12 Roadblocks to Effective Communication & Why They Matter

Published: December 17, 2018 | Last Updated: May 15, 2024by Vanessa Rose

Roadblocks to goal-oriented communication can negatively impact business, familial, and intimate relationships. Being aware of common communication roadblocks can make the difference between relationship success and failure. Communication is a major component in relationship building, so if you’re unaware of the dynamics playing out between you and others, you could miss some big opportunities for connection.

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The 12 Roadblocks to Communication

Communication doesn’t have to be as hard as we sometimes make it. Don’t let roadblocks to communication take you off-roading onto dangerous terrain. Start by understanding these 12 common barriers to communication, modified slightly from Thomas Gordon’s original list, and recognize when they arise.

1. Making Judgments

Making judgments, such as criticizing, name-calling, diagnosing, or even praising, can significantly undermine communication. These actions can trigger defensive reactions, reducing the dialogue’s effectiveness. 

For example, if a manager constantly criticizes an employee’s efforts, labeling them as “sloppy” or “careless,” the employee may feel undervalued and become defensive, closing off further communication. Similarly, diagnosing someone in a conversation, like saying, “You’re just being paranoid,” can make the person feel misunderstood or dismissed.

Even seemingly positive interactions like praising can create barriers. When praise is perceived as insincere or excessive, it can lead to discomfort or skepticism. 

For instance, if a colleague continuously compliments another’s work excessively, the recipient might start to question the genuine intent of the praise and whether there are ulterior motives involved. This skepticism can prevent authentic engagement and make the praised individual wary of further interactions, stifling genuine communication and connection.

2. Sending Solutions

Offering solutions too quickly to someone’s own problems is a frequent communication barrier that can undermine the effectiveness of an interaction. For instance, if a friend shares their frustration about a challenging project at work, and you immediately respond with, “Why don’t you just delegate some tasks?”, this can be perceived as dismissive. 

This response suggests that the problem is simple to solve and implies that your friend hasn’t already considered or isn’t capable of considering this obvious solution. Such a response can make them feel undervalued and misunderstood.

This approach can be especially detrimental in settings where emotional support is more important than practical solutions. For example, when someone expresses sadness over a personal loss and is met with quick fixes like, “You should get out more and distract yourself,” it can make them feel that their feelings are being rushed aside. 

3. Avoiding Concerns

Avoiding concerns by diverting or overly relying on logic when addressing someone’s worries can seriously impede communication. This form of response often invalidates the other person’s feelings and concerns, potentially making them reluctant to share their thoughts in future interactions. 

For instance, if someone expresses anxiety about their job security, responding with a logical but dismissive statement like, “You shouldn’t worry because the economy is strong right now,” ignores their immediate emotional experience. This approach can leave them feeling misunderstood and as if their concerns are unimportant or unfounded.

Such responses do not acknowledge the complexity of their experience, and instead of fostering a supportive dialogue, it can create a barrier to future communications. This can discourage them from sharing their feelings again, feeling that their concerns will be met with similar invalidation.

4. Preaching

Preaching, or overly sharing one’s wisdom, can hinder effective communication by focusing too much on imparting one’s own opinions rather than listening to and understanding the experiences of others. This type of communication often comes across as condescending or paternalistic, which can shut down open dialogue. 

For example, if someone is sharing their struggles with managing work-life balance, and you respond with a lengthy monologue about how “back in my day, we just got on with it without all this fuss,” you are not acknowledging their current experience. Instead, you are imposing your own perspective, which might not be relevant or helpful to them.

This approach can make the speaker appear self-centered and uninterested in genuinely understanding the other person’s situation. By prioritizing your own views and not allowing space for the other person to express their feelings or perspectives, you run a high risk of alienating them. 

Meaningful communication involves a balance of sharing, active listening, and the correct body language, where both parties feel valued and understood. In preaching, the balance tips too far toward the speaker, often leaving the listener feeling dismissed and undervalued.

5. Commanding

Commanding others in conversations, where you dictate what they can, can’t, or will do, can severely disrupt communication and relationships. This authoritative approach is often unwelcome and can feel oppressive, especially in personal or peer-to-peer interactions. 

For instance, if a colleague is sharing their approach to a problem, and you interrupt with, “No, you’ll do it this way because it’s better,” you not only undermine their autonomy but also their confidence in their own decision-making.

Such a commanding tone can alienate people and discourage them from engaging in future dialogues. It conveys a lack of respect for their abilities and ideas, which is crucial in maintaining healthy, productive interactions. 

For example, a parent telling an adult child, “You will attend this family event,” without considering their plans or feelings, can lead to resentment and a breakdown in communication. People generally seek collaboration and respect in their interactions, not commands. 

6. Moralizing

Moralizing in communication, where you categorize opinions or actions as inherently good or bad, can significantly escalate conflicts rather than resolve them. This approach risks creating a judgmental atmosphere that may inhibit open dialogue. 

For example, if someone shares that they are considering quitting their job due to stress, responding with, “Quitting is irresponsible; you should just stick it out,” not only dismisses their feelings but also imposes a moral judgment on their decision-making process.

Such statements can make the other person feel easily judged and less willing to share openly, fearing further moral scrutiny. Instead of assuming a stance of moral superiority, you can convey acceptance by engaging empathetically, acknowledging that while you might have your views, the other person’s perspectives are equally valid. 

For instance, a better response might be, “It sounds like you’re really stressed. What aspects of the job are making you feel this way?” This opens up a conversation that allows for mutual understanding without imposing moral judgments, making it possible to explore solutions together rather than drawing lines in the sand.

7. Threatening

Threatening behavior in communication, where one party warns of negative consequences if their suggestions are not followed, can seriously damage relationships. Such behavior instantly puts the other party on the defensive, undermining any possibility of a constructive and open exchange. 

For instance, if a manager says to an employee, “If you don’t finish this project by Friday, you can start looking for another job,” this not only creates immense pressure but also makes them feel hostile toward the manager, which is counterproductive to engagement and motivation.

This form of communication portrays the speaker as controlling and coercive, traits that do not foster a healthy communication environment. Instead, it breeds anxiety and might shut down any further honest communication from the other side. 

An alternative approach would be for the manager to discuss the importance of the deadline and ask about potential obstacles the employee might be facing, offering support to overcome them. This creates a supportive dialogue, encouraging cooperation rather than compliance through fear, and maintains an open line of communication.

8. One-Upping

One-upping in conversations, where a person responds to someone’s shared experience by overshadowing it with their own, is highly counterproductive to meaningful interaction. This tendency to turn dialogue into a competition about who has had it worse not only diverts attention from the original speaker but also diminishes their feelings and experiences. 

For example, if a friend talks about how challenging their day was due to a series of small mishaps, responding with, “That’s nothing, my day was a complete disaster,” can make them feel as though their issues are trivial and not worth discussing.

This kind of response effectively shuts down the other person’s willingness to share further and can erode the trust and empathy that are essential in supportive relationships. Instead, acknowledging their feelings with responses like, “That sounds really tough; tell me more about what happened,” can foster a more engaged and empathetic conversation. 

Such an approach keeps the focus on the person who initiated the conversation, showing genuine interest and concern, which is crucial for deepening the relationship and maintaining open communication.

9. Shaming

Shaming someone during a conversation, where you criticize or belittle their decisions or experiences, is highly detrimental as it can make them feel embarrassed. When people share personal stories or dilemmas, they seek understanding and support, not judgment. 

For example, if someone confides that they made a mistake at work that cost their company a significant amount of money, responding with, “How could you be so careless?” can induce strong feelings of shame and regret. This response can make them feel hurt and further discourage them from opening up in future conversations, fearing similar rebuke.

Instead of shaming, a supportive and empathetic response would be more beneficial. Saying something like, “That sounds like it was a tough situation. How are you handling it?” shows compassion and a willingness to understand their perspective without passing judgment. 

This approach encourages open communication and reinforces the idea that it’s safe to share vulnerabilities, which is crucial for building trust and fostering deeper connections.

10. Interpreting

Interpreting someone’s words or actions based on assumptions can create significant barriers in communication. While it’s natural to try and make sense of what others say by relating it to past events or emotions they’ve expressed, asserting these interpretations as fact can lead to misunderstandings and conflict. 

For instance, if a friend is being unusually quiet and you say, “You’re just upset because of our argument yesterday,” you might be completely misinterpreting their mood, which could be due to an entirely different reason.

Such statements can make the other person feel misunderstood or as if their feelings are being oversimplified. This approach can frustrate them, especially if the interpretation is incorrect, as it suggests you are more aware of their emotions and motives than they are themselves. 

Instead of trying to play therapist, a more effective tactic would be to ask open-ended questions to better understand their current state, like “I noticed you seem quiet today, is everything okay?” This invites them to share their feelings on their terms, maintaining respect for their individual experiences and promoting clearer, more direct communication.

11. Interrogating

Interrogating someone with a barrage of questions after they’ve shared something personal can be overwhelming and discouraging. This approach can make the individual feel as if they are under scrutiny rather than being supported. 

For example, if someone reveals they are going through a difficult breakup, bombarding them with questions like, “What happened? Did you see it coming? What did you say? What did they say? Are you going to try to get back together?” can make the situation feel like an interrogation rather than a conversation.

Such a relentless stream of questions can make the person feel as though they’re being analyzed rather than heard, leading to discomfort and a potential shutdown of communication. Instead, it’s more beneficial to offer empathetic responses and perhaps ask fewer, more thoughtful questions that allow them to express their feelings at their own pace. 

A better approach might be to say, “I’m sorry to hear about your breakup. How are you feeling about everything?” This type of question shows concern and gives them space to continue sharing their feelings as they see fit, fostering a sense of safety and understanding.

12. Kidding

Using humor inappropriately, particularly by making light of serious issues, can significantly damage communication and relationships. While humor can be a powerful tool for easing tension, forging connections, and even avoiding conflict, it’s crucial to use it sensitively and at the right moments.

For instance, if a colleague confides in you about their anxiety over job security, responding with a joke like, “At least you won’t have to deal with the terrible coffee here anymore!” can come across as dismissive and insensitive. This kind of response can make the person feel that their serious concerns are not being taken seriously, leading them to feel disrespected and undervalued.

Knowing your audience is essential when using humor. It’s important to gauge their mood and the gravity of the situation before attempting to lighten the mood. A more appropriate use of humor might occur after addressing and acknowledging the person’s concerns, ensuring that they feel heard and supported first. Once a rapport and understanding have been established, humor can then be introduced to relieve stress, but only if it seems welcome and appropriate.

Invest in Better Communication Skills Training for Workplace Success

If you need help improving relationships or learning more compelling communication skills, we can help. Pollack Peacebuilding works with individuals, groups, and partners to collaborate on solutions to common roadblocks to communication.

Let Pollack Peacebuilding support your relationship-building journey toward a place of mutual understanding and longevity with our communication skills training for employees.

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Vanessa Rose

Vanessa is a licensed psychotherapist and writer living in Los Angeles. When not on a mission for inner peace and conflict resolution, she enjoys making art, visiting the beach, and taking dog portraits. Always curious about self-improvement and emotional expansion, Vanessa also manages her own website which explores the unconscious and archetypal influences on how we eat, express, and relate.