Overcoming emotional barriers to communication

In this series, we discuss The Seven Barriers of Communication. This post is dedicated to emotional barriers. Stay tuned as we discuss each.

We’ve all experienced instances of our emotions getting the best of us. While emotions can be powerful motivators, help guide us towards our passions, and even keep us out of danger, our emotions can also lead us astray if they’re left unchecked.

Emotional barriers to communication are usually due to a lack of emotional awareness or control, often referred to as emotional intelligence. By better understanding our inner emotions, we can communicate more productively with others in the workplace and our everyday lives.

Examples Of Emotional Barriers

Some of the most common examples of emotional barriers in the workplace include:

Anger. Anger is detrimental to communication in many ways. First, it makes you less logical. Anger actually affects the way your brain processes information. You’re less likely to solve problems effectively, and you’re more likely to reject explanations and solutions from others (even when they’re right.)

Second, anger tends to cause a strong reaction from those around us. Whether the person you’re directing your anger at ends up feeling hurt, scared, or defensive, chances are the conversation isn’t going to end up going as productively as it could have.

Pride. People who always need to be right or have the last word tend to struggle with healthy communication. Focusing solely on one’s own perspective has a way of shutting down communication with others in its tracks. If you want to engage in effective collaboration and communication with your coworkers, you need to be able to listen.

Listening involves more than just hearing someone else’s words. It means taking other people’s opinions seriously, following other peopl’s advice when they have more expertise in a subject than you, and allowing other people to have a say in the final product, even if it’s not exactly how you would have done it. When pride gets in the way of communication, you don’t end up with the best solutions; you just end up with your solutions.

Anxiety. Anxiety comes in many forms, like social anxiety, generalized, and panic disorder. It can cause you to avoid certain circumstances, like talking in front of a crowd or speaking up when it would be in your best interest. And when it gets too far out of line, it can easily hold you back career-wise if you’re failing to step up to new challenges out of fear.

It also impacts your ability to think clearly and creatively. Many people who suffer from anxiety cite concentration problems as a major consequence of their worrying. Anxious people also tend to engage in what’s called dichotomous thinking or “black and white” thinking, imagining the most extreme outcomes rather than seeing creative solutions in the middle.

Overcoming Emotional Barriers

Emotional intelligence is something we are all born with, in varying degrees, but it can be practiced and improved upon. Here are just a few tips to get you started:

When you’re feeling angry: Remove yourself from the situation for a bit to give yourself time to “cool off.” Remember, while you’re still angry, you’ll likely have trouble processing logical statements. If you remove yourself long enough to calm yourself down and reassess, you’ll get a much clearer picture of what’s going on. When you come back, you’ll be able to communicate more clearly and make better decisions.

When your pride is getting in the way: Practice accepting imperfections, especially in yourself. While people who are prideful can come across as “cocky” or “full of themselves,” in truth, pride usually stems from insecurity. People overcompensate to try to cover emotional insecurities with a sense of superiority. Next time you realize that someone else has a better idea or you’ve made a mistake: openly accept it. Other people will find it much easier to communicate with you if you’re able to demonstrate humility from time to time.

When you’re feeling anxious: Sometimes, anxiety is small, like the kind you feel right before a big presentation. Simple relaxation techniques are likely enough to override this anxiety and get you up on stage feeling confident. Relaxation exercises are the simplest way for anyone to start better managing their anxiety.

However sometimes, anxiety is overwhelming, like when you avoid the company holiday party because being around too many people makes it feel like it’s hard to breathe. If anxiety truly interferes with your ability to perform at work and in your personal life, a mental health professional can help you address these issues with more in-depth practices and reframing exercises.

Note: Anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental health problems, with up to 1 in 4 adults experiencing them in their lifetime. Talk therapy can be an incredibly powerful tool for managing your anxiety in and out of the office.

Final Thoughts

To overcome emotional barriers to communication in the workplace, you’ll likely need to learn more about how your emotions work and how to manage them. Anger, pride, and anxiety all serve their purposes in life, and eliminating them entirely should never be the goal of your efforts. However, when they begin to interfere with your ability to communicate respectfully, collaborate effectively, and reach your full potential in the workplace, it’s time to get to work on your emotional intelligence.