Overcoming barriers to communications

Oct 11, 2021

“Have you got some toe rubbers,” I asked my British fiancé when he was coming from London, England, to Ottawa on a January day way back when. 

It was cold and slippery in Ottawa, but there was no snow. So men wore rubber protectors over their shoes instead of boots. We called them ‘toe rubbers’ or ‘toe covers.’

“Toe rubber!” he exclaimed. “I’m not putting condoms on my toes.”

And so began 30 years of tricky communication between a Brit and Canadian. Whenever we had one of these “miscommunications”, my husband would shake his head and grumble “Amazing… separated by a common language.”

Not all English speakers speak the same English. There’s the matter of colloquial phrases, regional accents and even body language that are barriers to clear understanding in a live situation

Now introduce virtual communication in the Covid era and you multiply the opportunities for miscommunication. 

The technology that enables online meetings can be a barrier to communication. You may have a great microphone but the person at the other end of a Zoom call may have tiny speakers and a bad internet connection. 

Add a Scottish, Southern, Newfoundland, Russian or Chinese accent and “saying what you mean and meaning what you say” becomes a Monty Python skit.

Like it or loathe it, virtual communication is an integral part of our lives today and in the future. 

So how do we cut down on the chances of an important message being sabotaged by miscommunication? Here are my six tips for success:

  1. Speak in simple sentences. Subject, verb, object. No long subordinate clauses. Keep it short and uncomplicated. 
  2. Use simple words. Virtual communication is no time to show off your vocabulary.
  3. Stick to one thought per sentence.
  4. Speak a little bit slower that you would normally. Give people a chance to process your words.
  5. Be careful with humour. It’s easily misinterpreted, especially if it’s misheard.
  6. And above all, avoid those colourful regional phrases… like “toe rubbers.”