Department of Communication

Chapter 1 Notes



Barriers to Organizational Communication

The Process of Abstracting—
As we move up or down the Abstraction Ladder (p. 13-14) we lose or gain perspective, depending on where we are on that ladder. Each step up or down moves us away from something and thus, it becomes more abstract to us. There is a tendency for us to get comfortable at some level on that ladder (like an organizational hierarchy chart) and not want to move. People who only can see an organizational from one particular rung on the ladder fall victim to this barrier. We need to see the organization from different perspectives (levels on the ladder). As we to less abstract levels we can see the issues more clearly and with less distortion. For example, it is hard for any employee (management or labor) to fully grasp the perspective of the other when they only see the organization from their point of view or level of abstraction. For this barrier to be lifted, we need to move up and down and ladder to gain added perspective from views other than our own.

Physical Separation—
The obvious problem of keeping open and constructive communication when you are not present is difficult, at best. Those working in distance offices or at home face this problem. We often feel disaffected and detached by the workings of the home office. Loyalty is a problem and commitment to the overall corporate goals is a greater challenge. This is somewhat of a double-edged sword since there are advantages to “home-based” work as well as these limitations.

Power and Status Differences—
Traditionally those of different power and status within an organization do not communicate well with each other, if at all. The more we perceive we are different from others, the less we communicate with them. It takes strong leadership from the top and passed on down to lower-level managers not to make the inherent differences in power and status become a major corporate communication problem.

Job Specialization—
The more specialized people become with their jobs, the more they are likely to keep their communication confined with other “like” workers. We often see others as not understanding or not appreciating what we do. As a result, we often stay with or communicate only with “our kind”; those appreciate and understand our contributions. We do this in our personal lives with our friends, so it’s not surprising this can happen at work as well.

“Information Ownership”—
Information is power and sharing that power can weaken your value or position in an organization, That way of thinking creates a barrier. It is self-serving and counter to organizational values, but it is human and it will present problems in any company faced with this dilemma. Again, top leadership is responsible for establishing in a corporate culture in which the hoarding of information is not rewarded and the sharing of it is!

Implications of Abstracting and Barriers—
Since no two people or things are exactly alike, there are (in theory) an infinite number of possible interpretations to events. While this is not often a major communication problem, the more people, the more events, the greater the differences between those communicating all add up to an increased likelihood of communication breakdowns.
“Mechanisms of Rigidity” contribute to the problem. It refers to the tendency to stabilize the image of other people in our mind even though time may have caused them (and us) to change dramatically. It is easy to see things as they “were” rather than as they “are” at the present. Additionally, this concept adds that we are likely to always hold this view; assuming that people do not change from what we remember. This static image of people is seldom accurate. This might be true in some instances but often people do change and what we are today is not what were 5, 10, 20 years ago.
Communication based on perceptions of reality. Since human perception is limited, we can only communicate about a very small part of the reality we perceive. Much goes unnoticed since it is not part of our reality. As we draw perceptions about others we do so on the basis of their attitudes and other personal characteristics along with situational factors like time and location. In other words, what we perceive about others is based on their personality traits as well as how those traits are affected by when they occur and where they occur. We often err by assuming that people act the same way all the time. Our personalities vary by time and location. But if fail to recognize this, we fall prey to what is referred to as “overestimating personal unity.” This happens when we forgot that the roles we play change depending on the time and the location. In short, no one behaves the same way in all situations all the time.
Related to this perception difficulty is Ichheiser’s “mote beam mechanism” which refers to the notion that we may perceive certain characteristics in others that we do not see in ourselves. In sum, we can only perceive a small percentage of reality. And we often perceive characteristics in others that we cannot perceive in ourselves.
Imprecise relationship between words and reality. The words we choose to describe reality will be imprecise and inexact. It is impossible for us to find just the right words to describe true reality. Others will always interpret it slightly different from what we intended or we will choose slightly the wrong of communicating it. In short, we must understand that words can be misunderstood easily no matter how careful we are in choosing them.
Uniqueness of Meanings and Perceptions. Because we are all unique individuals our life experiences are difference as well. Our frames of references, albeit similar to others, will be different as well. These perceptual filters will cause us to see events and people slightly different from some while significantly different from others. And if we have had no shared experiences with others, it becomes increasingly difficult to communicate effectively. There will always be some degree of communication breakdown…that is human. Our mission is to keep that degree of breakdown to a minimum.