Barriers to Effective Verbal Communication

Speaking on phone image by Marina Bartel from

Verbal communication is an important part of life. People rely upon verbal communication in their interaction with families, coworkers and peers. However, verbal communication can occasionally break down or be impeded by barriers. These barriers stem from a variety of sources, whether they be from some conflict or an inability of the person to properly express what is on his mind. Understanding these barriers can be a positive step in overcoming them.

Cultural Barriers

In an increasingly multicultural world, some of the more common barriers to effective verbal communication fall within the category of cultural barriers. Cultural barriers make it difficult for people to communicate with one another primarily because it is culture that influences how people think. According to the website devoted to the University of Colorado's training program on intractable conflict, it is these different ways of thinking that can impede communication because people of different cultures tend to see and hear the world differently. Cultural barriers can include language differences, which make it difficult to translate what is being said from one language to another. A second set of cultural barriers include the behavior constraints faced when speaking to someone of a another culture. For instance, in some cultures eye contact between men and women is frowned upon; this makes non-verbal cues difficult to pick up. Emotional constraints present another cultural barrier. Emotions associated with verbal communication can be displayed differently in various cultures.

Stereotypes and Generalizations

Both the University of Waterloo and the Ohio State University websites note that a major barrier to effective verbal communication is the tendency of some people to speak using stereotypes and unqualified generalizations. Speaking in this way tends to destroy the credibility of the speaker and can affect clarity as well. The speaker assumes that the listener will know what he is speaking about while the listener, in fact, has no idea or even interprets the message differently. Viewing the world in simplistic or stereotypical manner can create barriers to communication because the person receiving the message can be alienated by what is said. The speaker may not realize he is offending the listener, when in fact he is.

Lack of Clarity

Lacking clarity is a third barrier to effective verbal communication. Speakers who do not speak precisely and clearly about their topic, whatever it may be, run the risk of confusing the receiver of the message. Your use of language may differ from someone you are speaking too, especially when it comes to slang, formal language or other non-literal ways of speaking. Bernard L. Erven at Ohio State University's Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics, refers to this lack of clarity as "muddled messages." Messages that are vague and imprecise may be interpreted wrongly. The best way to be sure of your clarity is to watch for feedback from the receiver of the message to ensure that they have received your message properly.