The four different types of noise when communicating

The four different types of noise when communicating

As you may know from my communication course and many of my videos/posts – communication is something the other person does. They receive and interpret your messages that arrives via a medium or channel. They decode the message and they do something with that message (i.e. something with the meaning).

Communicating sounds simple but in this seemingly simple interaction a lot can go wrong. And when it does, I always like to say, it’s your fault.

Not in a mean way, but because communication is hard, and it requires practice, learning and clarity -and that is something we can all get better at.

Noise is a technical term that essentially relates to anything that can intefer with the message, or the meaning contained in the message. Knowing more about noise and the different forms it can take, can really help you to alter your message (or choose a different medium), to ensure you’re more effective at communicating.

Remember, communication is about being effective first, then efficient.

Noise typically comes in four distinct forms.


This is about the sender and receiver (people) and their own physiology.

Think speech impediments, hearing challenges, articulation, clarity of speech, volume.

These elements can clearly affect communication and care should be taken to understand the sender / receiver and cater accordingly. And of course, your own physiology and how you can adapt to communicate as effectively as you can.


This is about those very obvious (and sometimes less obvious) physical forms of noise.

Think spam overload in your inbox where important messages are missed.

Or information overload – like social media where there is so much content it’s often hard to find anything of use.

Physical barriers between people when communicating (other people, desks, monitors, no camera on video calls)

Noisy office making it hard to hear anything.

Shady computer connections where the message is garbled.


This is about how we feel and how we are as people. This is very important indeed. For example:

  • Are we a task focused individual (D on DISC) interacting with people who want to chat and socialise?
  • Are we working with task focused people who aren’t listening, or too keen to “crack on” even though it’s not clear what problems we’re trying to solve?
  • How do we perceive ourselves?
  • Do we feel confident? If so, our communication will be different to if we don’t feel good.
  • Are we tired and bored and not in the mood for listening?
  • Are our emotions getting the better of us and we’re letting it affect us?
  • Are we speaking with someone who we perceive to be higher power or more important than us? Nobody is ever more important than anyone else, but our brains don’t always acknowledge this.

Speaking to the COE may bring out challenges in our communication we don’t see when speaking to peers.


This is all about the meaning of the words we use.

  • Are we choosing the right words? There are some people who use long words to sound clever but people have no idea what they are talking about.
  • Are we communicating in a language that is not our native one?
  • What do our words mean and could they be intepreted incorrectly?
  • Are we using jargon (a technical language belonging to a specific sub-group) when communicating with people who don’t know those jargon terms?

As you can see, there’s a lot to think about when communicating. There’s also a lot of potential for noise to come in and affect the message or the meaning within the message.

It’s on us to choose the right mediums, the right words and the right delivery. Sure, the listener/receiver shares some responsibility for good communication to happen, but the emphasis should be on us to be do our utmost to be successful in our communication.

Good communication is hard. It takes time. And it takes practice. And noise is an important element to understand.

Next time you’re communicating and it doesn’t land as you expect – is noise at play? What can you learn from this? How can you adapt?

What can you do differently next time?

  • Could you shift the environment to reduce noise?
  • Could you simplify the message, language and delivery?
  • Are you using the right medium?
  • Are you trying to reach too many different types of audiences? Narrow them down.
  • Are you, in yourself, in a good place to communicate? Is the listener/receiver? Maybe you should postpone this interaction if you can?

Communication is hard but understanding a little about noise could really help you avoid it, mitigate against it or circumvent it, and make your chances of effective communication much greater.