Anything that prevents understanding of the message is a barrier to communication. Many physical and psychological barriers exist.
Culture, background, and bias – We allow our past experiences to change the meaning of the message. Our culture, background, and bias can be good as they allow us use our past experiences to understand something new, it is when they change the meaning of the message then they interfere with the communication process.
Noise – Equipment or environmental noise impede clear communication. The sender and the receiver must both be able to concentrate on the messages being sent to each other.
Ourselves – Focusing on ourselves, rather than the other person can lead to confusion and conflict. The “Me Generation” is out when it comes to effective communication. Some of the factors that cause this are defensiveness (we feel someone is attacking us), superiority (we feel we know more that the other), and ego (we feel we are the center
of the activity).
Perception – If we feel the person is talking too fast, not fluently, does not articulate clearly, etc., we may dismiss the person. Also our preconceived attitudes affect our ability to listen. We listen uncritically to persons of high status and dismiss those of low status.
Message – Distractions happen when we focus on the facts rather than the idea. Our educational institutions reinforce this with tests and questions. Semantic distractions occur when a word is used differently than you prefer. For example, the word chairman instead of chairperson, may cause you to focus on the word and not the message.
Environmental – Bright lights, an attractive person, unusual sights, or any other stimulus provides a potential distraction.
Smothering – We take it for granted that the impulse to send useful information is automatic. Not true! Too often we believe that certain information has no value to others or they are already aware of the facts.
Stress – People do not see things the same way when under stress. What we see and believe at a given moment is influenced by our psychological frames of references – our beliefs, values, knowledge, experiences, and goals.
These barriers can be thought of as filters, that is, the message leaves the sender, goes through the above filters, and is then heard by the receiver. These filters muffle the message. And the way to overcome filters is through active listening and feedback.