What Are Perceptual Barriers to Effective Communication?

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Perceptual barriers of communication are internal barriers that occur within a person’s mind when said individual believes, or perceives, that the person they intend to speak with won’t understand or be interested in what they have to say. In other words, perceptual barriers are mental blocks we create due to the perceptions we have of the people, situations and/or events around us.

As you can imagine, perceptual barriers often cause communication problems; often, the language employed by the person with the perceptual barrier is sarcastic, dismissive, or obtuse. As a result, the person on the receiving end isn’t going to fully understand what’s being said to them, and the communicator won’t be able to communicate anything of substance.

Effective communication means both parties are open and willing to listen to each other. Getting rid of perceptual communication barriers makes it much more likely that both sides will get their ideas across, thus improving the intrapersonal relationship.

Internal Barriers of Communication

If something prevents a person from accurately perceiving a situation, they’re encountering a perceptual barrier. Some perceptual barriers of communication happen internally — that is, inside one’s mind. When an individual believes someone won’t understand, or care about, what they say, this can create a mental block or barrier.

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As mentioned above, this occurs largely because the speaker’s preconceived notion about the listener gets in the way of the speaker’s ability to communicate effectively. Instead, the speaker becomes more likely to sabotage their own communication effort by embedding a tone of dismissiveness, arrogance, or sarcasm into their words. Speaking with any of those tones tends to alienate the person on the receiving end before they even get the chance to really hear what’s being said.

Differences in Perception & Their Effect on Communications

Each individual sees the world in their own way. What we perceive is based on things like our preferences, personal experiences, education, current attitude, general upbringing, and, in some cases, mental illness or disorders. All of those things create filters that impact how we understand the people, events, and information all around us.

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As we live our lives, we then become accustomed or conditioned to automatically thinking or feeling a certain way about any number of things. The result? We often stereotype or make assumptions that are not necessarily true. In addition to forming unconscious bias, we tend to misunderstand others simply because we have different lived experiences.

Needless to say, these differences in perception can cause major disruptions in communication. Instead of communicating effectively, ideas get lost between the speaker and the listener. What someone meant to say is not what the other person hears, which results, more likely than not, in anger or confusion.

List of Internal Communication Barriers

Internal communication barriers happen because our perceptual filters cloud reality. As mentioned, perceptual filters include things like:

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  • Personal preferences or values
  • Upbringing
  • Education
  • Identity
  • Trauma
  • Mental illness or other mental health concerns
  • Past experiences
  • Present attitude or immediate feelings (fatigue, anger, etc.)

When a person filters things through these lenses without considering what’s outside their purview, they may see people and situations in a distorted (or unintended) way. For example, if a person is angry about all the traffic they experienced while driving to work in the morning, that might cause them to misinterpret a coworker’s actions as hostile, when, in reality, a coworker’s actions probably aren’t. In a way, the individual conflates the anger of their own experience with another situation or person.

Examples of Perception in Daily Life

The following are five of the most common perceptual communication barriers that occur in day-to-day life: selective perception, projection, expectations, stereotypes, and the halo effect. Let’s break them all down.

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Selective perception is when a person only pays attention to information that represents their ideas while ignoring all other information. For instance, if you don’t like a person, you might only pay attention to the things about their personality you don’t like instead of seeing the whole of who they are, which inevitably includes some positive qualities.

Projection happens when a person attributes their own ideas, motives, or feelings to others. If a person enjoys talking about deeply personal things, they might assume others do as well and, as a result, dive into personal topics without considering that it might make certain people uncomfortable.

Expectations can have an enormous impact on our perception of the world around us. An expectation is when a person expects a certain outcome from a person or situation, even if they have no reason to make that assumption. When we expect one thing and another thing happens, it’s common to either ignore the actual result, thus causing communication problems.

Stereotypes occur when we create a perception of a group of people based on an oversimplification. Moreover, stereotyping causes us to operate based on ideas that probably aren’t true and often gets in the way of receiving the real, particular information regarding a person or event.

The “halo effect” is when a person sees another person in a favorable way regardless of what they do. They assume the person can do no wrong, potentially causing them to miss when they behave in unfavorable or harmful ways.

How to Overcome Perceptual Barriers

As we’ve established, perception barriers, or perceptual barriers, get in the way of effective communication. To avoid misunderstandings, it’s imperative to overcome perceptual barriers. Luckily, there are several key ways to accomplish this.

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Make sure that you don’t let your assumptions get in the way of reality. In fact, if you challenge your assumptions, you’ll likely break down many perceptual barriers before they have a chance to cloud your perception. Don’t assume that a person is thinking or feeling a certain way. Instead, it’s better to ask than to assume if you want to engage in clear, effective communication.

Another important shift? Pay attention to your body language. Nonverbal communication can have a big impact on how others perceive what you’re thinking and feeling. Practicing positive body language — making eye contact, trying not to frown or cross your arms — can help one avoid misrepresenting themself. In general, always be mindful of how you’re communicating so that perceptual barriers don’t erode your relationships or color your interactions with those around you.