Barriers to Interactions at Work

A number of barriers can retard or distort effective communication. In this article, we highlight the more important of these barriers

Filtering refers to a sender’s purposely manipulating information so it will be seen more favorably by the receiver. For example when a manager tells his boss what he feels his boss wants to hear, he is filtering information.

The major determinant of filtering is the number of levels in an organization’s structure. The more vertical levels in the organization’s hierarchy, the more opportunities there are for filtering. But you can expect some filtering to occur wherever there are status differences. Factors such as fear of conveying bad news and the desire to please one’s boss often lead employees to tell their superiors what they think those superiors want to hear, thus distorting upward communications.

Selecting Perception:

Selective perception appears here because the receivers in the communication process selectively see and hear based on their needs, motivations, experience, background, and other personal characteristics. Receivers also project their interests and expectations into communication as they decode them. The employment interviewer who expects a female job applicant to put her family ahead of her career is likely to see that in female applicants, regardless of whether the applicants feel that way or not.

Information Overload:

Individuals have a finite capacity for processing data. When the information we have to work exceeds our processing capacity, the result is information overload. And with e-mails instant messaging, phone calls, faxes, meetings, and the need to keep current in one’s field the potential for today’s managers and professionals to suffer from information overload is high.

What happens when individual have more information than they can sort out and use? They tend to select out, ignore or forget past information. Or they may put off further processing until the overload situation is over. Regardless, the result is lost information and less effective communications.


How the receiver feels at the time of receipt of a communication will influence how he or she interprets it. The same message received when you are angry or distraught is often interpreted differently from when you are happy. Extreme emotions such as jubilation or depression are most likely to hinder effective communication. In such instances, we are most prone to disregard our rational and objective thinking processes and substitute emotional judgments.


Words mean different things to different people. Age, education, and culture background are three of the more obvious variables that influence the language a person uses and the definitions he or she gives to words.

In an organization, employees usually come from diverse backgrounds Further the grouping of employees into departments creates specialists who develop their own ‘buzzwords’ or technical jargon. In large organizations, members are also frequently widely dispersed geographically even operating in different countries and individuals in each locale will use terms and phrases that are unique it their area. The existence of vertical levels can also cause language problems. For instance, differences in meaning with regard to words such as incentives and quotas have been found at different levels in management. Top managers often speak about the need for incentives and quotas yet these terms imply manipulation and create resentment among many lower managers.

The point is that although you and I probably speak a common language English our use of that language is far from uniform. If we knew how each of us modified the language, communication difficulties would be minimized.

The problem is that members in an organization usually don’t know how those with whom they interact have modified the language. Senders tend to assume that the words and terms they use mean the same to the receiver as they do so. This assumption is often incorrect.