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Section 1 Communication

Section 2 Barriers to Communication

Section 3 Written Communication

Section 4 Verbal Communication

Section 5 Non-verbal Communication

Description:  The purpose of this unit is to provide an introduction to the barriers to communication and develop techniques used to eliminate these barriers efficiently and effectively.

Author:  Gates MacBain Associates

Section 1  Communication

Aims and Objectives

At the end of this section you should be able to: 
  • Explain the types of communicate that are available.

Communication is the act of imparting or exchange of information, ideas or feelings. It should be a two way thing and should flow up as well as down. This therefore requires the ability to listen as well as speak. It also involves the ability or organise thoughts and place them in an appropriate medium to convey in order that it is concise, unambiguous and clearly understood. 

Communication can fall into two categories: 

1. Formal 

Formal communication includes all the instances where communication has to occur in a set format. This will include business or corporate communication. The style of communication is formal and official. Formal communication is direct and business like.

2. Informal 

Informal communication occurs between friends and family or people on the same level at work. It does not have any rigid rules and guidelines.  

Communication as an Interpersonal Skill 

Managers are familiar with the top-down communication method, where 'orders come from above, and are carried out below'. However, this is a very rigid system of communication which often is only partially effective.  

When organisations grow in size and complexity, and particularly when they are undergoing change several things can happen: 
  • People interpret information in different ways. As information passes downwards it can often be distorted by rumour or exaggeration.
  • Some managers and employees see information as power. Those who are insecure, or are very defensive in their behaviour often try to retain information for their own purposes. Therefore, information is not passed to the lowest level and people feel that they are 'left in the dark'.
  • A position of authority may cloud a managers ability to interpret information "Don't bring me problems, only solutions" is a very naive response to problem solving.
Methods of Communications 

Information may be communicated by a number of methods: 
  • Written  -  Memoranda (memos), letters, reports, manuals, drawings.
  • Verbal  - Meetings, briefings, presentations, interviews, telephone.
  • Non verbal - By gestures and body language
  • Graphical - drawings, graphs, photographs, videos
  • Electronic  -  We can put this as a separate method although it will also fall into one of the other categories examples being: Fax, email, tele-conferencing.

Self-Assessment Task

  • Selecting one of the methods listed above, suggest other ways of communicating that would fit under that heading.

Section 2  Barriers to Communication

Aims and Objectives

At the end of this section you should be able to: 
  • Discuss the reasons for a break down in communication.

One of the main causes of problems within organisations is poor communications. The reasons for this may be: 
  • Perceptual bias by the receiver - only hears what he or she wants to hear.
  • Omission or distortion by the sender - alters the message to suit own purpose(s).
  • Lack of trust -  sender will screen information.
  • Emotional overtones - may distort a meaning.
  • Relative status -  subordinates may have difficulty in communicating with superiors.
  • Power related - through restricting others to information access.
  • Immediacy - immediate communication over-rides all previous messages.
  • Lack of clarity - what is obvious to the sender may be totally obscure to the recipient.
  • Overload - the recipient may be given too much information at once. This can cause confusion or only partial understanding.
  • Distance - communication may become more difficult as the distance between parties' increases. Direct rather than indirect communication is preferred. 

Obstacles to Communication 

In simple terms there are five main barriers to effective interpersonal communication: 

1. Fear is the most common reason that interpersonal communication fails; this can take several forms: 
  • Being afraid of being made to look a fool
  • Not quite sure of what is required
  • Afraid of 'losing face'
  • Worried about job-security

To deal with this problem managers need to ask themselves how do they perceive themselves as communicators, and how do they think they are perceived by other managers or employees. Being short-tempered, rude or inconsiderate does not assist in interpersonal communication; and can be a very negative factor when dealing with other people. If your manager behaves like this, you probably need to be more assertive in dealing with him or her. But this is often easier said than done. Many organisations support assertiveness training for management staff as part of their personal development. One-day courses are often available through local management training organisations or adult education centres and technical colleges.  

2. Vagueness - managers should not assume that everyone understands what they are trying to say or do. They should try to use direct and simple language rather than concentrating on technical terms and acronyms which others may not be entirely familiar with.  

The subject should be pitched at the correct level for the recipient, and avoid long words or patronising remarks. Individuals also need to be aware of their body language, and the subtle signals that are sent out to others in their immediate vicinity. Attitude, demeanour, and tone of voice will tell people a lot about the person who is talking. 

3. Assumptions - managers should never assume that everyone knows and understands what has been communicated. They should allow and encourage employees to ask questions. 

4. Ambiguity - as complexity increases the chances of ambiguity rises. An individual may be quite clear about what he or she has said or written. However, it may still be misunderstood by the recipient. Therefore, if possible, ask someone to look at what has been written to see if they understand it clearly or read it out to them. Often, a subtle change of emphasis can have an unintended negative effect on those who receive the information. 

5. Failure to listen - this is very common. All personnel should concentrate on what others say, and not be distracted by other activity or nearby discussions. Avoid saying "I hear what you say" and giving the impression that there is real interest in what is being said, when what is really meant is "OK, you can talk as much as you like but its still going to be done my way!" 

Improving Communication 

Communication can be improved by: 
  • Providing information in the best form at the right time to those who need it.
  • Considering the best communication method based on the information being conveyed, (distance being covered and interpretation by recipient).
  • Being concise, avoiding jargon, ensuring recipient understands the message.
  • Ensuring information is only given to those who need it. Avoid expensive random circulation which devalues the importance of the information.
  • Encouraging two way rather than one way communication.
  • Ensure instructions given to subordinates are understood as commands for action, not simply advice for possible use.
  • Do not discourage information flow through informal channels (the 'grapevine').


Self-Assessment Task

  • Suggest ways that communication can be improved within an organisation.

Section 3  Written Communication

Aims and Objectives

At the end of this section you should be able to: 
  • Explain the main forms that written communication can take.

In many instance it is the written word which will give the first impression of a person or company so it is essential that this creates a good impression.   Poor grammar and bad spelling will certainly not do that so it is worth ensuring that you are able to write and format any written communication which is appropriate for its purpose.  In order to do that you will need to ensure that you have a good understanding of the English language and if that is something which you are not particularly good at it is certainly worth devoting effort in order to improve these skills.  


The following should be considered when preparing to write a letter 
  • Presentation
  • Layout
  • Spelling
  • Grammar
  • Logical wording
  • Sentences and Paragraphs
Letter or Phone call 

There will be cases when either a letter or a phone call may be acceptable, in determine the medium to be used the following should be considered: 
  • The ease of contact with the person or company you need to communicate with
  • Your relationship with the addressee
  • The complexity of the information
  • The importance of the message
  • Whether or not you or the addressee needs to keep a record of the information
  • How formal you need to be which will reflect the style of your letter.

Advantages of a Letter 
  • Not pressurised by the short space of time of a telephone conversation
  • Time to collate information, discuss and plan
  • Time for you and the other person to think about a response
  • Ensure that you have said everything relevant
  • Cost effective by duplication of circulation
  • More effective in legal terms

  • Reaction and Response takes time
  • Two-way immediate discussion not available
  • Less personal than speaking

Set out the letter in a way to compliment the Company's headed paper, matching margins to the margins of the letter head. 

For long letters, use headed paper for the first page and plain continuation sheets thereafter. 

Always read your letters before signing to ensure they are acceptable.  A letter is made up of the following: 
  • Your company name and address - ensure the address for any reply is included if the address is different from the company address.
  • Your Reference - to assist with filing and retrieving.
  • Addressee Reference - if one is quoted in their correspondence, use it.
  • Date
  • Attention Line - if for the attention of a particular person within the company.
  • Addressee - Name, address and post code each on a separate line.
  • Salutation - Dear…
  • Reference Title - directs the reader to the subject of the letter.
  • Ending - Yours …..
  • Signature - if signed on behalf of someone else use pp in front of the signature
  • Name- use upper case for the name of the writer and, on the line below, their position
  • Enclosures - use Enc to draw attention to the fact that enclosures are included.

Types of Letters 
  • Intimate - Start Dear Sue - Finish Love Bill
  • Semi-formal  Start Dear Mr Jones - finish Yours sincerely Peter Binns
  • Formal -  Start Dear Sir - Finish Yours faithfully P Binns

Letters should be: 
  • Complete - ensure you have covered all that needs to be covered
  • Concise - be brief, don't waffle
  • Clear - use simple, meaningful language, use short sentence, be positive rather than negative language
  • Courteous - don't be aggressive
  • Assertive - the right tone receives the right response and priority

Useful Pointers 
  • Decide on: the purpose of the letter, the attitude of the person you're writing to.
  • Keep in mind the character and background of the person/s reading the letter
  • Plan what you are going to include and in what order
  • Consider the details - where, when, why and how
  • Link the points in a logical order
  • Try to arouse interest immediately
  • What response/action do you want from the letter?


Presenting the information 
  • What does the reader want to know?
  • Has he/she a technical background?
  • Keep it simple, don’t use jargon
  • Use sketches, diagrams, photos
  • Make it well set out and easy to read

Sequence of Production 
  • Prepare list of information required
  • Collect information - use sketches/photos
  • Arrange the information
  • Present the information

Arranging the information 
  • Introduce the report
    • purpose of the report
    • terms of reference·
    • methods used·
    • be concise
  • Use main and sub headings
  • Number your headings and sub headings
  • Keep facts and conclusions separate
  • Refer to facts when making conclusions
  • Summarise the main points of report



  • Carysforth, C, (1998) Communication for Work, Heinemann: Oxford (Units 2, 38, 10 & 15)   

Self-Assessment Task

  • Write a letter informing your tutor that you have completed this section and summarising the main points that you have learnt.

Section 4  Verbal Communication

Aims and Objectives

At the end of this section you will be able to: 
  • Explain the main factors involved with communicating verbally using a variety of methods.

A great deal of communication is relayed by the spoken word. This can be through conversation, which is a two way thing, a presentation or at meetings.  In this section we will look at these three methods.  


Three quarters of our waking time is spent either listening or talking so it is a very important thing to be able to do as a great deal of misunderstand can result if we are not able to do either of these efficiently.  Conversation is considered to be an art and like most arts the more we practice it the better we get at it. To gain an insight into the art play the presentation The Art of Conversation then, with a member of your course, discuss the factors that it brought up.   


At some stage in your career you will most likely to called upon to stand up and give a presentation.  Certainly the first time you do this you will find it a nerve racking experience, although there are a number of factors which if you are familiar with, will make it easier.  Play the PowerPoint Giving a Presentation then visit the websites listed below to gain other tips.   


In order to be effective there are a number of considerations we should be aware of when we plan and conduct a meeting.  Start by watching the PowerPoint Presentation Meetings. Although it must be born in mind that there are many different types of meeting and informal meetings will not require the formal procedures that some committee meetings need to adhere to. 



  • Carysforth, C, (1998) Communication for Work, Heinemann: Oxford (Unit 4, 12 and 13)

Self-Assessment Task

  • Produce a short PowerPoint Presentation which highlights the main points to assist someone in holding a meeting.

Section 5  Non-verbal Communication

Aims and Objectives

At the end of this section you should be able to: 
  • Explain how we communicate by using non verbal signals though our body language.

Non-verbal communication includes the overall body language of the person who is speaking, which will include the body posture, the hand gestures, and overall body movements. The facial expressions also play a major role in communication since the expressions on a person’s face say a lot about his/her mood. On the other hand gestures like a handshake, a smile or a hug can independently convey emotions. 

Watch the two videos below to get an introduction to the subject then follow it up by visiting the websites and reading the specified book.



  • Carysforth, C, (1998) Communication for Work, Heinemann: Oxford (Unit 7) 

Self-Assessment Task

  • List the main ways that our body can convey our feelings non-verbally. 

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