Barriers in Communication

Barriers in communication are any factor that prevents, disables, or inhibits the transmission of messages between sender and receiver.  Communication barriers prevent messages, ideas, and thoughts from being received or cause them to be misinterpreted.

Understanding barriers in communication

Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work Report found that communication was a major pain point for employees working remotely.

In fact, communication difficulty experienced by remote workers was rated as the most significant struggle next to loneliness. 

In addition to remote work, communication barriers exist in many other forms across various person and professional contexts.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that awareness of these barriers is vital to successful interpersonal communication.

These barriers also wreak havoc at the organizational level, with a 2018 SHRM survey of over 400 companies finding that poor internal communication costs around $62 million per year.

Another study found that, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, almost 75% of employees felt they missed out on company news and information despite 85% claiming they were most motivated at work when kept in the loop.

The three core types of communication barriers

In workplaces, the three most common types of communication barriers are emotional, language, and physical. Let’s take a look at each.


Some find it difficult to express their emotions and may be unable to communicate that they are stressed.

Others have become fatigued by the pandemic and the constant state of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty it has created.

Others simply find it hard to process emotions whatever the case.

Some employees in a performance review, for example, may be unable to receive constructive criticism or feedback without a negative emotional reaction.


The inability to understand a different language is one of the more common barriers to communication – particularly for large or global teams. 

Even those who speak the same language may find communication difficult if an employee uses buzzwords, expressions, or industry jargon someone else is unfamiliar with.


Physical barriers relate to the point earlier about problems with communication in remote work.

While most have access to video collaboration tools, there is nothing quite like face-to-face interaction for picking up on subtle body language, posture, and verbal cues. 

Physical barriers may also include closed office doors, cubicles with office dividers, separate areas for different departments, and so-called “team territories” that others avoid.

Other types of communication barriers

Here are some less common (but no less critical) communication barriers:


These barriers are mostly perceptual and arise from poor management, conflicts of personality, a lack of employee motivation, and a preference to maintain the status quo.


From Traditionalists born before 1945 to Generation Z born after 1996, there are now five different generations in the workforce.

Each has its own communication preferences, values, norms, and expectations which can pose problems.

Organizational structure

Inflexible, hierarchical organizational structures tend to be the most ineffective for communication.

Aside from strict top-down control and formal adherence to processes, these structures do not promote information sharing or collaboration across the company.

Key takeaways

  • Communication barriers prevent messages, ideas, and thoughts from being received or cause them to be misinterpreted.
  • In workplaces, the three most common types of communication barriers are emotional, language, and physical.
  • However, other less prevalent forms have the same effect. These include barriers resulting from undesirable employee attitudes or interactions between employees from different generations. Hierarchical organizations also pose barriers to communication because of their structure.

Read Next: Communication Cycle, Encoding, Communication Models, Organizational Structure.

Read Next: Lasswell Communication Model, Linear Model Of Communication.

Connected Communication Models

Aristotle’s Model of Communication

The Aristotle model of communication is a linear model with a focus on public speaking. The Aristotle model of communication was developed by Greek philosopher and orator Aristotle, who proposed the linear model to demonstrate the importance of the speaker and their audience during communication. 

Communication Cycle

The linear model of communication is a relatively simplistic model envisaging a process in which a sender encodes and transmits a message that is received and decoded by a recipient. The linear model of communication suggests communication moves in one direction only. The sender transmits a message to the receiver, but the receiver does not transmit a response or provide feedback to the sender.

Berlo’s SMCR Model

Berlo’s SMCR model was created by American communication theorist David Berlo in 1960, who expanded the Shannon-Weaver model of communication into clear and distinct parts. Berlo’s SMCR model is a one-way or linear communication framework based on the Shannon-Weaver communication model.

Helical Model of Communication

The helical model of communication is a framework inspired by the three-dimensional spring-like curve of a helix. It argues communication is cyclical, continuous, non-repetitive, accumulative, and influenced by time and experience.

Lasswell Communication Model

The Lasswell communication model is a linear framework for explaining the communication process through segmentation. Lasswell proposed media propaganda performs three social functions: surveillance, correlation, and transmission. Lasswell believed the media could impact what viewers believed about the information presented.

Modus Tollens

Modus tollens is a deductive argument form and a rule of inference used to make conclusions of arguments and sets of arguments.  Modus tollens argues that if P is true then Q is also true. However, P is false. Therefore Q is also false. Modus tollens as an inference rule dates back to late antiquity where it was taught as part of Aristotelian logic. The first person to describe the rule in detail was Theophrastus, successor to Aristotle in the Peripatetic school.

Five Cannons of Rhetoric

The five canons of rhetoric were first organized by Roman philosopher Cicero in his treatise De Inventione in around 84 BC. Some 150 years later, Roman rhetorician Quintilian explored each of the five canons in more depth as part of his 12-volume textbook entitled Institutio Oratoria. The work helped the five canons become a major component of rhetorical education well into the medieval period. The five canons of rhetoric comprise a system for understanding powerful and effective communication.

Communication Strategy

A communication strategy framework clarifies how businesses should communicate with their employees, investors, customers, and suppliers. Some of the key elements of an effective communication strategy move around purpose, background, objectives, target audience, messaging, and approach.

Noise if Communication

Noise is any factor that interferes with or impedes effective communication between a sender and receiver. When noise disrupts the communication process or prevents the transmission of information, it is said to be communication noise.

7 Cs of Communication

The 7Cs of communication is a set of guiding principles on effective communication skills in business, moving around seven principles for effective business communication: clear, concise, concrete, correct, complete, coherent, and courteous.

Transactional Model of Communication

The transactional model of communication describes communication as a two-way, interactive process within social, relational, and cultural contexts. The transactional model of communication is best exemplified by two models. Barnlund’s model describes communication as a complex, multi-layered process where the feedback from the sender becomes the message for the receiver. Dance’s helical model is another example, which suggests communication is continuous, dynamic, evolutionary, and non-linear.

Horizontal Communication

Horizontal communication, often referred to as lateral communication, is communication that occurs between people at the same organizational level. In this context, communication describes any information that is transmitted between individuals, teams, departments, divisions, or units.

Communication Apprehension

Communication apprehension is a measure of the degree of anxiety someone feels in response to real (or anticipated) communication with another person or people.

Closed-Loop Communication

Closed-loop communication is a simple but effective technique used to avoid misunderstandings during the communication process. Here, the person receiving information repeats it back to the sender to ensure they have understood the message correctly. 

Grapevine In Communication

Grapevine communication describes informal, unstructured, workplace dialogue between employees and superiors. It was first described in the early 1800s after someone observed that the appearance of telegraph wires strung between transmission poles resembled a grapevine.

ASE Model

The ASE model posits that human behavior can be predicted if one studies the intention behind the behavior. It was created by health communication expert Hein de Vries in 1988. The ASE model believes intention and behavior are determined by cognitive variables such as attitude, social influence, and self-efficacy. The model also believes that intention predicts behavior such that one’s attitude toward a behavior is influenced by the consequences of that behavior. Three cognitive variables are the primary determinants of whether the intention to perform a new behavior was sustained: attitude, social influence, and self-efficacy. Various external variables also influence these factors.

Integrated Marketing Communication

Integrated marketing communication (IMC) is an approach used by businesses to coordinate and brand their communication strategies. Integrated marketing communication takes separate marketing functions and combines them into one, interconnected approach with a core brand message that is consistent across various channels. These encompass owned, earned, and paid media. Integrated marketing communication has been used to great effect by companies such as Snapchat, Snickers, and Domino’s.

Social Penetration Theory

Social penetration theory was developed by fellow psychologists Dalmas Taylor and Irwin Altman in their 1973 article Social Penetration: The Development of Interpersonal Relationships. Social penetration theory (SPT) posits that as a relationship develops, shallow and non-intimate communication evolves and becomes deeper and more intimate.

Hypodermic Needle

The hypodermic needle theory was first proposed by communication theorist Harold Lasswell in his 1927 book Propaganda Technique in the World War. The hypodermic needle theory is a communication model suggesting media messages are inserted into the brains of passive audiences.

7-38-55 Rule

The 7-38-55 rule was created by University of California psychology professor Albert Mehrabian and mentioned in his book Silent Messages.  The 7-38-55 rule describes the multi-faceted way in which people communicate emotions, claiming that 7% of communication occurred via spoken word, 38% through tone of voice, and the remaining 55% through body language.

Active Listening

Active listening is the process of listening attentively while someone speaks and displaying understanding through verbal and non-verbal techniques. Active listening is a fundamental part of good communication, fostering a positive connection and building trust between individuals.

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