4 Types of Communication and How To Improve Them
Updated July 31, 2023
Communication skills are vital to a healthy, efficient workplace. Often categorized as a soft skill or an interpersonal skill, communication is the act of sharing information from one person to another person or group of people. There are many different ways to communicate, each of which plays an important role in sharing information.
In this article, we take a closer look at four different types of communication and how to strengthen your skills in each one.
Importance of communication
We use communication every day in nearly every environment, including in the workplace. Whether you give a slight head nod in agreement or present information to a large group, communication is absolutely necessary when building relationships, sharing ideas, delegating responsibilities, managing a team and much more.
Learning and developing good communication skills can help you succeed in your career, make you a competitive job candidate and build your network. While it takes time and practice, communication and interpersonal skills are certainly able to be both increased and refined.
There are four main types of communication we use on a daily basis: verbal, nonverbal, written and visual. With all of these communication styles, it’s most effective when you know how to actively listen, observe and empathize. Developing these soft skills can help you better understand a message and respond thoughtfully.
Related: Common Communication Barriers
Types of Communication
Use a strong, confident speaking voice.
Use active listening.
Avoid filler words.
Avoid industry jargon when appropriate.
Notice how your emotions feel physically.
Be intentional about your nonverbal communications.
Mimic nonverbal communications you find effective.
Ask others before including visuals.
Consider your audience.
Only use visuals if they add value.
Make them clear and easy to understand.
Strive for simplicity.
Don’t rely on tone.
Take time to review your written communications.
Keep a file of writing you find effective or enjoyable.
Types of communication
There are several different ways we share information with one another. For example, you might use verbal communication when sharing a presentation with a group. You might use written communication when applying for a job or sending an email. Here’s a more in-depth look at the four main categories of communication:
Verbal communication is the use of language to transfer information through speaking or sign language. It is one of the most common types, often used during presentations, video conferences and phone calls, meetings and one-on-one conversations. Verbal communication is important because it is efficient. It can be helpful to support verbal communication with both nonverbal and written communication.
Here are a few steps you can take to develop your verbal communication skills:
Use a strong, confident speaking voice. Especially when presenting information to a few or a group of people, be sure to use a strong voice so that everyone can easily hear you. Be confident when speaking so that your ideas are clear and easy for others to understand.
Use active listening. The other side of using verbal communication is intently listening to and hearing others. Active listening skills are key when conducting a meeting, presentation or even when participating in a one-on-one conversation. Doing so will help you grow as a communicator.
Avoid filler words. It can be tempting, especially during a presentation, to use filler words such as “um,” “like,” “so” or “yeah.” While it might feel natural after completing a sentence or pausing to collect your thoughts, it can also be distracting for your audience. Try presenting to a trusted friend or colleague who can call attention to the times you use filler words. Try to replace them by taking a breath when you are tempted to use them.
Nonverbal communication is the use of body language, gestures and facial expressions to convey information to others. It can be used both intentionally and unintentionally. For example, you might smile unintentionally when you hear a pleasing or enjoyable idea or piece of information. Nonverbal communication is helpful when trying to understand others’ thoughts and feelings.
If they are displaying “closed” body language, such as crossed arms or hunched shoulders, they might be feeling anxious, angry or nervous. If they are displaying “open” body language with both feet on the floor and arms by their side or on the table, they are likely feeling positive and open to information.
Here are a few steps you can take to develop your nonverbal communication skills:
Notice how your emotions feel physically. Throughout the day, as you experience a range of emotions (anything from energized, bored, happy or frustrated), try to identify where you feel that emotion within your body. For example, if you’re feeling anxious, you might notice that your stomach feels tight. Developing self-awareness around how your emotions affect your body can give you greater mastery over your external presentation.
Be intentional about your nonverbal communications. Make an effort to display positive body language when you feel alert, open and positive about your surroundings. You can also use body language to support your verbal communication if you feel confused or anxious about information, like using a furrowed brow. Use body language alongside verbal communication such as asking follow-up questions or pulling the presenter aside to give feedback.
Mimic nonverbal communications you find effective. If you find certain facial expressions or body language beneficial to a certain setting, use it as a guide when improving your own nonverbal communications. For example, if you see that when someone nods their head it communicates approval and positive feedback efficiently, use it in your next meeting when you have the same feelings.
Visual communication is the act of using photographs, art, drawings, sketches, charts and graphs to convey information. Visuals are often used as an aid during presentations to provide helpful context alongside written and/or verbal communication. Because people have different learning styles, visual communication might be more helpful for some to consume ideas and information.
Here are a few steps you can take to develop your visual communication skills:
Ask others before including visuals. If you are considering sharing a visual aid in your presentation or email, consider asking others for feedback. Adding visuals can sometimes make concepts confusing or muddled. Getting a third-party perspective can help you decide whether the visual adds value to your communications.
Consider your audience. Be sure to include visuals that are easily understood by your audience. For example, if you are displaying a chart with unfamiliar data, be sure to take time and explain what is happening in the visual and how it relates to what you are saying. You should never use sensitive, offensive, violent or graphic visuals in any form.
To make improvements to your communication skills, set personal goals to work through the things you want to accomplish step by step. It might be helpful to consult with trusted colleagues, managers or mentors to identify which areas would be best to focus on first.
Written communication is the act of writing, typing or printing symbols like letters and numbers to convey information. It is helpful because it provides a record of information for reference. Writing is commonly used to share information through books, pamphlets, blogs, letters, memos and more. Emails and chats are common forms of written communication in the workplace.
Here are a few steps you can take to develop your written communication skills:
Strive for simplicity. Written communications should be as simple and clear as possible. While it might be helpful to include lots of detail in instructional communications, for example, you should look for areas where you can write as clearly as possible for your audience to understand.
Don’t rely on tone. Because you do not have the nuance of verbal and nonverbal communication, be careful when you are trying to communicate a certain tone when writing. For example, attempting to communicate a joke, sarcasm or excitement might be translated differently depending on the audience. Instead, try to keep your writing as simple and plain as possible and follow up with verbal communications where you can add more personality.
Take time to review your written communications. Setting time aside to re-read your emails, letters or memos can help you identify mistakes or opportunities to say something differently. For important communications or those that will be sent to a large number of people, it might be helpful to have a trusted colleague review it as well.
Keep a file of writing you find effective or enjoyable. If you receive a certain pamphlet, email or memo that you find particularly helpful or interesting, save it for reference when writing your own communications. Incorporating methods or styles you like can help you to improve over time.
Frequently asked questions
What are the seven communication styles?
A communication style describes the approach you take to share messages with others. You may have an inherent way of communicating or you can implement a specific style based on the situation. For instance, conflict resolution may require a usually passive individual to adopt a more direct form of communication. The seven main communication styles are:
What are the five C's of communication?
You can ensure effective communication by implementing the following five C's:
What are the two main channels of communication?
The two main channels of communication are formal communication and informal communication. Formal channels involve communicating via standards that the organization defines. Using formal communication helps you adhere to professional standards and respect hierarchical structures to ensure the efficient transmission of messages. Examples of formal communication include reports, legal notices and newsletters.
Informal channels are more casual and allow members of an organization to communicate quickly. Informal communication is more spontaneous and encourages employees to build relationships and share their ideas and concerns. Examples of informal communication include social posts, group chat platforms and phone calls.
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