08 November 2006
James A.F. Stoner
James A.F. Stoner

Overcoming organizational barriers to communication.

In order to deal with the barriers to organizational communication, we must first recognize that communication is an inherently complex process. For one thing, the verbal and visual symbols we use to describe reality are far from precise. A simple word like "job," for example, can be applied to anything from a child's newspaper route to the presidency of the United States. Words like "achievement," "effectiveness," or "responsibility" are even more vague. This impression of language (and gestures) is one reason perfect communication is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

Another reason communication is inherently difficult is that human beings perceive and interpret reality based on their individual backgrounds, needs, emotions, values and experiences. Some writers, in fact, believe that most organizational barriers to communication are based on differences in the way people understand the communications they receive. Comprehending the innate barriers to communication and taking steps to minimize them are therefore the first steps towards improving communication effectively. Remember that some words may have different meanings to the receiver than intended.


1. Seek to clarify your ideas before communicating. The more systematically we analyze the problem or idea to be communicated, the clearer it becomes. Good communication planning must also consider the goals and attitudes of those who will receive the communication and those who will be affected by it.

2. Examine the true purpose of each communication. Before you communicate, ask yourself what you really want to accomplish with your message - obtain information, initiate action, change another person's attitude? Identify your most important goal and then adapt your language, tone and total approach to serve that specific objective.

3. Consider the total physical and human setting whenever you communicate. Meaning and intent are conveyed by more than words alone. Consider, for example, your sense of timing - i.e., the circumstances under which you make an announcement or render a decision; the physical setting - whether you communicate in private, for example, or otherwise; the social climate that pervades work relationships within the company or department and sets the tone of its communications; custom and past practice - the degree to which your communication conforms to, or departs from, the expectations of your audience.

4. Consult with others, where appropriate, in planning communications. Such consultation often helps to lend additional insight and objectivity to your message. Moreover, those who have helped you plan your communication will give it their active support.

5. Be mindful, while you communicate, of the overtones as well as the basic content of your message. Your tone of voice, your expression, and your apparent receptiveness to the responses of others - all have tremendous impact on those you wish to reach. Frequently overlooked, these subtleties of communication often affect a listener's reaction to a message even more than its basic content.

6. Take the opportunity, when it arises, to convey something of help or value to the receiver. Consideration of the other person's interests and needs - the habit of trying to look at things from his or her point of view - will frequently reveal opportunities to convey something of immediate benefit or long-range value to her or him.

7. Follow up your communication. This you can do by asking questions, by encouraging the receiver to express his or her reactions, by follow-up contacts, and by a subsequent review of performance. Make certain that every important communication has a "feedback" so that complete understanding and appropriate action results.

8. Communicate for tomorrow as well as today. While communications may be aimed primarily at meeting the demands of an immediate situation, they must be planned with the past in mind if they are to maintain consistency in the receiver's view; but, most important of all, they must be consistent with long-range interests and goals. For example, it is not easy to communicate frankly on such matters as poor performance or the shortcomings of a loyal subordinate - but postponing disagreeable communications makes them more difficult in the long run and is actually unfair to your subordinates and your company.

9. Be sure your actions support your communications. In the final analysis, the most persuasive kind of communication is not what you say but what you do. For a manager, this means that good supervisory practices - such as clear assignment of responsibility and authority, fair rewards for effort, and sound policy enforcement - serve to communicate more than all the gifts of oratory.

10. Seek not only to be understood but to understand .. Be a good listener. When we start talking we often cease to listen - in that larger sense of being attuned to the other person's unspoken reactions and attitudes. Listening demands that we concentrate not only on the explicit meanings another person is expressing, but on the implicit meanings, unspoken words, and undertones that may be far more significant.

About this article
The about excerpt is from an article by James A.F. Stoner which originally appeared in "Management Second Edition." It appears here with permission, courtesy of publisher Pearson Education.
© 1999 Pearson Education

Edited from an article by James A.F. Stoner entitled "Management Second Edition" courtesy of publisher Pearson Education.