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Communication is a complex workplace issue. Various factors contribute to effective communication; from the sender, the receiver, the mode of transmission, and the verbiage used. Today, with a myriad of online communication tools replacing the spoken word, it is easier than ever for a simple message to become misconstrued. The most successful organizations utilize effective communication to increase productivity, efficiency, and improve teamwork.
Communication barriers are obstacles in the workplace that prevent the exchange of ideas or thoughts. Communication barriers exist in many forms such as: physical, language, status, and even gender barriers. The presence of these barriers can lead to tension, poor task performance, and an overall unmotivated workforce. It is critical to cultivate effective communication in the workplace to maintain a productive and efficient workforce where all employees feel respected and comfortable. To assist HR mangers with facilitating effective workforce communication, we have compiled a list of the four most common barriers and how to overcome each one in the workplace.
1. Physical Barriers
Cubicles, walls, wings, and doors do exactly what they are designed to do- divide. While these structures are essential to ensure personal workspace, adequate concentration, and private conversations, they can pose as a hindrance to communication. A new employee to your workforce could view these dividers as uninviting and unwelcoming. These dividers may also be evident to your employees that have been with your organization for a longer period of time. For example, Mark from payroll has likely never felt motivated to interact with Paul from billing because they work in two different wings. A great way to overcome this barrier is to manipulate employee office space to be more open and engaging or to host organization wide events that allow employees to interact with one another.
2. Language Barriers
In our ever-evolving, diversified society, we are seeing more and more people entering the workplace who have English as a second language, which can become a barrier. Additionally, employees from different regions in the same country, or even the same city, can have different styles of communicating and use different words with the same meaning. HR managers can take additional steps on their end to make sure that the entire workforce is aware and accepting of everyone’s language and cultural differences. This can be achieved through special programs such as diversity training.
3. Status Barriers
Status barriers are evident in organizations where high-context culture and low-context culture exist. In high-context cultures, rank of receivers within an organization really affect the way messages are received and interpreted. For example, a nurse practitioner will approach tasks assigned by the chief medical officer with more seriousness and urgency than they would if it were assigned by a student in residency. In low-context cultures, rank of receivers within an organization may or may not affect the way messages are received and interpreted. For example, in a low-context culture, the nurse practitioner would approach tasks with the same seriousness and urgency regardless of whether the chief medical officer or student in residency assigned the task. In order to overcome status barriers, managers should reiterate that the organization is a team and each member’s role is significant and beneficial to the organization regardless of rank.
4. Gender Barriers
Gender barriers typically occur in organizations where there is a disproportionate amount of male individuals to female individuals and vice versa. The minority gender in an organization might feel uncomfortable communicating with their counterparts due to fears of inferiority. If unaddressed, the issue could plague communication lines and ultimately affect their work performance. To eliminate gender barriers, HR managers should ensure that both male and female employees feel of equal status and are empowered to communicate openly.
Communication is fundamental to the workforce and should not be viewed as a lesser matter. Poor communication can lead to conflict, stifled performance, and even resentment of management or other employees. In order to properly overcome the barriers of communication- managers must recognize the problem, assess the problem with the workforce, and implement solutions to the problem. This will be an ongoing effort for the HR department and the company as a whole.