Identifying and Overcoming Communication Barriers
If you understand how emotional intelligence, communication, barriers, gender, and culture effect communication you will be able to experience more intimate relationships. To gain an understanding of how communication works effectively, a person must first understand some of the things that cause communication to be ineffective. Once a person understands some of the things that keep communication from being effective, they can overcome them by learning some effective communication strategies.
Gender and Communication
Gender and culture effect communication because people who are genders or have a different cultural upbringing have different ways of expressing themselves when they are communicating which can make it difficult for others to understand. Between genders in the same culture there are differences that begin in how a person creates their self-concept. Men look for social comparisons where women value self-appraisals (Hybels & Weaver, 2007). Self-confidence is also formed differently between women and men. Men gain self-confidence with achievements were as women gain it through connections with other people (Hybels & Weaver, 2007). These two major differences effect how the genders communicate with each other. Men are more driven by results and solving problems where women want to feel emotionally connected and worry less about the solutions. This gap in communication can lead to misunderstandings and the formation of barriers between the genders.
An example of a gender driven misunderstanding might happen when a couple moves to a new location, as might happen with a military family. When the couple first moves to their new home, the woman may not feel confident, might want some one to talk to, and be looking for ways to reach out to make new friends. If the husband is away and only able to be contacted by phone or e-mail, the wife might complain to him, hoping for an open ear and empathy. The husband's reaction would most likely be to solve the problem, either by suggesting the wife talk to other wives in the unit or take a trip home so that she can socialize. In a case like this, the wife may become upset with the husband because he does not seem to understand that all she wanted was some one to listen to her. In the new situation, the wife is looking to build their self-appraisal again. For the husband, who builds his self-appraisal through accomplishments, the move may be something that boosted his feelings of self-worth. This might make it so that the wife is feeling timid but the husband is more confident.
Culture and Communication
Culture plays a similar role in communication. Cultural identity is made up of ethnicity, culture (the values, traditions, social and political relationships and worldview a group of people share), gender, age, beliefs, values and to what degree a person identifies with the culture they are brought up in (Hybels & Weaver, 2007). A belief that one's own culture is superior to all other cultures or a lack of interest in learning about other cultures can lead to barriers in communication that cannot be overcome without effort.
An example of cultural barriers can be seen between North American and Latin American cultures. For North Americans, the intimate space begins at a further distance than it does for the Latin American people (Hybels & Weaver, 2007). In a situation like this, a Latin American person might be perceived as making a sexual advance by a North American person because the North American person thinks that the Latin American person is standing too close to just be being friendly. The Latin American person is probably not aware of the discomfort they are causing the North American person. The same is true in reverse. A Latin American person might find a North American person to be stand offish and think that the North American person does not like them. Further misunderstandings can happen if both people are aware of their cultural differences and try to compensate by being more like the other culture. If the Latin American person knows that the intimate space begins at a farther distance for the North American, then they might stand back. If the North American person knows it is customary to stand closer and be in their social space, then they might think the Latin American person does not like them. If the same is done opposite, and the North American person stands close, the Latin American may take it as an advance and feel uncomfortable.
Ethnocentrism and Communication
People also set up barriers for themselves which make it difficult to communicate with people who have different views or a different background. One barrier is ethnocentrism which is believing that a single ethnicity and culture (usually the person's own) is superior to all other ethnicity and cultures (Hybels & Weaver, 2007). This barrier can make it so that people of two different cultures cannot communicate properly because the person that is ethnocentric does not want to understand the other person's culture which makes it difficult to have a common starting point for communication.
An example of ethnocentrism occurred before and during the holocaust. The German people were made to believe that German was the best ethnicity and no others should be tolerated. It may have started out as separating schools, taking away jobs, and other things that made life difficult for other people in the country, especially Jewish people, but it ended up turning into a slaughter of many innocent people. Lack of ethnic tolerance can happen from person to person or at a country wide level. From person to person, it might not be dangerous or life threatening, but it can make two people not get along. At a country wide level, ethnocentrism can make life unlivable and become a shameful piece of history.
Discrimination and Communication
Another barrier that closely relates to ethnocentrism is discrimination which is when a person tries to exclude or distance themselves from people in other groups (Hybels & Weaver, 2007). Discrimination goes further than ethnocentrism because the person is not willing to interact with people outside their group which can be gender, race, or sexual orientation. A person who is discriminating against a group of people is not allowing themselves the chance to get past their ethnocentrism and move toward understanding.
Discrimination happens every day for many reasons. Some times the discrimination comes from skin color and other times from what a person is wearing. Women that are out with their parents and children and look younger than they are, might be discriminated against because people think they are teen mothers. The discrimination makes it so that the young looking mother is not given a chance to say, “I am 25, my oldest is 2 and we are visiting from out of state. This is the first time we have seen my parents in 6 months.” The discrimination can be something as simple as being glared at to not being waited on in a restaurant because the server does not feel they deserve service.
Stereotyping and Communication
Stereotyping is often a barrier that can fuel the discrimination because it oversimplifies views of another group of people (Hybels & Weaver, 2007). An example of stereotyping would be the view that all African Americans steal televisions because the person saw one case on the news where an African American stole a television from an electronics store. A stereotype like this one can hurt communication because the person is likely to treat any African American they meet as if they are a criminal. Another stereotype that can harm communication would be the belief that all Chinese people are extremely smart. This might seem like a good stereotype to have, but it can make a Chinese person who is not a genius feel like an outcast and avoid getting into situations where their intelligence will be tested.
Negative stereotyping can lead to prejudice and discrimination. Prejudice is a negative view of a culture based off little experience (Hybels & Weaver, 2007). The example that “all African Americans steal TV's” demonstrates how this works. If a person believes that all African Americans steal, they are going to have a negative view of the culture which is going to make them avoid interaction with African American people.
Body Language and Communication
All of the barriers to communication can be reflected in what a person says and how they say it, especially stereotyping, discrimination, and ethnocentrism, but also culture and gender. For culture, the demeanor of the person may show discomfort and the conversation may not go well because it is obvious that some one is not comfortable with the conversation. The person most likely did not vocalize their discomfort, but their posture, expressions, choice of words, and vocal tones may give away their discomfort. The person from the other culture may become uncomfortable in the conversation because they do not know what they are doing to cause the other person distress. This may lead to a shortened conversation or two people focusing more on what is not going well in the conversation than what is actually being said.
Between genders, the body language, tones, and choice of words may also lead to communication breakdowns. When the woman becomes upset that a man is not showing empathy toward them and not saying the right things, she may back away, make faces, or use different tones and words than she normally would if she was satisfied with the conversation. The man may notice the unhappiness with the conversation and try to fix it or might start to feel like this is a cycle he cannot break. Again, the conversation may be short or turn into a fight because of what is not being said.
Stereotyping, discrimination, and ethnocentrism can also be seen in things that are not said. If a person thinks all teen moms are irresponsible and is talking to a teen mom they might treat the mother with disrespect, make faces, and have subtle hints in their language that tells the teen mother that they are not respected. It may be obvious that the person who does not respect teen mothers is not listening to what they are being told, only giving their point across.
5 Characteristics that Help Overcome Communication Barriers
A solution to the barriers is emotional intelligence which can be mastered and lead to better relationships. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand others and work with them (Hybels & Weaver, 2007). There are five characteristics of emotional intelligence. Being self-aware is the most important. It is the ability to distance oneself from their emotions so that they can look at the emotion without becoming overwhelmed or reacting to it too quickly (Hybels & Weaver, 2007). This piece of intelligence would help a person who is struggling with stereotyping. If the person knows that every time they see and African American person they become nervous because they believe they are all aggressive, they can take a step back and look at where that emotion came from. Once they have identified the source, they may be able to isolate the emotion and try to move past is by realizing that it is an irrational fear. There is an equal chance that a Caucasian or African American person is aggressive.
The second characteristic is the ability to manage emotions which means expressing them in a way that is appropriate for the setting (Hybels & Weaver, 2007). Once a person as become aware of the emotion, they can come up with a way to handle the emotion. The person who gets nervous around African Americans may be able to look at where they are. If they are at a dinner party at a friend's house and the African American friend of the friend shows up, there is a good chance they are not aggressive. The person who is nervous may be able to walk away for a minute to collect themselves and then act as they should through a dinner party. In a setting where a young looking mother is out with her parents, the person might take the time to ask how old she was and what her situation was. The person may find that the young mother is responsible and owned up to her mistakes or that the mother is older than they thought and did not make a mistake.
The third characteristic is the ability to motivate oneself which is setting a goal and reaching it (Hybels & Weaver, 2007). For the person who is nervous around African Americans, the goal may be to sit at the table and hold normal conversation with the dinner guests. They would then have to try to reach that goal by managing their emotions and following through with the dinner. For a person who looks down on teen mothers, the goal may be to accept all mothers as if they are the socially accepted age for parenting unless there is a clear reason why this mother is inadequate. The might reach that goal by always asking questions when they feel that a mother is inadequate because they are young.
The fourth intelligence is recognizing emotions in others which is called empathy (Hybels & Weaver, 2007). The best way to do this is to listen to what people are really saying and trying to understand it by observing their body language along with their actual language. In genders this can be difficult. Men tend to want to solve a problem where women want a sounding board, some one who understands them. If they can listen to each other and try to understand what the other wants and how they are feeling, the relationship will go better. For men, they often do not try to understand why a woman is upset when her friend says she should lose a pants size. He does not put himself in her shoes and does not easily relate to the problem. Instead, he might try to solve the problem by complimenting her or getting her a gym membership. This is not effective communication. The woman was not looking for a way to lose a pant size, but rather a person that would understand why she was the size she was and how bad it feels to be told she is too big.
Body language plays a part in improving a person's emotional intelligence. A person who is first starting out with improving their emotional intelligence, they may come across difficulties in the first four characteristics because what they are saying does not match up to their body language. A person might ask the teen mother her age, but still have a posture that shows they do not approve of this mother having a child. A person who fears African Americans may be able to sit through a dinner and talk nice, but might look as though they are ready to run out of the room if a butter knife is picked up the wrong way.
The fifth characteristic is the ability to handle relationships. The person needs to recognize their own needs as well as the needs of the other person. They need to find a balance where both sets of needs is met as fully as possible (Hybels & Weaver, 2007). If the person is always bending to meet all the needs of another person and neglecting their own needs, they are not going to be satisfied with the relationship for long. On the other hand, if the person ignores the other person's needs and only fulfills their own needs, the other person is not going to be satisfied for long.
With an understanding of how barriers, culture, gender, and emotional intelligence effect communication, a person is more able to communicate effectively and have fulfilling relationships. If these things are ignored, communication breaks down and a person can become isolated.
Hybels, S., Weaver, R. (2007) Communicating Effectively 8th Edition, McGraw Hill Publishing