Emotional Barriers to Effective Communication

Written by Pam MS, NCSP | Fact checked by Psychology Dictionary staff 

The ability to communicate effectively is an important skill in all walks of life: professional, social and personal. Some barriers to communication, like language differences or physical barriers are easy to identify and usually easy to fix. Emotional barriers to communication, however, can be much harder to pinpoint, and removing these barriers is a challenge that even a skilled therapist may find daunting. Three of the toughest barriers to effective communication are anger, fear and shame.

Some people talk about "seeing red" when they're angry. They are probably describing an adrenaline rush. Adrenaline flooding through your brain suppresses your inhibitions. You may yell or say hurtful, insulting things to the person with whom you're trying to communicate. You may also use defense mechanisms such as sarcasm, blaming or intimidating. All of these behaviors can cause the other person to withdraw and stop listening to your message. The other person may also become angry in response. If you feel yourself becoming angry during a conversation, take a few deep breaths, walk away and give yourself time to cool off. Communication will flow much better if you're calm and relaxed.

Another emotional barrier to communication is fear or anxiety. If you're frightened of or intimidated by the person you're talking to, your message won't come across as clearly as you'd like. You may find yourself saying what you think the other person wants to hear instead of what you need to communicate. Some people become anxious whenever they have to speak up. They may trip over their words, leave out an important part of their message, distract the listener with nervous mannerisms or become unable to speak at all. If you must communicate with someone who frightens you, try involving a neutral third party as a mediator. If you experience social anxiety in general, it may help to rehearse what you want to say to the other person in front of a mirror. Practicing the dreaded conversation with someone you trust is also a good option.

Shame is yet another barrier to effective communication. Whereas guilt means feeling regret for something you've done wrong, shame refers to a deep and pervasive sense that there is something inherently wrong with you as a person. This kind of self-condemnation can make you hesitant to speak up and call attention to your wants and needs. You may also be hesitant to disagree with someone or to present an alternate point of view. If you have a problem with shame, talking to a counselor or therapist can help you learn new, more positive ways to think about yourself.

Whether you're soothing your partner after a rough day at work or trying to sell your boss a million-dollar idea, the ability to communicate effectively is a useful and versatile tool. Don't let emotional barriers stand in your way.

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