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Effective communication barriers

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Communication is a key element in conducting the educational process. The way we communicate can either support, hinder, prevent or even reverse the effectiveness of the educational process. This issue is very important because the teaching-learning process is basically impossible without communication between the teacher and the student. Therefore a great deal depends on the quality of this teaching, which translates into the relationship between the teacher and the student, the method of assessment, the group atmosphere and the desire to learn.

Communication is a way to exchange information, experiences and to get the questions answered. Therefore effective communication not only means conveying the information, it also means understanding the emotions and intentions behind the information.  On the one hand, the sender must clearly convey the information in a way that is best understood by the listener.  On the other hand, he must also listen in such a way as to get the full meaning of what was said, and at the same time, he needs to make the other person feel heard and understood. When we communicate effectively, both the sender and the receiver feel satisfied.

If the communication process goes smoothly, its goals are achieved. On some occasions, the process is getting disrupted. These obstacles are called communication barriers. These can lead to interference with receiving the message, misunderstanding or even receiving completely incorrect information. As a result misunderstandings, frustrations, and conflicts can arise and this can cause problems in relationships.  Therefore, it is beneficial to learn about existing communication barriers.

The topic of communication barriers is very broad and has been addressed by many researchers. Thus, there are many classifications distinguishing obstacles to communication.

Often quoted in the literature is the classification of the American psychologist, psychotherapist – Thomas Gordon. T. Gordon defined 12 communication barriers, which he called the “dirty twelve destroyers of communication” and he divided them into 3 groups (pic.)

Picture: based upon Thomas Gordon’s concept of “Twelve Roadblocks to Effective Communication” presented in his book Parent Effectiveness Training, New York, 1970.

The above-mentioned communication errors can cause a particular problem unsolvable and lead to the creation of new problems, in addition, they create distance between the interlocutors and cause the sender of the message to lose in the eyes of the receiver, which significantly distances both sides from reaching an agreement.

An interesting alternative is the classification of G. Lasinski[1], who also took into account external barriers, which are beyond our control during the communication process.

Semantic (concerning the flow of information)Psychological (concerning the mental characteristics of the participants in the conversation)Physical and environmental (independent of the interlocutors)
Distortion of informationNegative attitudesNoise
Size, speed and volume of informationShynessTemperature
Unintelligible subject matterLack of interest in the problemLocation
Unintelligible languageToo much emotional involvementTime of day
 Disregard for audienceFailure of telecommunications networks
 Lack of substantive preparationToo many participants
 Dogmatism of thinkingPoor room arrangement
 Lack of concentrationTime pressure
 Monotony of the speech 
 Differences in temperaments 
 Inability to listen 

Thus, barriers to communication can arise from both linguistic and psychological errors, as well as from external factors. While the last one mentioned are easy to deal with (close the window when noise is coming from outside or schedule a meeting at another time), internal problems are much more complicated to eliminate and require the work of both the receiver and the sender.

As mentioned earlier, there are many different classifications of communication barriers. In the SESKAT project, we are exploring the topic of effective communication, and we have included among the communication barriers that can make the educational process harder the barriers, which have not been mentioned earlier. These include the following:

  1. Lack of emotional control and stress

A dispute, misunderstanding, misread message or misunderstood intentions cause stress in people. Under its influence, we often find ourselves saying or doing something we later regret. Words spoken under intense stress and anger can hurt a lot. Surely you know the feeling when you said something and later regretted it very much, but also the other one when you heard something very hurtful from the other person. In the more difficult moments of the day, in stress, in overwhelming emotions, it is highly likely that we misread other people’s messages, send misleading or repulsive non-verbal signals. However, many bad emotions or uncontrolled outbursts can be avoided if we can quickly relieve stress and return to a calm state. In order to avoid conflicts and misunderstandings,  you need to work on how to calm down quickly, before continuing the conversation. Sometimes it’s even best to stop an exchange of words and to return to it when both parties have gained distance from the topic.

Rounded Rectangle: Advice to the trainer: 
When a conflict situation/a sharp exchange of opinions occurs during the workshop take a break, which allows the participants of the conversation to gain distance from the topic.
When during the workshop participants will interrupt you/ disturb you/ upset you - set a clear boundary, say stop and indicate that the matter does not concern the topic of the lesson or that you will return to this topic later.
  • Multitasking

Multitasking is switching quickly between tasks. However, you are not able to communicate effectively when you’re doing several things at once. If you’re checking your phone and simultaneously planning what you’re about to say, you’ll almost certainly miss nonverbal cues in your conversation. Having a multitude of tasks to do at the same time often makes their completion less effective than doing them one at a time and with 100% focus. So remember that to communicate effectively, you must avoid distractions and stay fully focused.

Rounded Rectangle: Advice to the trainer: 
Set clear rules for the training with the participants. The best practice is to start from writing down on a large sheet of paper a contract with rules to avoid distractions, e.g. no phone calls, specific time limits for breaks, etc. Let the participants themselves define what usually disturbs them, this way you will involve them in co-creating the training, they will feel responsible for keeping order during the training, so you can focus on teaching.
  • Non-verbal communication

Non-verbal communication should reinforce what is said, not contradict it! If you say one thing, but your body language something else, your listener is likely to feel that you are being dishonest. Inconsistent body language shows the interlocutor that you are hiding something. The way you look, listen, move and react to another person tells them more about how you feel than your words alone. Non-verbal communication includes facial expressions, body movements and gestures, eye contact, posture, tone of voice and even muscle tension or breathing.

Rounded Rectangle: Advice to the trainer: 
Use open body language, such as outstretched arms, stand with open leg posture, maintain eye contact with trainees, reinforce your message with body language, voice modulation, avoid monotony.
  • Inability to listen

When communicating with others, we often focus on what we should say, but effective communication is less about speaking and more about listening. Good, active listening means not only understanding the words, but also understanding the emotions the speaker is trying to convey. There is a difference between engaged listening and simply hearing. When you’re really listening you’re involved in what’s being said – you’ll hear the subtle intonations in someone’s voice that tell you how that person is feeling and what emotions they’re trying to convey. When you are an active listener, not only will you understand the other person better, but you will also make that person feel heard and understood, which can help build a deeper relationship between you. By communicating in this way, you will also experience a process that lowers stress levels and promotes physical and emotional well-being.

Rounded Rectangle: Advice to the trainer: 
Concentrate on what the other person is saying. 
Show interest in the topic of conversation - nod, smile at the interlocutor, maintain an open body posture.
 Ask questions and encourage your interlocutor to continue speaking with interjections such as "yes, yes," or "and what's next, indeed, ah yes."
Maintain eye contact with your interlocutor.
  • Lack of assertiveness

Assertiveness is expressing your thoughts, feelings and needs openly and honestly, while defending your opinion and respecting the opinions of others. Effective communication is always about understanding the other person, not about winning an argument or imposing your opinions on others. You have the right to have your own opinion, as long as you convey it  in a way that does not violate the rights of others.

Rounded Rectangle: Advice to the trainer: 
Allow participants to express their needs and expectations from the training. Sacrifice the initial stage of the training to go through this element. This  way you learn about your students expectations and the quality of your training will increase. 
Ask openly when you don't understand something.  Say you don't know when you don't know something. 
Give participants the right to express their feelings, opinions, attitudes. Don't impose your own will and views on them.  Respect their independence.
  • Excessive information

When there is too much information that we give or that is given to us, there can be problem with understanding the message. Too many messages merge into one, and the recipient remembers only part of the information.

Rounded Rectangle: Advice to the trainer: 
Appropriately dose the information you convey during the training.
Transmit knowledge and information slowly and separately, not all at once.
Ask participants if they have understood and remembered everything, and if they have not, repeat it one more time.

After reading this article, you can see how important it is in your educator’s job to know how to recognize communication barriers and work on your effective communication skills. As a trainer, you should also be able to recognize communication problems in trainees and minimize their impact on the learning process of the whole training group.  After all, the success of the training depends on whether the participants understand the message well, whether you as a trainer know how to listen to the participants, understand their questions and answer them in such a way that the participants will feel satisfied.

[1] Łasiński, G., 2000, Sztuka prezentacji, Wydawnictwo eMPi2, Poznań. S.20

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