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Stavroula's Words of Wisdom: Barriers to Communication

Αssociated Press

FILE - In this photo taken on April 20, 2020, a woman wearing protective face mask looks at her phone past a closed restaurant during a nationwide confinement to counter the COVID-19, in Paris. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)

The most common factor in creating conflicts and disagreements in a relationship is ineffective communication. And despite the fact that we can start a conversation in the best mood, wanting to communicate something we know, an emotion, or our position on an issue, we end up disagreeing with our interlocutor, because in our communication there are behaviors – obstacles – that make our message reach the recipient in a distorted way, and not clear and unambiguous.

So what are the barriers to communication?

Every time we convey a verbal message, we also transmit a non-verbal one. That is, while we use words to express ourselves, we also use gestures and different facial expressions. Our voice has a certain tone, we emphasize some words more than others, and our body takes on a certain stance.

A primary obstacle in verbal communication is the contrast between the verbal and the non-verbal message that we express, that is, when what we say does not match what we ‘show’. For example, imagine that we are talking to someone about something that really concerns us – he tells us that he is listening to us, but at the same time he is looking at his cell phone. Despite his verbal confirmation, we are sure that he is not paying attention to us.

A second obstacle is often sarcasm. Many people confuse sarcasm with humor. The former, however, creates an unpleasant feeling in the interlocutor while the latter causes bliss through laughter. Sarcasm hides anger and perhaps aggression, and when expressed often the goal is to use it to hurt the other person or at least make him feel uncomfortable.

Another obstacle is perceptions. If one believes that the person one is talking to fails to understand him, any attempt to communicate is consciously or subconsciously destroyed. For example, how often do we hear teenagers accuse us of not being able to understand them, or we hear adults claim that teenagers are immature and know nothing. So let's imagine the communication between a teenager and an adult who have the above perceptions. Most likely this will lead to a conflict. Therefore, negative perceptions and behaviors based on prejudice often prevent us from communicating effectively mainly because they do not allow us to understand behaviors that are different from our own – they do not allow us to see things with an open mind.

Obstacles to effective communication can also be our inability to express directly to the other person what we want or what we feel. This behavior is very tiring for the person we are speaking with and can lead him to want to end the conversation with us immediately. Usually behind the concealment of desires or thoughts in communication lies the fear of rejection, the fear of expressing what we really want because we think if we do it, the other will reject us.

But also our psychological state affects the effectiveness of our communication. For example, when we express ourselves when angry, it is easier to say things that we may not really believe. Just like when we are mentally tired or anxious, we can convey messages that make our interlocutor feel uncomfortable or embarrassed and our communication with him is disrupted.

So what can we do to communicate more effectively in our relationships?

The key is to be prepared for communication barriers and to be able to manage them. That is why it is very important to cultivate our ability to listen carefully to the person we are speaking with, that is, to practice active listening. This means that we must listen to our interlocutor, without interrupting him while at the same time empowering him to speak. And we must observe the non-verbal messages he emits as well as his body language. This gradually cultivates our ability to observe and understand the feelings of others and therefore we can communicate more effectively.

Stavroula Tsoutsa is a Certified Holistic Professional and Life Coach, Certified Heartmath Coach/Mentor, and Certified Points of You practitioner.