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WORKPLACE / JAN. 11, 2015
version 3, draft 3

How to Avoid Common Barriers to Effective Workplace Communication


Few workplaces are a bed of roses. Interactions among employees and between employees and management can be fraught with misunderstanding, prejudices and mistrust. Yet workplaces that encourage free flow of information, intuitive listening and proactive problem solving are ultimately the best places to work. Unsurprisingly, top performing companies such as Google, Kraft and American Express embody great organizational culture when it comes to workplace communication. Here’s how to eliminate barriers to effective communication at work:

Improving cross-gender communication

Often, cross-gender communication in the workplace is laced with misinterpretations due to negative stereotyping. Communication differences between genders should not be construed to mean that males are superior to females and vice-versa. Kathleen Brady, founder of Brady & Associates Career Planners, LLC notes that a cultural shift is necessary for effective cross-gender communication. A true cultural shift requires organizational leaders to draw up a change vision that values both male and female employees. When leaders set an example of equality in how both genders are treated in the workplace, employees will follow suit.

Eliminating obstructive physical barriers

The office layout can tell a lot about the culture and communication practices in an organization. Solid walls and compartmentalized office spaces characterize traditional workplaces. This set up re-emphasizes strict hierarchy and bureaucracy within an organization. Modern workplaces are increasingly embracing a less rigid, more free-flowing office setting that encourages interaction between all members of the organization. Open settings give employees a feeling of being part of a team; they make it easy to share ideas, collaborate on projects, and identify and resolve conflicts faster. Importantly, such a set up encourages an open-door policy that facilitates greater flow of information in the organization.

Supporting lateral information flow

Effective communication can be particularly difficult in strictly hierarchical organizations where information flows in a top-down style. Lateral communication involves the flow of information among employees at the same level of the organization. This type of information flow facilitates greater collaboration among employees and across departments; it saves time, and reduces misunderstanding and conflict. A great way to support lateral communication is encouraging employees to contribute ideas, participate in decision-making, and further develop their own autonomous entrepreneurial activity.

Facilitating cross-cultural communication

“That’s not what I meant,” “I just don’t understand what your expectations are,” “I don’t take orders from female managers.” These are typical issues employees and management deal with in an increasingly multicultural workplace. Simple cultural misunderstandings can result to over blown workplace tensions. Adopting a formal structure to facilitate cultural awareness among new hires and established employees is essential to minimizing cultural tensions. It is the job of the trained manager to mentor and acclimatize employees, and to provide organization-wide training to increase awareness and understanding about the different cultures present at the workplace.

Communication, whether effective or ineffective, does not happen in a vacuum. Admittedly, management plays an important role in creating a culture that supports effective communication. But, ultimately, individual employees have the responsibility to set aside prejudices and to embrace differences in the workplace.


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