Barriers to effective communication

Barriers to effective communication

Flight Attendants could spend up to 15 hours with their passengers and effective communication between crew and passengers is of utmost importance. Despite the best intentions, there are lots of barriers that can prevent effective communication. These barriers can be psychological, social and structural and each can distort your intended message.  

If any part of the communication process is distorted or broken, you (the sender) and the person you communicate with (the receiver) will not have a common understanding of the message.  This should be avoided at all cost.



Here is a list of some barriers which could prevent successful communication taking place:



Choose your words carefully. Some words are emotive, some are neutral, some are vague and many have several meanings. Negative statements often block communication such as, ‘…That will never work!’ Sarcastic comments are always inappropriate – most people find it harder to have trust and confidence in someone who uses sarcasm.


Whether we’re angry about something at work, or feeling worried about something at home, our feelings can lead to communication being abrupt, hasty or not well thought out. Likewise, if your passenger is worried or upset about something, they won’t be as open to what you are saying as they normally would be.

Perceptions, prejudice and stereotyping

People often hear what they expect to hear and see what they expect to see. We all tend to ignore things that don’t fit with our view of the world. People sometimes stereotype others in a negative way and this may have serious results for an Airline when it comes to anti-discrimination. Your own perceptions affect your communication and you need to be aware of them so they don’t influence the way you communicate with others.


Environmental factors

Noise, interruptions and distractions can get in the way of clear and complete communication. They may take your attention away from the message and make communication difficult.

Time and timing

Often, when the pressure is on, people rush and their communication may be unclear. Poor timing can also cause communication to fail when people are preoccupied with other urgent matters and not listening effectively.


Poor listening skills

Many people are not good listeners and this can hinder effective communication.


Inadequate background knowledge

Often when people communicate, they assume you know exactly what they are communicating about, but it is possible that others may have very little background knowledge about the issue or topic.


Lack of feedback

If communication is to be successful, it is important to know that the message has been received and understood. You should also ensure that the person who received the message has an opportunity to ask questions and get clarification, if necessary. Put processes in place so that feedback can be gathered and assessed. Lack of feedback causes a break in the communication cycle and without it, breakdown in communications is inevitable.


The source of the message

Some sources are more reliable than others. If people do not trust the source they will ignore the message


Selective hearing

It is human to select what we want to hear and discard everything else


Language and Cultural barriers

In some cultures it is seen as a sign of respect if you avoid eye contact, but in some Western cultures it may indicate dishonesty.


Different perceptions

Everyone has different values and beliefs and this will influence the way in which they interpret communication


Body language

The facial gestures, hand movement and stance of the person sending the message may convey a non – verbal message that is totally contradictory to the verbal one


Emotional state

Moods are going to influence the way in which people receive messages. If people are under stress their objective judgment could be impaired



Words have different meanings for some people. If someone says they are going to be a “few minutes” it may mean three minutes to one person, and to another half an hour

It is of utmost importance that flight attendants ensure that all communications with their colleagues and passengers is clear and concise, always checking understanding.