Bill Cottringer

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” ~George Bernard Shaw.

Communication, like time, is one of our most important resources, but is becoming less cost-effective in usage by the minute, given the current information overload . It is helpful to understand the main obstacles to good communication, so that we can use this important resource in a more cost-effective way. Here are seven formidable obstacles to the communication process, to which we all fall prey:


Here we are talking about the different languages that drive mental thinking and verbal communicating. Current brain research reveals that our conscious “thinking” is done more in images, feelings, uncertain intuitions and animated sensations, rather than actual words. In addition, our unconscious mental activities are even more nebulous and difficult to put words to and convey. Trying to translate this stuff to words for another person’s brain to re-translate back into his or her own non-verbal consciousness, will always lose a lot in the multiple translations. Sometimes it is amazing that communication occurs at all!


Many of the things we need to communicate most are the most difficult to talk about. This is because these impressions and perceptions are wrapped tightly in feelings and not clear enough in our minds so as to convey accurate meaning to someone else. This is especially so when the other person isn’t feeling the same way or doesn’t recognize the feelings we are having (or any of the other many incompatibilities below). Such conversations usually end in a very uncomfortable state, if communication even occurs at all. Much unresolved miscommunication that stays wrapped in feelings just perpetuates itself.


Communication is rarely open and two-way. All writing is really only one-way, while talking is very often the same, with the other person just listening well enough to respond cleverly. Peak communication is nearly a miracle and only happens when two people have a high degree of empathy were they both understand what the other is saying in harmonious timing and without effort or further dialogue. The only way for communication to be open and two-way, is for it to be supportive rather than defensive. This means there has to be genuine interest in and respect for learning what is being spoken or written and the person doing so, without too much interference from incompatibilities, or wrong assumptions and perceptions.


Let’s use this article talking about communication as a good example of this particular problem. The Internet is already way overloaded with over 1 billion hits on Google with the key word “communication.” It is something everybody knows a lot about, but maybe too much, to be able to listen to what the main problems are which we have to work hard to overcome. To do that, we must get rid of the many assumptions we make about communication and everything else we think we know enough about or are sure of (when that is not so). This displacement will make much more space available to relearn the art of good communication, even with the current overload.


Many interpersonal incompatibilities make communication more difficult. People who aren’t compatible with their rationality, emotional intelligence, comprehension levels, word usage, life experiences, interests, timing, listening ability, degree of responsibility, ability to be empathetic and non-judgmental, and many other relevant interpersonal abilities, will always strain to communicate. The main incompatibility between people is where they are at in their own development, which is rarely similar. However, if you can learn to separate the person from his or her various incompatibilities with you, communication will always be easier. Also what you may think to be so, doesn’t always have to be communicated. Often silence is the best communication.


We know that perceptions are everybody’s reality. But we also know that perceptions are rarely accurate or complete, even though we act as though they are. What we generally have here is two people at an impasse, being certain each has the more correct perception of reality. Fortunately that is funny when you think about it and a little humor always goes a long way in facilitating better communication. And of course communicating about communication problems like feelings, incompatibilities and perceptions, is always a better path back to open and two-way communication.


At the heart of communication is the “truth” of the matter, about which we wish to talk or write. And, since the truth is very often relative, tentative or evolving, communicating accurately and completely about something that isn’t that way, is a real challenge. Add to this mix the difference between how we know what we “think” in our brains to be true, and how we use words to communicate these pre-verbal truths, and then we have a worse mess to try and communicate through. That is probably why a picture is worth a thousand words and why good communication usually only occurs when miscommunication is clarified or completed.

So, what can be done to improve this bleak state of affairs? Just realizing that there are such formidable obstacles as these seven problems that interfere and impede good communication helps us avoid assuming that communication is in fact occurring, without at least trying harder to make that happen. Like the overall goal in life being to learn, grow and improve into our best selves, the same applies to learning, growing and improving our ability to communicate better by overcoming these problems.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is Executive Vice-President for Employee Relations for Puget Sound Security, Inc. in Bellevue, WA, and Adjunct Professor at Northwest University, along with his hobbies in being a Sport Psychologist, Business Success Coach, Photographer and Writer living in the peaceful but invigorating mountains and rivers of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, “You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too” (Executive Excellence), “The Bow-Wow Secrets” (Wisdom Tree), “Do What Matters Most” and “P” Point Management” (Atlantic Book Publishers), “Reality Repair” (Global Vision Press), Reality Repair Rx (Authorsden), and “If Pictures Could Talk,” coming soon. Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (425) 454-5011 or