Individuals either side of a wall that represents a barrier to communication

Identify barriers to communication and demonstrate how to reduce them in different ways

This page is designed to answer the following questions:

Barriers to communication are obstacles that impede effective communication.

To communicate well, it is important that you have an awareness of some common barriers and how to remove or reduce them.

The list below covers several communication barriers and how they may be overcome:

  • Language – if individuals do not share the same language, communication can be very difficult. Learning one another’s language is a long-term option, however in the short-term, it may be necessary to employ the services of an interpreter or translator
  • Accents/dialects – strong accents and dialects can make it difficult to be understood. You should always try to speak clearly and reduce the nuances of you accent as much as possible
  • Slang/jargon/long words – if an individual does not understand the words you use, they will not be able to understand what you are saying. Therefore you should avoid slang, jargon and difficult words unless you are sure that the individual will understand them.
  • Environmental – communication can be difficult if individuals are not comfortable. Environmental factors like temperature, lighting, background noise and seating should always be considered.
  • Basic needs – if an individual does not have their basic needs met (e.g. they are hungry, thirsty, tired etc.), it can be hard for them to communicate well
  • Physical/geographical – ideally, individuals will want to communicate face-to-face but this may not be possible if there are physical (e.g. doors, walls etc.) or geographical (e.g. living in different countries) barriers between them. Technology such as phones and computers can aid communication.

Example question and answer

Identify three examples of barriers to communication and explain how you could overcome each barrier.

A good social care worker knows that effective communication is a very important part of the job and understands that methods of communication used should be tailored to the individual. The table below lists three examples of barriers to communication and how they may be overcome.

BarrierHow it can be overcome
1. LanguageIf two individual’s do not share a common language, communication can be difficult as they will not be able to understand one another. A rudimentary form of communication can be utilised by using signs, gestures and/or pictures, however a better solution would be to employ the services of a translator or interpreter who is conversant in both languages. Over the long term, one or both individuals could learn the other’s language.
2. Stress/AgitationIt can be difficult to communicate with an individual if they are feeling stressed or upset. In a heightened state of mind it is difficult for anyone to concentrate or hold a conversation, so the primary objective will be to help them return to their baseline. This can be done in a number of ways dependent on the individual. Examples include giving them time and space to calm down on their own, showing them empathy and compassion or offering solutions to their problem. Once the individual is in a calm state, the barrier will be lifted and communication can continue.
3. Sensory Impairment (e.g. deaf, blind, non-verbal)If an individual has a sensory impairment, communication difficulties can be overcome in a variety of ways. Deaf people may use a hearing aid to hear, use sign language or be able to lip read. It is also important to try to avoid an unnecessary background noise. Blind people are still able to speak and listen and can read using Braille. Non-verbal individuals may use writing, pictures, signs and/or gestures to communicate.

This is not a definitive list. Other barriers to communication might include:

  • Shyness: A shy individual may be very anxious about talking to other people, especially those they do not know well. This could be overcome by ensuring the individual is in a comfortable and (ideally) familiar environment, having people with them that they know and trust and working with the individual over the long-term to build trust.
  • Vocabulary: Use of long words or technical jargon may confuse individuals who are not familiar with the vocabulary. This can be overcome by using plain simple language and keeping sentences short.
  • Location: Perhaps the most obvious barrier of communication is the location of the two parties. There may be a long distance that makes meeting face-to-face impractical. Technology such as telephones and the Internet may be used to overcome this.