.

If the organization is not on course to achieve its goals, showing employees key statistics may have a galvanizing effect – encouraging workers to pull together with a sense of camaraderie.

Be sure to also share any accomplishments or milestones your company may have hit, with your entire team, so they can be praised for good performance and hard work.

Ultimately, if the leadership team behave in a clandestine manner, it’s difficult to encourage open communication throughout the rest of the organization.

4. Language barriers

Linguistic misinterpretations can be a serious communication barrier, particularly in organizations that are expanding overseas.

Workers in your engineering department may use significantly different terminology to those in your sales department, so it’s important to keep everyone on the same page.

Likewise, when interacting with people who speak native languages, it’s essential to avoid miscommunications. We’re living in a global economy where geographical restrictions no longer prevent us from hiring and doing business – so overcoming language barriers is more important than ever.

Solution: Create a documented communications policy

With a formal communications policy available to all via the organization’s intranet – this will encourage employees from different backgrounds to interact with one another is a clear and effective manner.

You may wish to stress the importance of this policy during the onboarding process for new employees so that people don’t bring unfavorable communication styles from their previous places of work.

Encourage employees to speak slowly and clearly, especially when dealing with people who aren’t native English speakers. Also, avoid using technical jargon at all costs. When employees from different departments are communicating, it’s crucial that semantic misunderstandings don’t occur.

Listening skills should also be emphasized, particularly for employees who are more inclined to talk than stay silent! If there are misunderstandings, employees should never feel guilty for asking for clarification. In fact, this should be actively encouraged.

If you have offices in other countries, ensure that all official documents are professionally translated – especially your formal communications policy! You can find professional translators on Upwork or DayTranslations who can do this for you at an affordable rate.

Switching between different channels of communication can be effective. Although email communication is incredibly efficient (particularly if you need to refer back to it at a later date for verification), sometimes it’s better to communicate in person.

Vocal tone and body language are powerful elements in communication, but they’re absent when communicating digitally. If you’re struggling to get your message heard via email, consider moving offline or at least, try videoconferencing.

From a team building perspective, it’s hard to become friends with your coworkers if you only ever communicate online. Prioritizing informal meet-ups and casual activities will do wonders for your workplace morale and communication.

5. Geographical barriers

communication barriers

To save on overhead costs and to tap into the international labor market, many organizations are now making an effort to hire remote workers.

It’s important to recognize that workers in the Information Age have a higher desire for freedom than their ancestors from the Industrial Era – remote work enables workers to make a contribution without feeling tied down to a physical location.

We can explore the world on our own terms without having to rely on a few weeks of annual vacation time. We can take our work with us wherever we go.

In the past, remote working arrangements were considered as unusual bonuses. Now, they are becoming standardized and serve as a huge incentive for new employees. In a study by Stanford University, offering remote work options can reduce employee turnover and lower job attrition rates by 50%.

Despite the wonderful benefits of remote working arrangements, there can be some communication difficulties when your workforce is scattered across the world in different time zones.

Solution: Utilize technology

Communicating with email can be challenging if you’re working on multiple projects, and may actually lead to information overload.

Try to use project-specific communication tools when working with remote employees, such as Asana and Slack.

Both tools are very complimentary, but as a general rule of thumb, Asana is best for setting up meetings, creating task lists and collaborating on projects, whereas Slack is better for holding discussions and sharing knowledge.

In this regard, Slack can be viewed as a communication tool whereas Asana can be viewed as a collaboration tool.

Workers can input information into chat boxes for each current task in Asana, and then schedule a videoconference once a week using Slack. This way, workers can stay in touch throughout the work week, despite varying time zones.

Communicating in this manner not only helps to improve communications, but makes remote employees feel as if they’re real, valued members of the organization – which ultimately improves their productive output.

In his highly informative book, Virtual Freedom, entrepreneur and remote working expert, Chris Ducker, advocates throwing an online pizza party for remote employees. Once the pizzas are paid for and delivered, everyone has fun hanging out on Skype together.

Indulging in junk food is a great way to encourage good communication in the office, so there’s no reason why virtual workers have to be left out!


Poor communication is the bane of any organization, but with some good planning, the right technology and a documented communications policy, barriers can be overcome.

Even for multi-national companies with offices all over the world, good communication helps to cut through cultural differences and allows workers to build a great sense of rapport with one another.

However, good communication has to be practiced from the top down. If the management team do not lead by example and practice honest, open communications, then it’s hard to expect the rest of the organization to follow suit!

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