In this unit I will be looking at barriers to communication. I will discuss which factors can affect communication in work-related settings. I will look at actual barriers, which presented themselves in each of my interactions, and I will analyse the steps I took to overcome these barriers to make communication as effective as possible.
A barrier to communication can be defined as “an obstacle to communication or progress.” (Ask Oxford Online, 2007). There are a number of barriers that can stop people from communicating with one another. There can be physical, emotional, environmental or cultural factors, which create these barriers. If individual differences are not understood due to these factors, communication can become blocked. “Effective communication depends on identifying barriers that may block understanding. Barriers can exist at a physical and sensory level, at the level of making sense of a message, and at a cultural and social context level, whereby the meaning of a message may be misunderstood” (Moonie, p.68, 2005).
Issues of difference and diversity are often associated with communication ‘problems’ in the context of health and social care, contributing to the failure to deliver appropriate services and the creation of barriers to full participation for all groups (The Open University Online, 2007). If there is ineffective communication in a person’s daily life it can have a major effect on them as an individual. Things that can happen may be:
A loss of self- esteem – this will leave the person feeling that they are not worth much to other people because they do not take the time to communicate with them. “Definitions of self-esteem vary in their breadth and sophistication. But all agree that high self-esteem means that we appreciate ourselves and our personal worth.” (BBC Online, 2007)
A loss of purpose in life – this will make the person feel like they are alienated or excluded from others if they do not communicate with them.
A loss of support – if other people are not communicating with a person, they may find it difficult to cope because their social and emotional needs are not being met.
The service user may end up with ‘learned helplessness’ or feeling trapped. “A common feeling that accompanies depression is that of being trapped in an intolerable situation. The depressed person can often see two alternatives, neither of which is possible, and without change the existing situation is too painful” (Depression Learning Path Online, 2007). There are four stages of learned helplessness, which are:
Stage 1 – pre-helplessness, feeling frustrated or angry.
Stage 2 – giving up, stop trying to control their own life.
Stage 3 – helplessness and anxiety. Anxiety can be defined as “a strong feeling of fear or distress which occurs as a normal response to a dangerous or stressful situation, symptoms of which may include trembling, sweating, rapid pulse rate, dry mouth, nausea, etc.” (Chambers Online, 2007)
Stage 4 – depression and withdrawal. In this context withdrawal can be defined as “a retreat into silence and self-absorption.” (Chambers Online, 2007)
Maslow (1970) thought that human needs were on five levels, and set these out in a pyramid as below. Barriers to communication might block human need.
(tutor2u Online, 2007)
Physiological Needs – Stress can be caused by ineffective communication, and stress can cause physical health to suffer.
Safety Needs – A service user may feel emotionally and physically threatened if not listened to, as they would not be able to make their needs understood.
Social Needs – A sense of isolation and exclusion may occur when barriers prevent effective communication.
Esteem Needs – If care workers do not try and understand service users needs, they may not feel valued, and feelings of self-esteem would be reduced.
Self-Actualisation – Not acquiring totally positive self-esteem and a secure sense of who you are would prevent a service user from leading a fulfilled life (Moonie, 2005).
Physical barriers include deafness, blindness, speech defects, language, learning difficulties, illness and age. Depression, tiredness, stress, lack of time, attitude, stereotyping, personal needs and personality differences may cause emotional barriers. Bad lighting, noise, poor room layout and lack of privacy are environmental barriers, which may affect communication. Non-verbal and verbal messages are interpreted by different cultures in different ways, and this can create barriers to communication.
Deafness, blindness, speech defects and learning difficulties can cause barriers in communication because if a person has one of these disabilities they may not be able to understand fully, or make sense of, the message that is being given, or be able to send messages out to other people.
Age can be a barrier in communication. If there is a big age gap between the service user and the carer this can cause things to be uncomfortable, especially if the service user is older. The type of language used by different generations may cause misunderstanding and confusion.
If the service user speaks a different language than the carer, they are not going to be able to communicate effectively if they do not understand what each person is saying.
Illness may affect communication as the service user may have a condition that affects speech, restrict body language and cause messages to be misunderstood (Moonie, 2005).
Service users may be stressed or depressed due to illness or personal situation. This may cause them to become withdrawn and communication can break down.
Care workers may also feel stressed and tired due to demands, which are placed upon them in the workplace. They may sometimes have limited time to deal with situations due to staffing levels. These may be reasons for care workers not listening properly to service user needs.
Care workers may make assumptions about service users due to stereotyping or prejudices they may hold. This would lead to conclusions being drawn before communication takes place, and would cause a barrier to effective communication.
Personal problems in a care workers life may cause them to be withdrawn, and possibly stop them from wanting to know about a service user’s needs.
Different dispositions may cause barriers to communication. People who are very shy for example, may find it difficult to have a conversation with someone who is very talkative and confident (Moonie, 2005).
The word environment can be defined as “the surroundings or conditions in which a person, animal, or plant lives or operates” (AskOxford, 2007).
A lot of background noise, or being too far away from a service user due to poor room lay out, can possible stop a message from being received properly as the service user may not be able to hear any or all of what is being said.
Similarly, poor lighting and proximity may affect non-verbal messages from being correctly interpreted, especially if the service user has poor sight.
When communication is taking place, a service user may find it difficult to express their needs if they are uncomfortable speaking with other people about. This lack of privacy would be a barrier to effective communication (Moonie, 2005).
Cultural and Race Factors
“Most general, the term culture denotes whole product of an individual, group or society of intelligent beings. It includes, technology, art, science, as well as moral systems and characteristic behaviours and habits of the selected intelligent entities. In particular, it has specific more detailed meanings in different domains of human activities” (Wikipedia, 2007)
Different cultures interpret non-verbal messages in a different way to others, and if a message, which is intended to be compassionate (i.e. touch), is not acceptable, it may be received incorrectly.
Religious beliefs differ between cultures, and if a care worker does not understand, or has prejudices towards a practice, this lack of understanding would create a barrier to effective communication.
Lack of knowledge by care workers about different cultures and other languages would possibly lead to an ignorance of a service users needs (Moonie, 2005).
Barriers in One to One Interaction
Mr A has partial sight and poor expressive language skills. His limited sight renders him unable to pick up on my non-verbal messages. He also has learning difficulties and limited mobility. He has limited mobility in his right arm due to muscle wastage. Mr A is of retirement age and has a weak heart. All of these physical factors could cause barriers to our interaction being effective.
Mr A does not sleep very well at night, and appears to be quite tired a lot of the day. This may also be due to his age. This tiredness may contribute to Mr A’s mental state of well-being. Mr A gets quite cross regularly and shouts at staff. I am a very happy person most of the time, sometimes we are short staffed and the pressures this incurs may cause stress and tiredness, causing my mood to not be as good. These are emotional factors, which may have caused a barrier to our communication.
Mr A likes to listen to the radio or the television at all times. He does not like it on too loud, however proximity to Mr A may cause this background noise to be a barrier. My workplace is a residential home shared by six service users. The area’s my interaction took place in were a communal living room, dining room and kitchen. A lack of privacy may have created a barrier to our interaction being effective.
Barriers in Group Interaction
My group interaction took place in a junior school, with a group of 7 – 8 year old children. As the children use language, which is not as advanced as my own, and possibly use slang or jargon terms I may not understand, this could cause difficulties in our communication.
All people have different personalities and dispositions; some of the children may be loud or shy. This may lead to stereotypical ideas of the child forming. It may also hinder communication, as some children may not be willing to communicate.
The interaction took place in a classroom, which had a lot of other children and some staff members working and talking within it. This background noise could cause a barrier, as within our group we may not be able to hear each other correctly. The way in which we were seated may cause a barrier, if everyone cannot see each other properly to pick up on non-verbal messages.
One of the children within the group was mixed race. This could cause stereotyping, and my lack of knowledge of the child’s cultural background could prevent effective communication.
The way I dress for the interaction could cause a barrier. If I dress too smartly, the children may feel intimidated and not wish to communicate with me, however if I dress too casually this may have a negative effect on communication also.
Other Factors Within Group Interaction
Being concerned about self-image could affect any of the children within the group who may be shy about themselves, and may feel uncomfortable about being in this situation.
One or more children within the group may dominate the interaction, stopping other children from expressing their ideas by talking over them. This would prevent other children from communicating effectively.
One or more children within the group may try and change the opinions and ideas of other children; this could cause them to withdraw as they may feel their ideas are no good.
Overcoming Physical Barriers
During my one to one interaction, I made sure I was sat or stood close to Mr A. This was to ensure he could hear what I was saying to him clearly over any background noise created by other service users or the radio. I spoke with a clear, even tone throughout, and I used clarification to make sure I had understood what Mr A was communicating to me. I made sure I offered enough support to Mr A when he required this, to encourage his independence. I gave Mr A plenty of time to respond to me, and did not rush him in any way. I always faced Mr A when I was talking to him, Mr A has very limited sight and may not be able to see my body language; I wanted to be sure that he knew I was giving eye contact throughout the interaction.
For my group interaction, I made sure I used appropriate language, which would be completely understood by 7-8 year old children. I spoke calmly, using an even tone throughout. The children did not use any slang or jargon, which I could not understand, and I made sure that I did not either.
Overcoming Emotional Barriers
My one to one interaction took place in the morning. Mr A was alert and did not appear to be tired or unwell. I asked Mr A how he was feeling, and established that he was feeling well, so possible tiredness or illness did not create a barrier to our communication. On the morning the interaction took place, staffing levels were good and I was able to work uninterrupted with Mr A. I was not tired or feeling stressed, so our moods on that day did not cause a barrier within our conversation. Mr A only shouted on one occasion; as I have empathy for Mr A’s situation I did not let this affect our communication.
The children involved in my group interaction all had different personalities; Child C was very quiet, shy and reserved, and Child B was particularly confident and talked a lot. I did not form any stereotyped ideas or make assumptions about those children, which would lead to ineffective communication. I made sure that I asked more questions of child C, so that she would enter into the interaction and feel a sense of belonging. This encouraged communication and removed the barrier.
Overcoming Environmental Barriers
Mr A had his radio on throughout the interaction. I made sure the radio was turned down low so Mr A and I could hear each other clearly. There was only one other service user in the room; this service user does not speak or make any noise. The low-level background noise did not hinder communication in any way. Mr A appears to not be bothered by the lack of privacy; he lives with five other service users and is used to this arrangement. The fact another service user and staff member were present did not appear to bother Mr A when he spoke to me. I did not ask Mr A any personal questions to protect his dignity.
I worked with my group in an area to one side of the classroom, near the art equipment. This ensured other children and staff did not disturb us. The background noise was at a low level, and did not affect our interaction as we could all hear each other clearly. I used a seating plan for the interaction, which would ensure that the children all felt equal, and we could all see each other clearly. This removed any barrier that would prevent non-verbal communication from being received.
Overcoming Cultural Barriers
Mr A and myself have the same race and cultural background, so this did not present any barriers to our communication.
In my group interaction, three of the children had the same racial and cultural background as myself, and one was of mixed race. I was unaware of the child’s cultural background, but I had no stereotypical ideas regarding mixed race people so I was not concerned that this would be a barrier to communicating with child A. The activity I chose to do with the children did not need to encompass any cultural differences or religious beliefs. By choosing this activity, I made sure it would not be the cause of any barriers of communication for anyone within the group.
Overcoming Other Barriers
For both of my interactions I made sure I was dressed in casually but smart attire. I would usually wear this type of clothing for work, and I feel the children did not feel intimidated by outfit in so much as they would have been if I had turned up in a suit. The clothing I wore was very similar to the class teacher, and other assistants in the classroom. I feel this put the children at ease, making them feel more comfortable communicating with me.
I was not sure why Child C was shy during at the beginning of the interaction. It could have been that she was concerned about self-image, and this was making her shy. By asking Child C more questions to make sure she felt included within the group I hoped to boost her confidence. It was difficult for me to show compassion using touch, so I was as warm and kind as possible when I spoke to Child C.
At one point in the interaction, Child B talked loudly over the top of the other children, thus creating a barrier to effective communication for the other children. To overcome this, I calmly but firmly told the group that until everyone was quiet, we would not be able to start the activity. All the children were quiet, and the activity was able to go ahead. Child B understood that I was the leader of the group, and did not challenge this again. All the children were then able to communicate effectively throughout the rest of the session.
Ask Oxford Online (ND) Definition: Barriers available @ www.askoxford.com accessed 7/2/2007
Ask Oxford Online (ND) Definition: Environment available @ www.askoxford.com accessed 13/3/2007
BBC Online (ND) Self Esteem available @ www.bbc.co.uk/health accessed 13/3/07
Chambers Online (ND) Definition: Anxiety available @ www.chambersharrap.co.uk accessed 13/3/07
Chambers Online (ND) Definition: Withdrawal available @ www.chambersharrap.co.uk accessed 13/3/07
Depression Learning Path (ND) Learned Helplessness available @ www.clinical-depression.co.uk accessed 8/2/2007
Moonie, N (2005) Health and Social Care GCE AS Level Double Award Oxford Heinemann
Open University Online (ND) Diversity and Difference in Communication available @ openlearn.open.ac.uk accessed 13/3/07
tutor2u Online (ND) Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs available @ www.tutor2u.net accessed 7/2/2007
Wikipedia (ND) Culture available @ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture accessed 13/3/07
1 AO3 Sarah Cowing GCE A Level Health and Social Care Unit 2