Types of communication
After reading this guide, you will better understand the four main types of communication: Verbal, non-verbal, written, and visual.
You will be able to use this information to improve your own communication and make sure that you are promoting effective communication skills within your organisation.
4 Types of communication
While it is easy to think of communication as simply the verbal transmission of information from one person to another, it is so much more than that.
Communication ranges from non-verbal, such as a glance and raised eyebrows, to verbal, such as a change in pitch and tone. Let’s take an in-depth look at all the ways that we communicate with each other.
1. Non-verbal communication
It is interesting to note that non-verbal communication is used both intentionally and unintentionally.
Most people do not have perfect control over their facial expressions - we all have heard an unprofessional comment and raised our eyebrows in response, regardless of whether or not it was wise to do so.
By learning more about how we use non-verbal communication, you will be better able to master yours and ensure that you are conveying your message exactly the way you wish to.
We often use facial expressions as a way to communicate that we are listening and engaged with the person speaking.
A smile, furrowed eyebrows, or a quizzical expression all convey information to the speaker about how you are responding to their conversation.
They work to help grease the conversation, keeping it going without having to interject verbally to confirm your continued interest.
If you have ever spoken to a stone-faced person, you will know how important facial expressions are in a conversation.
How you position yourself during a conversation is important.
If you angle yourself towards the person, with a relaxed and open posture, you invite them to engage with you more fully.
Leaning back, crossing arms, or turning away from the speaker conveys a very different message - and not a positive one.
Just as no one wants to have a conversation with the back of someone’s head, talking to someone with an extremely closed posture creates a more difficult and unpleasant conversation.
Gestures and physical touch
Depending on the person, and their country of origin, they may use gestures and physical touch a lot, or almost never. However, there is a lot of information conveyed in these actions.
A gentle touch on the arm can signal encouragement, while an overly strong handshake can be an act of dominance.
Someone fidgeting with their hands while talking to you about a problem can signal guilt or avoidance and using many grand gestures while presenting an idea could convey excitement or confidence.
We all know the importance of eye contact.
When someone is unable to maintain eye contact, we take this to mean that they are being untruthful, shifty, or not paying attention.
Being able to maintain eye contact while listening will ensure that the speaker knows that you are present and engaged.
While speaking, it shows that you are connecting with the listener, and in cases where you are delivering unpleasant news, is doubly important.
Being able to tell someone an unpleasant message while looking them directly in the eye shows that you respect them and are an honest and sincere person.
2. Verbal communication
When we speak, we are communicating much more than just the content of our words.
We are also using pitch and tone, as well as the level of formality we use to convey important subtext to the person we are speaking with.
By carefully choosing how we use each of these aspects, we can be sure that our message is received exactly as intended.
From greeting coworkers to leading a client pitch meeting to present in front of the entire company, verbal communication factors into our work lives in a massive way.
When speaking, our emotions can often come into play.
If we are angry, upset, or frustrated, our pitch might raise, conveying to the listener that we are experiencing a strong emotion.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, but being able to control it allows you to make sure that you are effectively communicating.
We all encounter situations that are frustrating or upsetting.
Allowing that to change our tone from calm and professional to curt, short, or rude is always a mistake.
Tone conveys a lot of information to the listener about how the speaker views them.
To build positive interpersonal relationships in an office environment, we should all endeavour to speak in a professional and respectful tone.
Of course, content is the most important part of verbal communication. What we say, and the words we choose to use, are crucial.
While most office communications tend to be more formal than, for example, meeting a friend for coffee, we should make sure that we leave space for personal chats and relationship building.
Think also about how technical your content is. If you are talking with developers about specific aspects of code, you should use different terms than when talking to the marketing team about new developments within the app.
3. Written communication
Effective communication by writing is a massively important skill, especially as more people are working remotely and keep in touch throughout the workday through Skype, Slack, or other digital mediums.
From a Slack message to an email to a customer to a new employee’s training guide, we write every day and it is crucial that we understand how to do so effectively.
In fact, as we increasingly rely on written communication, we are all faced with just how easy it is to create misunderstandings when using this medium.
Unclear messages, the information gone missing, or an incorrect understanding of tone or content are all problems that happen with written communication every day.
Sometimes the reader will misread the tone of a message because they are having a bad day, or just had a run-in with an unpleasant person.
No matter what, one important skill to have when relying on written communication is knowing when you need to stop using it. A simple call, in almost all cases, can solve these communication problems.
If you sense that there is a miscommunication happening, or just starting, nip it in the bud with a quick verbal chat and you’ll save a lot of time and frustration for all parties.
When writing, it is important to think about how you are presenting the information. Using paragraphs and line breaks are necessary.
Creating an impenetrable wall of text will disengage the reader - understanding and applying a proper structure will let the reader take in the information in digestible chunks.
Present your argument or thesis, take the time to back it up with clear proof, add in the relevant information to make sure that the reader understands the point fully, then close with a conclusion.
It is a hard balance to strike between over or under explaining concepts. If you are writing instructions for a new employee, how detailed should you be?
Of course, this depends on the person, but over-explaining a little bit is much better than leaving the reader clueless.
Be thoughtful about your audience, what will they know and what do you need to explain in more detail?
Written content tends to be a bit more formal than verbal.
Leave out the slang, use proper punctuation and spelling, and remember that anything written - especially in the digital age - will remain, even if you delete it.
Err on the side of professionalism every time you write something. Messages on Slack, for example, do not need to be written as formally as a cover letter, but they should be polite, professional, and well-written.
Be aware that written jokes can fall flat without the added context of tone or facial expressions.
4. Visual communication
Visual has become the most used type of communication, driven by social media, YouTube, and other platforms of the digital era.
As more and more people and organisations use these channels of communication, the more we are used to, and even dependent upon, using visual communication to stand out in a crowded platform.
Understanding that your visual communication must be in line with your brand and marketing, and knowing that there must be a developed and cohesive strategy for that, is crucial.
We rely heavily on visual communication.
There are many ways that visual communication, like charts, photographs, sketches, video, graphs, and even emojis and GIFs, can help improve the understanding of your message.
Think about how charts can bring data to life, making it much easier to understand than presenting a long stream of numbers, or how a sketch of a new UX is much more effective than a text description.
We rely on visuals to elevate our understanding of complex ideas.
While it is tempting to include visuals to add a bit of diversity and interest, you should consider what they bring to the table.
- Are they helpful?
- Are they necessary?
- Do they add to the overall message?
Not all communications need to have visuals added, and in some cases, they might detract from what you are trying to communicate.
You should endeavour to make sure that you are not adding fluff to your message, but rather strengthening your audience’s understanding of it.
As with all communications, make sure that you are meeting your audience where they are.
If you are presenting complex data, include the relevant descriptions, at the right technical level, so that your audience can follow.
Don’t use images that are graphic or could be upsetting, and remember the same rule applies to visual communication as does to writing: don’t create anything that you wouldn’t want to have associated with you in the future.