Sanjay’s ad agency was approaching 10 years when growth started slowing down. Productivity was poor, competent employees displayed poor performances and there was a lack of communication between teams. He even lost a couple of clients due to mismanagement and lack of information. He came across a blog and realized what he was encountering and needed to overcome was a physical barrier to communication. His office was poorly constructed for collaborative communication and that affected employee interaction. Poor architecture is a common physical barrier in organizations and Sanjay needed to restructure his workplace.
Organizations have to adapt to the fast pace and quick turnaround times of today’s world. That’s why they’re quickly shifting to a collaborative communication approach. Relying on teams and collaborations can speed up processes and improve performances. But such an approach is heavily dependent on effective communication. If we don’t understand the meaning of physical barriers we’ll never know how to overcome them. It’s important to identify a physical barrier to eliminate the effects it can have on an organization’s performance and image.
Read on to find out what physical barriers to communication are.
What Is A Physical Barrier To Communication?
A physical barrier to communication can be defined as an element or a physical factor that acts as a distraction to hinder the flow of communication. A physical barrier can be natural or human-made and is easy to spot. Noise, bad architecture and closed doors are all physical barriers to listening. Even a network disturbance due to a thunderstorm can be considered as one of the examples of physical barrier.
Factors That Can Create A Physical Barrier
Surroundings, distance between people, time differences and faulty modes of communication are all factors that can create a physical barrier. Executives must be quick to identify these factors to deal with their negative effects on productivity. Let’s take a look at the causes behind physical barriers:
1. Workplace Architecture
A poorly designed workplace can create a physical barrier. Employees find it difficult to communicate with their seniors if they sit far away or on different floors. Cabins and guarded work areas prevent teams from operating smoothly. Communication in such places relies on emails and calls and that creates noise and distortions. Accessibility becomes a concern and communication suffers. Uncomfortable chairs, glaring screens and dim lighting are all characteristics of a poor workplace and contribute to physical barriers.
Geographical distance is a major cause of physical barriers. It prevents personal communication, which is substituted by phone calls, video conferences, messages or emails. Network issues are common and long-distance communication can experience obstacles of poor reception or slow internet. Sending hard copies of documents takes time and delays the process of communication.
Limited time or different time zones can both create a physical barrier between two people. The sender must construct a concise message for the receiver if time is limited. This ensures conveying the crucial information in the absence of a detailed conversation. Executives need to ensure their messages carry the relevant information to prevent delays. People or organizations located in different time zones need to coordinate to have conversations. A video conference between teams from England and India has to take place at a time that suits both parties since they’re separated by over five hours.
Environmental conditions can affect the flow of information. Thunder can create noise that interferes with hearing. Lightning and heavy rain can cause faults in mainframes and disturbances in signals. Heat can cause fires that can damage wiring or lead to fires. Cold temperatures can also disrupt communication by freezing lines and open systems.
5. Technical Disturbances
A major cause for physical barriers are disturbance in mediums or technical issues. Technology is a great tool to break time and distance barriers to establish communication but technical disturbances can happen at any time. A faulty phone will create noise or suppress volume, a broken fax machine can prevent a message from coming through, a defective printer can prevent storage of hard copies of data and a crash in the system will delete all the unsaved information.
These factors create several types of physical barriers that obstruct the flow of communication.
Examples Of Physical Barrier In Communication
Communication can be affected by a noisy machine in the office or poor Wi-Fi strength. The closed door of a cabin can act as a physical barrier for an employee trying to reach their manager. There can be different types of physical barriers such as bad lighting, old and broken equipment or uncomfortable room temperatures. Let’s take a look at some common examples of physical barrier in communication that filter information and restrict communication:
A loud, unpleasant sound or a disturbance in an audio signal can be termed as noise. Noise is one of the most common physical barriers to listening. It interrupts communication by acting as a disturbance in the environment or the medium of communication. Noise restricts the flow of messages, makes them inaccurate or unclear and causes misinterpretations. Noise can be environmental, technological or written. Environmental noise relates to loudness in the background of the speaker or receiver. It can be loud sounds coming from outside or a distracting whirring of the office printer. Technological noise is a disturbance in the medium of communication that interferes with the audio signals. A defective phone will not establish effective communication between two people. A poorly constructed, written or printed message is an example of written noise.
2. Excessive Information
Communication can suffer if the volume of information is too high for a person to store or process. The sender may have lots of material to share but not the means to process them. The receiver will face the same problem if they’re not equipped to handle excess information. Not being able to send or receive huge volumes of printed data is as much a physical barrier as low storage capacity and backdated systems are.
A distorted message is one that is misrepresented or misinterpreted. It happens when the meaning of a message is lost in translation, in transition or during decoding. Human perception also plays a part in distorting messages.
With massive volumes of data being exchanged daily, managers must make sure they have the means to process the data and eliminate noises and distortions.
How To Overcome A Physical Barrier
As we can see, a physical barrier can prevent people from hearing information or interpreting gestures. However, such a barrier can be overcome to restore effective communication. Let’s see how we can overcome physical barriers:
- Closed workspaces are outdated as they significantly affect the flow of information. With collaborative communication being the new mantra, organizations must shift to an open office space to prevent communication limitations. It’s important to change or renovate workplaces to suit such an approach.
- Try to communicate personally as much as possible. A face-to-face conversation enables both parties to communicate effectively as it allows them to listen clearly and read body language as well. This reduces the chances of misunderstandings.
- Resort to video calls and conferences in the absence of personal communication. Video communication is the next best thing to a face-to-face conversation as it’s proven that communication is smooth when both parties can see each other. Unlike a phone call, a video call allows both parties to read expressions and gestures, which aids the communication process.
- Construct precise messages when time is limited. The correct format can make messages short, concise and full of crucial information. The structure of a message is fundamental when communicating under limited time.
- Reduce noise as much as possible. Treat the workplace to insulate it from loud sounds. Sound-proofing is an essential part of eliminating noise. Periodically check communication devices such as phones and computers for faults and disturbances.
- Make sure there’s enough space on the computers and storage space for hard copies. Keep fully functioning fax machines to receive information seamlessly and working printers to make copies for the team. Organizations have to know how to handle vast amounts of data regularly.
- Make sure there are no misrepresentations or misinterpretations. Hire translators, coders and special interpreters to decode messages. A successful organization should have the means to even read Braille or interpret messages from people with speech disabilities.
Barring environmental factors, physical barriers can be overcome by making smart decisions. Good architecture, training and maintenance are all effective ways to overcome physical barriers. Geographical distances and time differences can be effectively managed with proper coordination. Managers must be aware of their surroundings to tackle any physical barrier that stands in the way of productive communication.
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