In most books and movies, conversations flow easily, wittily, and usually with full understanding between each person involved.
In real life, conversations get interrupted in mid-flow then resume at some undetermined point later.
In real life, people have no idea what they’re saying, but know deeply and imperatively that they have something inside that must get out.
In real life, often – very often – two people can think they’re discussing one topic, but each person has a different idea of what that topic actually is.
Factor in mental preparedness, physical fatigue, time, place, situation, past comparisons, effect on the future, relationship status, and other bits too numerous to name, and the result is undeniable: a lot gets said in this world of ours, but how much is understood?
These are just 8 of the barriers which stand in the way of effective communication.
1. Not Paying Attention
This would seem to be the most obvious barrier between parties who are able to communicate with each other.
In order to communicate effectively, a speaker and a listener must pay attention to each other. This includes attention to the subject at hand, awareness of body cues, plus emotional awareness.
However, lots of people view conversations as sparring matches, paying scant attention to cues or other views.
Or they speak on things they know little about, not having paid attention to gain the necessary knowledge.
Paying attention is best done before opening one’s mouth. It is a means of being curious enough to want to know things about the world.
People who are curious and attentive tend to be great conversationalists. If they are also sensitive to the comfort levels of those around them, they can be exceptional conversationalists.
For example, if during a fascinating conversation Person A notices Person B’s mind wandering (evidenced, perhaps, by Person B needing things repeated), and further notes that Person B is unconsciously fidgeting or blinking way more than normal, the conversation can be steered to a vocal pit stop, leaving Person B feeling both relieved and confident that the conversation will continue where it left off.
2. Not Speaking With Confidence
When we’re young, we get to use “like” a hundred times in two minutes, or “um” and “uh-huh.” Young mouths lack the confidence to take the time to bridge their thoughts to their words.
Older ears, however, generally find those vocal placeholders to be speed bumps in conversational lanes.
When words escape us during a conversation, we should feel confident enough to say so. Being afraid to pause a conversation is an irrational fear that has stifled many a potentially interesting exchange.
And for those who speak as though each statement is a question, reversing mental course and owning your words will get far fewer annoyed responses, guaranteed.
Asking permission to speak one’s thoughts isn’t the purpose of a conversation; sharing who we are, what we know, and (quite importantly) what we’d like to know, is.
3. Not Behaving With Confidence
Some people will purposely look anywhere but at the person they’re speaking to, and it’s a good bet those people have wondered why attention wavers so rapidly from what they’re saying.
Humans are visual communicators just as much as verbal. In addition to body language, eye contact is very important for effective discussion.
This does not mean practice a piercing stare. At its simplest, it means looking at the other person as someone allowed into the intimate inner space needed for true conversation.
Look at their eyes, their expressions, even take note of their clothing (a person in comfy clothes and shoes is a person prepared to talk).
Avoiding eye contact will always make one “look” shifty, uneasy, or – even worse – uninterested, leading to a conversational kiss of death.
Defined: “The trait of being difficult to handle or overcome.”
This is one of the biggest barriers to communication. In its attempts to be bullish, obstinance sows feelings of unhappiness between all involved.
We all know people who’ve already made up their mind on something and will not be swayed by mere facts or logical debate.
This “stand your ground” attitude leads others to think of such people as “Why bother?” cases.
Why bother trying to have a conversation when nothing said will matter to such people anyway?
There’s no strength of character in being obstinate. To be blunt, nine times out of ten, one simply comes off as a consummate jerk.
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Sometimes, as with being obstinate, people choose sides based on the most specious reasons, and then they feel compelled to defend their allegiance to the detriment of actual communication.
These allegiances can be political, religious, personal – it doesn’t matter. What’s important is realizing that an unexamined allegiance is more of a trap than a comfort.
If a conversation is to have any relevance, it cannot be a series of memorized talking points, bluster, or condescending disapproval.
Let’s be contrary for a moment. Love is supposed to be The Great Opener Of Souls, but I propose that a lot of people use “love” as a means to escape conversation wherein they might face revealing themselves.
The odds are very good that at some point we’ve heard a lover say “We don’t need words,” because L-O-V-E.
And for some of us, that actually applies. Some of us are so empathically attuned to our lovers that words do sometimes get in the way.
For the majority of us, however, we need our words. We emphatically need the words.
Talking shouldn’t be a chore between hearts, it should be as looked forward to as sex or a quiet evening at home.
Love should always spark conversations, never snuff them.
7. The Disgorger
Speaking of trapped, there’s no way to not feel trapped when speaking with a disgorger.
This is the “Well, actually” person in your life. This is the one who has a dissertation prepared to drop into your ears at the slightest provocation.
This is also the one who wonders why so many people have to be somewhere else when he opens his mouth.
Conversations are supposed to be two-way give-and-take exchanges, not pedantic lectures.
Yet so many take it upon themselves to who-what-when-where-why-and how people to within an inch of those people’s patience.
Sometimes this testing of patience is intentional, sometimes it’s a result of being oblivious, but the end result is always annoyance to those on the receiving end.
Feeling as though it’s necessary to say everything at all times belies more than a slight touch of insecurity, and doing so asks others to sit quietly until the regaling has completed, after which time they may admit their ignorance and be thankful for dropped wisdom.
This will always leave a disgorger conversationally lonely.
This is similar to paying attention, but differs in that an insensitive person will often zero in on things noticed in order to use it to some imagined (and punitive) advantage.
When we hear someone say “As devil’s advocate,” we know we’re likely to be served a heaping of insensitivity parading as an open viewpoint.
When we hear someone say “So what you’re saying is,” we know we’re about to be painfully misconstrued so that the insensitive person can fling daggers at us.
When we hear someone say “Obviously you can’t take a joke,” we know nothing humorous has blossomed.
The insensitive are not looking for effective communication, they are looking to parry, lunge, and thrust.
Silence Is Golden
We all want to be heard, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of actually listening to others.
Effective communication means, in essence, “Human to human: I see you.”
The ability to communicate with each other is the greatest gift we have, because with it we’re expansive, not constrained; we’re connected, not isolated.
So, sometimes the biggest barrier to hearing someone else in mind, body, and soul, is forgetting that, while our mouths do indeed open, they also can easily close when need be.