We all face barriers to effective communication skills.
Up to 72%-75% of the population have a fear of public speaking. It is known as the number one career-stopper in the US.
One study also showed that 68% of international students suffered from stress from language barrier in academics.
One in two have admitted that poor communication has increased their overall stress levels, according to the Grammarly-sponsored report The State of Business Communication in 2023.
Another study showed that 39% agreed that poor and ineffective communication is common between teachers and students, 44% agreed that it was a cause of poor performances for students in English as a Foreign Language programmes, and 17% indicated that ineffective communication between teachers and students was to blame for the poor quality of engagement of students with their teachers.
Mai Tran, a young Vietnamese artist, experienced this as a scholarship holder of the BA (Hons) Animation programme at the Berlin School of Business and Innovation (BSBI).
“The language barrier was a big one. Although I am currently studying the language, my German skills are not yet up to par,” Tran told Study International.
“Fortunately, everyone I’ve encountered has been friendly and kind enough to get me through my everyday life, despite my limited ability to communicate in German.”
Not everyone is as lucky to have such a supportive network to help us bring down barriers to effective communication — an easily achievable task with the right techniques.
But first, what are effective communication skills
What are effective communication skills?
Being able to exchange ideas, thoughts, opinions, knowledge, and data so that the message is received and understood with clarity and purpose — that’s effective communication skills.
You can do that through:
- Active listening: Hearing words and truly comprehending the message, empathising with the speaker, and responding appropriately.
- Concise expression: Instead of rambling on in essays or presentations, you should aim to convey your understanding of the subject matter without the need for excessive verbosity.
- Empathy and emotional intelligence: Empathy, a crucial component of emotional intelligence, allows you to connect with people on a deeper level and build stronger relationships.
- Non-verbal communication: Nodding, maintaining eye contact, and using appropriate facial expressions show you are engaged in the conversation and empathetic toward the speaker.
- Being adaptable: Reading the room and adapting to your audience and the context of the communication.
These are easier said than done — which is why so many of us feel like we are not heard or seen.
Failing to communicate effectively is more than just us causing a potential misunderstanding — it can be a missed opportunity.
Although each of us are battling our own barriers to effective communication, it is possible for us to become better speakers and writers.
It all starts by knowing what’s stopping us from fully expressing ourselves.
5 barriers to effective communication skills: How to overcome them
1. Poor listening skills
Poor listening skills can cause us to miss crucial information, misinterpret messages, or fail to engage in meaningful conversations.
It’s found that a typical speaker talks at 125 words per minute, while a listener can receive 400-600 words per minute. This leaves 75% of listening time for distractions like daydreaming, causing communication barriers and message loss.
When we are not actively listening, it can have a far-reaching impact on our academic and professional lives.
For example, failure to actively listen in an emergency meeting can result in misinterpreting instructions, assignments, or feedback from bosses, ultimately leading to setbacks and increased stress.
Collaboration is vital in education and workplaces, and those with subpar listening skills disrupt group dynamics, disrupt teamwork, and compromise project quality.
How to overcome it?
This involves giving full attention to the speaker, maintaining eye contact, and using non-verbal cues like nodding or expressing empathy.
You can also practise paraphrasing what you’ve heard to confirm your understanding.
For example, avoid dominating discussions with excessive speech. Instead, actively listen to your professors and peers. Ask follow-up questions or rephrase their points to confirm your understanding.
This ensures you’ll clearly understand what to say and reduces unnecessary talking.
2. Information overload
Too little information is not good, but too much information can cause even more damage.
The constant influx of information from lecture speeches or long-winded emails can overwhelm.
According to Harvard Business School research, information overload and frequent interruptions can reduce creative activity.
This is because it can be hard to digest a lot of information in a short space of time, thus making it difficult for us to process and retain important messages.
The worst part? When we are bombarded with a vast amount of data, we may struggle to grasp the core concepts of a subject.
This can lead to confusion and difficulty in explaining ideas to others.
For example, when giving a presentation, we might include too many irrelevant facts, diluting the impact of our message.
Information overload can also inhibit meaningful conversations, as we may find it hard to engage, ask questions, or offer insights.
How to overcome it?
One of the most effective ways to deal with information overload is to work on your communication skills.
Whether you’re reading something on your screen or listening to a lecture in class, excessive information is both unnecessary and harmful.
In such scenarios, you should focus on what’s really important. One way to do this is by filtering and prioritising information.
This not only helps you manage lots of information but also makes it easier to understand, remember, and share important ideas.
3. Lack of clarity and conciseness
Overcomplicating sentences, using ambiguous words and rambling can confuse the listener about what you’re trying to say.
For example, in 1996, a guy called John Leonard sued Pepsi over a commercial that promised a harrier jet worth US$33 million. This was due to a lack of clarity in Pepsi’s commercial tagline.
It just goes to show that when it comes to effective communication, one aspect stands above all: clarity.
Clarity in your communication helps avoid misunderstandings and conflicts that can be costly in terms of time, money, and reputation.
How to overcome it?
To overcome this barrier, practise formulating clear and concise messages.
Keep your sentences short, sharp and to the point, especially if presenting a new idea. Much of this comes down to the tone and language you use.
Be firm and self-assured; this can help command attention and ensure people absorb your message.
You should also learn to structure your communication effectively, using simple language and avoiding jargon.
Let’s say you’re a team leader for a project group. If you communicate the project goals clearly to the team, the team will clearly understand what is expected of them.
This clarity provides guidance and direction for the team, allowing them to work towards the project’s objectives more efficiently.
Sad? Anxious? Scared? These emotions can make it hard for us to express ourselves honestly.
For example, some of us find it hard to open up to our teachers or bosses due to low self-esteem or fear of being judged.
This leads to us struggling to communicate what we want and need from them, such as asking for a raise or deadline extension.
Emotional barriers also affect peer-to-peer communication. When we cannot recognise and manage our emotions, it leads to conflicts and misunderstandings in group projects.
Anxiety, for instance, may hinder clarity and focus. Anger can escalate conflicts, inhibiting constructive dialogue. On the other hand, excessive enthusiasm might lead to impulsivity.
How to overcome it?
Emotional intelligence training can help. These encouraging open and non-judgmental discussions, and providing resources for us to address their emotional needs.
By addressing these emotional barriers, we can better express ourselves and understand the emotions of others.
5. Non-verbal communication
Non-verbal communication, such as body language and facial expressions, plays a significant role in effective communication.
About 55% of the meaning of a message is communicated through non-verbal interaction.
Therefore, those who struggle with non-verbal cues may find it challenging to convey their intended messages accurately.
When your nonverbal signals match your words, they increase trust, clarity, and rapport. When they don’t, they can generate tension, mistrust, and confusion.
How to overcome it?
- Keep eye contact: Shows you’re engaged and attentive while others are speaking.
- Stand tall: Your posture matters a great deal. Stand or sit up straight and face your audience openly and with attention.
- Seek feedback: Clarify when confused or in doubt about someone’s non-verbal cues. Ask your colleagues to provide feedback on your body language during presentations too.