Psychological Barriers to Communication

A barrier is any obstacle that prevents us from reaching our goal. Any hindrance to communication stops the intended meaning of our message from reaching our audience.

Some of these barriers are obvious e.g. a physical disability like deafness while some are more subtle and difficult to pinpoint. Psychological barriers belong to the latter group and can seem impossible to overcome unless we understand their underlying causes.

Definition of Psychological Barriers

The psychological barrier of communication is the influence of psychological state of the communicators (sender and receiver) which creates an obstacle for effective communication. 

Communication is highly influenced by the mental condition that the communicators are in and is disturbed by mental disturbance. If the people involved in communication are not emotionally well, they won’t be able to communicate properly.

Every person’s mind is unique and communication does not work like that in machines or in numbers. The people who are involved in the communication matter as much as the message e.g. If your boss doesn't trust you, he/she will only send selective information, which makes the communication ineffective.

psychological barriers to communication

Causes of Psychological Barriers

Lack of Attention

When a person’s mind is distracted or preoccupied with other things, the person is not able to form proper message, listen to what others tell him/her, interpret the message as required and give proper feedback. The communication will face problems and becomes ineffective. A person in tragedy, for instance, does not want to listen to other people giving advice. A person might be preoccupied by the problems of his/her professional life or personal life, which affects both.

Poor Retention

Retention of information is the capacity of the memory of the brain to store information and the way brain stores information in memory. Brain does not store all the information it comes across, but only the ones it deems useful for future. So, half the information is lost in the retention process. Similarly, brain also loses information that is old and not taken as useful with time. Extracting the information is also a process in the formation of message. Here, the brain tries to remember the required information, the fragments of which have already been lost.

For example, you were told about a friend coming to meet you before a month and had been given the person’s name, address, phone number, etc. Now, you have to communicate the information to somebody else. At the time, you only remember the name and address and forget the phone number. The truth can change or distort due to poor retention which acts as barrier to communication.

Distrust and Defensiveness

Communication is successful when the communicators trust each other. Lack of trust makes them derive negative meaning of the message and they ignore the message. When a person tries to force his/her own ideas and opinions, then receiver does not listen. If the receiver does not agree to the message provided or thinks of it as a threat, he/she will not listen to it. Similarly, when the message is not transferred across to the receiver, the communication fails. For example, I don’t trust a friend, I will only give the details, of what is happening in my personal life which I think are harmless.

Perception, Viewpoint, Attitudes and Opinions

Perception is the mindset using which people judge, understand and interpret everything. Each person has his/he own perception of reality which is shaped from mental and sensory experiences.

Likewise, viewpoint is also a mindset to look at the world. Sender might have a particular viewpoint that is not shared by the receiver. The sender does not explain the viewpoint but takes the viewpoint as granted. The message is not understood by the receiver as must have been understood, creating a barrier to effective communication.

Attitude is the established way in which we think and feel about things and ideas which also creates a psychological communication barrier. For example, a person takes females to be weak which is the person’s perception. He/she tells that to someone who does not think so. This causes a misunderstanding between the two. Everything they communicate after that becomes unsuccessful that the view of the person is already set.


our emotions and state of mind can alter the intended meaning of message we are trying to communicate

Anyone who isn't in a good mood is likely to talk less or talk negatively. A preoccupied mind is not good at communicating. For example, when a person is angry, he/she might say things they regret later.  Even when listening to someone else speak, an angry person might easily misinterpret the message.

Various other emotions like fear, nervousness, confusion, mistrust and jealousy affect communication process. For example, a person having extreme moods of happiness will laugh at anything at all said to him/her. The same person when sad will cry or get angry at insignificant situations.

Closed Mind and Filtering

Man is selfish by nature and put his own needs and problems above all else. This sometimes leads people to filter information that someone is trying to convey to them. This might be due to mistrust, competition, jealousy, or the view that the message is insignificant.

For example, a senior in a company does not want the junior to do better at work, the person filters the information and does not provide crucial information that could help the junior. The junior therefore will not be able to complete the work properly and progress in ranks. Similarly, when a person is close minded, the person will have fixed opinions on many things which the person believes resolutely. The person will interpret any information in a negative way.

For example, a sexist person does not accept the suggestions of a female colleague in a meeting that affects the communication flow in the meeting. It is difficult to argue with such close minded people and give proper information.

Premature Evaluation

Some people are always in a hurry by habit. These kinds of people most likely make quick judgments and jump into conclusions. They do not consider all aspects of the information such as social, cultural, economic, etc. and often end up taking quick and wrong decisions. It is important to hear the whole message to make proper judgments because they are not changed easily after they are once made. For example, a person is in a hurry and talks on the phone, the person does not listen to half the message and makes the decision which is wrong in the situation.

Psychological barriers affect communication more as information is formed in the brain and is sent by people with various psychological condition which differs from one moment to another. Information is as effective as the people involved make it. Similarly, the psychological condition of the receiver also has as much importance as the sender’s. Communication is ineffective if psychological aspects of communication acts as a barrier to communication.

[Related Reading: Effective Communication Skills]