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Effective communication in the workplace
Effective communication in the workplace

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5 Barriers to good communication

As well as considering the benefits of effective communication, it is important to explore common barriers to it.

The International Institute of Directors and Managers (Baker, n.d.) identify their top barriers to effective communication in the workplace as:

  • inattention during conversations
  • lack of feedback
  • over-reliance on email
  • lack of role models demonstrating good communication throughout the organisation
  • physical office layout i.e. proximity to other people and the configuration of the office.

They go on to explain that these are all things that can potentially be improved upon, for example by choosing your most attentive time of day to have important conversations or arranging a face to face meeting with someone rather than firing off an email. If senior managers in an organisation aren’t modelling good communication, there may be a training need there.

Inattention during a conversation is something that we are all guilty of from time to time. In the next activity you’ll see how this and a lack of feedback between the sender and receiver of a message, can potentially impact on an income.

Activity 5 Folding paper exercise

Timing: Allow 15 minutes for this activity

This activity requires you to ask a colleague, friend or family member to help. It would be even better if you had at least two people in addition to yourself.

All of you should start with a sheet of A4 paper each. Ask your friends/colleagues/family to pick up their sheet of paper. Now explain that they must close their eyes and ask no questions.

Read out this set of 6 instructions and also follow them yourself. Make sure that you give everyone time to perform each action before going on to the next.

  1. Fold your sheet of paper in half.
  2. Tear off the upper right-hand corner.
  3. Fold your paper in half again.
  4. Tear off the upper left-hand corner.
  5. Fold your paper in half again.
  6. Tear off the lower right-hand corner.

Ask your colleagues to open their eyes and take a couple of minutes to look at each other’s paper folding and tearing efforts.

If it is not convenient to identify others to help with this activity, watch this short video which illustrates how it works and the outcome: Classroom creativity exercise: follow the instructions [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

(Source: five-minute-exercise-your-next-team-meeting)


It is quite possible that all your pieces of paper look different, with folds and tears in varying places.

Not being able to ask questions limits an individual’s ability to understand exactly what is required of them. This exercise demonstrates that communication must be a two-way process if it is to be truly effective.

As you progress through the course, you’ll consider some of these potential barriers in more detail and learn more about how to address and overcome them.