Barriers to Effective Communication

Here are five barriers to effective communication. These barriers if not overcome can hinder effective communication.

The Barriers to Effective Communication

  • Denial (It's not a river)
  • Substitution
  • Incongruities
  • Deletion
  • Inhibition

Each of these barriers can result in ineffective communication or a failure to communicate. The following is a closer look at the five barriers.


Inhibition is one of the barriers to communication. Family dynamics, personalities, or dependencies can inhibit effective communication.

Sometimes family members are prohibited from expressing certain feelings, needs or awareness. Inhibitions can cause a life time of communication difficulties.


Denial is another of the barriers to effective communication. It is a human tendency to deny those things we are not comfortable expressing in words or we are not comfortable being truthful about.

Denials can be overt. These are noted in phrases that almost become cliche to the person saying them. Statements including I don't care, What ever, What ever you want, I'm fine.

Imagine a young person being asked if they have many friends and they respond, I don't care. People are stupid anyway...they have just given a classic denial.

A simple way to help someone past one cause of denial, simply say...

What others think about you is none of your business.

Sarcasm can also be used as a denial. A wife asks a husband to do something and he says, " Duly noted and forgotten."

Denials can be covert. These are notable in comments that are spoken in a monotone, or not at all. Rather, the denial is evident in the withdrawal, shrugging or slouching.


Our brain is the most complex computer known to man. The little gray box on top of your body will often try to encrypt the message to hide the real meaning. We end up acting much like a criminal or even a terrorist.

Scenario: A terrorist is aware that description systems like Echelon can and do catch a long list of words and phrases when used in communications. So the terrorist will replace the words most likely to set off the alarms, bells and whistles with innocuous words. So the word bomb may become balloons. We substitute in much the same way.

Substitutions become barriers to effective communication in several ways and on numerous levels. In the following examples, the roles could be any member of the family with another member.

  • Substituting the person with whom you communicate.
  • The boss takes his frustration out on the employee. The employee instead of communicating this with the boss, instead takes the frustration out on the wife. The wife, instead of communicating the problem with the husband, will instead take it out on the child. The child, who is learning how to communicate and is incapable of communicating it with mom at this level, takes it out on the dog.

    The substitution of communication to another is one of the barriers to effective communication.

  • A loved one does something stupid but with no lasting harm.
  • Instead of rejoicing that no harm resulted from the misstep, you instead express anger and belittle the action.

  • A husband criticizes his wife for an action or comment.
  • The wife now comes back to the husband with a criticism of the husband for some reason. She is in effect minimizing the criticism.

    Or the wife has an explanation for the reason for taking the action or expresses that it was because of something that she did or said what the husband had preferred she not. She is in effect, shifting the blame.

    Or the wife explains why her actions were not a problem in the first place. She in effect is minimizing.


Incongruences are also barriers to effective communication. They are what happens when the verbal messages are not equal and congruent with the body language, pace, pitch, power, volume and facial expressions.

In the research work of Albert Mehrabian, communication was limited to three elements.

He found that when the tone of voice and facial expressions do not match the words, then people will tend to believe the tonality and facial expressions as the true emotions.

In public speaking, the non-verbal cues convey the speakers attitude regarding the words. This is their belief or conviction.

One aspect of communication would be the statement of...I do not have a problem with you.

The nonverbal cues that are not congruent with the statement could include looking away, biting the lip, wringing the hands. hand feign, looks anxious, and having arms closed. Is the person lying. Well, you have no way of knowing. What you do know is that what is being said is incongruous with or at variance with the body language and facial expressions.

Consider another example.

A public speaker is now in front of an audience of several thousand for the first time in his career. Speaking with his usual flair, skill and talent, the speech goes off with out a hitch. There is one telltale sign that the speaker is nervous in this new setting. The pitch is slightly higher than normal.

Increased pitch is incongruous with the speakers normal pitch. The speaker is nervous.

Another example might be of a speaker who speaks in a monotone. The message is very important but the speaker has no passion. This incongruence makes the message have little power to the listening audience.

We may choose to reveal or not reveal something. Our body language and our speaking skills can enhance our message. Our signals may send a message different than the words we hear.


Deletions include leaving parts of a message out or communication of the message in a round about way. Deletions can be constructed in three different ways.

  • Questions in the form of a statement or statements in the form of a question, leaving out the obvious concern.
  • Where are my socks? or where is my anything is a deleted message for would you come and get my socks or what ever.

    Haven't you left yet? Are you still here? The deletion is...please leave for what ever reason. The speaker wants to be alone, wants you to fulfill your obligation, etc.

  • Neutral observations that really deleted requests.
  • I have a headache....has been an age old deletion that is a round about way of one mate to say to another that they do not want to be intimate.

    It is an incredible day outside...meaning don't you want to go outside and work while the weather is nice.

  • Statements with deleted references. Statements may be vague as to who feels or wants what and with or about whom. It could include speaking in the third person.
  • Saying...I really love that Italian restaurant... may be a veiled request to go out to supper at that restaurant.

    Saying vaguely...Is there some anger here?...deletes who the comment is in reference to.

There are other barriers to effective communication. If we have missed a barriers to effective communication that is important, please drop us a note.

Another Communication Barrier

What is Communication?

Family Communication

Improving Communication The Barriers to Effective Communication Resource

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