Communication Barriers

By Jimmy Tuten, Jr.

Communication is defined as “an exchange of information.” It involved the transmission of ideas and thoughts. To communicate means that you share with others your concepts, your thoughts and ideas. Most of our time is spent in this mutual relationship by either speaking or listening. This ability to communicate is what makes man the unique creature that he is, with the ability to control and dominate, to build and maintain. Communications is a big thing in America. It is said to be our most vital and largest industry. We are awed by man’s methods of communication. We find them complete in oral, written or visualized form.

In spite of this, communication is a big problem in our lives. Because of human nature, certain barriers exist making the communication process either ineffective or impossible. At times we just do not get through to people. This often results in misunderstanding. Many splits in congregations are due to the communications problem. Brethren have trouble talking to each other, they become estranged and some become enemies. Much of this can be eliminated if we understand some of the barriers to our communication.

Actually we are obligated to communicate as effectively as possible. In the classroom and in the pulpit the gospel of Christ is proclaimed by this action. We are constantly trying to influence others by communicating with them. Because of this we should make an honest attempt to understand the barriers of communication. This will help us to eliminate many of the problems that exist in some areas in our relationship as brethren.

The Barrier of Language

Language is the “systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by vocal sound.” Language involves the use of words and words convey meanings. Each word stands for a common element or a pattern of common elements. Because of this, some words stimulate different mental images and others convey only part of a mental image. We think in terms of images. Consequently we cannot convey our thoughts in their entirety, nor can we capture a total concept through the use of words. We have to keep adding words in our attempt to convey a thought. Our language is limited. For example, walk through the budding woodlands on a warm Spring day and try to put your impressions into words. The extent and limitation of the language used becomes the only means of expressing your impressions You simply cannot convey all that you see. Because of thi: we should strive to be exact and proper in our use o: language. There are certain facts about language that we need to recognize if we are going to destroy the language barrier.

1. Language is regional:’ Words in America have different meanings than those same words in Canada or Great Britain. Even in the North there is a variation in some meanings from the states in the South. Familiar idiom in one region is often a “cuss” word in another.

2. Words undergo change in time: An expository study of the Bible will be based on the unchanging meanings of the original Greek words, but our language in English has and does change. For example, “giddy” originally meant “divinely possessed;” “silly” meant “blessed, happy;” “saddest” meant “full, contented, reflective.” The meaning of many words in the various English translations has changed since those translations were first printed. One can see this by comparing the King James Version of 1611 with the American Standard Translation of 1901.

3. Language is always growing: There are approximately 750,000 words in the English language. Half of them are technical words. More new words are being coined in our age than ever before. Judging the motivation and / or sincerity of a person by the new words he uses can form barriers of communication. Furthermore, a. speaker will wisely use words familiar to his hearer if possible. Words are only “capsules of meaning” and should be spoken and understood in that function. In all of our teaching relationships we should season our words with salt, and look for the intended meaning in the words of others.

The Barrier of Listening

Listening is an art. Not listening well is often a barrier. As listeners we have the advantage over the speaker in that we can listen faster than the speaker can talk. It is a proven fact that we can receive at the rate of 500 to 700 words per minute. A speaker can impart 100 to 200 words per minute. Ninety percent of all communication is oral and this places a great responsibility upon the listener.

Most people listen at only 25% of their efficiency. This is a great problem. Jesus recognized this problem by constantly reminding His hearers to take heed how they hear (Mk. 8:18; 4:9, 23). As speakers, we are often “tuned out” by the listener. The listener hears only part of what was said, and sometimes misunderstands even the part which he hears. When a listener fails to listen carefully a barrier has been erected. This could be avoided if the listener would only assume his responsibility in the process of communication. Research has revealed that there are three major reasons why people do not listen well. They are:

1. Listeners have different word reactions: Some words cause violent reactions in people because some experience is identified with that word. The experience may have been pleasant or unpleasant. The use of a certain word or expression may be like a red flag blowing in the wind, bringing to mind a certain experience. This often results in an emotional expression. For example, mention a person’s name. The very use of this name could cause a feeling of love or even hate to swell up within the listener. The word “war” may cause a veteran to become very upset. The word “mother” may cause a person to become sentimental. The frequent use of the word “lost” may generate a feeling of uneasiness. Very often the emotions excited by the “red Flag” word will be transferred to the speaker. The speaker is “tuned out!” Feeling of hate or contempt dominates the listener’s mind. Every sentence is interpreted by this emotion. A barrier has been erected by the listener.

2. Listeners have different background experiences: Education, position, experience, etc. all affect the way a person hears. Each listener has some form of background experience which is present when he listens. It is impossible to completely divorce our listening habits from our experiences of life. But we must try to understand why we may misunderstand. Communication often breaks down because of our own notions and personal experience, rather than by what has actually been said.

3. Listeners have different temperaments: Personalities and temperaments differ. Most people have periods when they are on the “moody” side and act differently at one time or another. A speaker may say something at the wrong time and this could cause hard feelings on the part of the listener. The barrier is not in what was said, but in the listener’s reaction to it. We certainly would be better listeners if we understood our moods better.

We all need to give more attention to the how of our hearing. Action from listening is determined by how we hear. Therefore, “acquiring sensitivity to the implicit content of conversations requires practice. When you listen to others talking or are engaged in conversation yourself, get into the habit of asking yourself, why is he saying this? What is implied?” 2 There are four levels of listening:

1. Level of importance: We tend to hear what we want to hear and listen to whom we want to listen. We tend to give more attention to people of importance. If a person is our equal, or even our inferior, we will give him less attention than we give our superiors. Can any good thing come out of “Nazareth” is the attitude of too many listeners. This ought not to be our attitude. The Bible says, “. . . but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Phil. 2:3). All should be considered our superior.

2. Level of comprehension: Jesus, on one occasion, taught His disciples about His death and resurrection (Mk. 9:31). “But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him” (Mk. 9:32). They no doubt could have repeated every word the Lord had spoken, but they did not understand any of it. Something, be it prejudice or preconceived notions, had so filled their minds that their understanding was darkened. Many things tend to fill our minds today. Malice, envy, hatred, prejudice, etc. cloud the mind so that having ears, we hear, but do not understand. This is a serious barrier to communication.

3. Level of Exclusion: The prejudiced person has prejudged all things. The speaker cannot add one bit to his knowledge. He will not even give- you the courtesy of listening to you. Not only does he create a problem in communicating, but he limits his own learning and spiritual growth.

4. Level of no action: In this case the listener understands the message completely, but does nothing about it. Perhaps Felix was in this level when he said; “go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee” (Acts 24:25). People will say today, “yes, I know you are right, but . . . .” His problem is that he does not have the courage to act on his convictions or he is dishonest. He may love the “praises of men more than the praises of God” (Jno. 12:43).

Loss In Transmission

The final communication barrier that we will give attention to in this article is the loss that occurs in the transmission of information. Tests have proven that in the field of oral communications there is often a loss of 80% of the original information from the speaker to the hearer. This is a great problem, but it can be overcome by such things as asking questions, note taking and reviews. Every effort should be made to get the information correct. Those who are seeking to impart information should see the value of visual aids as it relates to this problem and strive to use them effectively.


There are other barriers that could be considered. But these three are among the major barriers and are worthy of careful consideration.


1. G. R. Holton, “Barriers to Communication.” Firm Foundation (Dec. 13, 1966), 787.

2. Jessie Nirenberg, Getting Through To People (New Jersey: 1963), 79.

Truth Magazine, XVIII:29, p. 12-14
May 23, 1974