Perceptual Barriers to Communication

couple image by Pavel Losevsky from

Communication is the sending, receiving and exchange of ideas and information, expressed verbally and nonverbally, according to the Merriam-Webster's Dictionary. Communication can be broken when the senders intended message is unclear or the receiver perceives it differently than the sender intended. Barriers or roadblocks to effective communication may be physical, behavioral/emotional, linguistic and cultural. Perceptual barriers can lead to confusion, misunderstanding, false information and false beliefs, resulting in poor communication.

Perceptual Filters

We all see the world differently. We all have our own preferences, values, attitudes, origins and life experiences that act as "filters" on our experiences of people, events and information. Seeing things through the lens of our own unique life experiences or "conditioning" may lead to assumptions, stereotyping and misunderstandings of others whose experiences differ from our own.


Our differences can make it more challenging to understand one another and to find common ground for shared experience, which can help build a sense of family, friendship or community. Effective communication in relationships--whether in the workplace or in our personal lives--is the key to cultivating the qualities of trust, respect and mutual understanding, which are fundamental to strong relationships. Even if our feelings, attitudes and world views diverge, when communication is successful our differences don't pull us apart but bring us together and can enrich our relationships and interactions.

Triggers and Cues

We use more than words when we communicate. What we say is also affected by how we say it (tone, volume) and by our nonverbal cues, such as body language and facial gestures. For example, you may perceive a situation differently if the person you are speaking with is smiling or frowning, has body odor and is standing too close or is not giving you direct eye contact. In turn, this individual is simultaneously assessing your verbal and nonverbal cues. A negative "read" can often trigger unproductive or dysfunctional emotional responses, such as anger or oversensitivity, thus affecting the flow and outcome of communication.

Roadblocks to Success

People who can't get past perceptual barriers to communication are likely to experience roadblocks in both their professional and personal lives. Misunderstandings result when parties are not willing to see past differences or take the time to understand each other's perspectives. Ignorance, judgments, stereotypes and misunderstanding cannot be the basis for business or intimacy.

Mindful Communication

If we choose to communication consciously, then our differences don't have to become roadblocks. In fact, they can enrich our interactions tremendously. Start by listening to others, clarify if there is confusion, stay calm and be positive. An attitude of good will and tolerance toward others goes a long way--even if you miscommunicate or do not like another's words or actions, you are more likely to default to a response that is nonharming, making it easier to appreciate and learn from one another.