Communication Mediums: 5 Types (Plus Choosing the Right One)
Updated September 29, 2023
A person surrounded by research materials sits on their couch at home while studying the screen of their laptop.
Communication is essential in the workplace. Knowing the right channel to express your message to individuals or groups can help you communicate more effectively. Using the right medium to convey your message allows you to contact the right people and in the way that best serves your goals.
In this article, we define what a medium in communication is, discuss why they’re important and provide an overview of five different communication mediums, plus tips on how to choose the right medium for your message.
What is a medium in communication?
A medium in communication is a system or channel through which a speaker or writer addresses their audience. It's an outlet that a sender uses to express meaning to their audience, and it can include written, verbal or nonverbal elements.
A communication medium can either be virtual or physical. It may contain more than one element or communication type, and it may address either an individual or a group of people. Some communication mediums may emphasize directness, while others may be more flexible and allow audiences to derive their own interpretations from the speaker's message.
Choosing the right medium type
Choosing the right medium is important for ensuring that your message arrives to your intended audience and that your audience accurately understands the purpose and meaning of your message. When you choose the right medium, the recipient is more likely to read, hear or see your statement and understand what you're expressing.
For example, meeting with an individual for a face-to-face, in-person discussion may ensure that they receive your message and can ask questions for clarity. By comparison, sending an email may be better for a less urgent communication context or if you're communicating with someone remotely.
Types of communication mediums
Here are some common types of communication mediums with consideration for how to use them in the workplace:
1. Face-to-face communication
One of the most common types of communication in the workplace is face-to-face communication. This involves direct communication between two or more people, usually in conversation with one another. It can also include nonconversational, in-person communication, like a speaker presenting at a conference with an audience of professionals.
An in-person, face-to-face communication medium typically uses both verbal and nonverbal expressions to communicate a message. Speakers state their message and may use gestures and other nonverbal cues to emphasize their meaning and intent. Listeners receive and process the message as the speaker delivers it, and they may respond immediately with their own thoughts and questions.
The benefit of this style of communication is its immediacy. In a conversation, all parties can participate. This allows for an equal exchange of ideas without the need to wait for a response.
In-person communication may allow for more use of nonverbal cues than other types of communication as well. It can be easier, for example, to see and interpret nonverbal cues from a conversation partner when speaking face-to-face in a physical setting rather than through a virtual channel like a video conference.
Read more: 6 Benefits of Face-to-Face Communication
2. Virtual remote communication
Remote communication typically involves the use of technology to send a message to someone operating in another location. There are several types of remote communication methods, including those that involve written, verbal and visual communication styles.
For example, one common type of workplace remote communication is email. Emailing a client or another member of your organization is a simple and quick method of contacting someone remotely. Other remote communication options include conducting a video conference or phone call, sending a text or instant message or using a pager or intercom.
Remote communication is a great way to contact those working in a different location from your own. This form of communication is often less formal than a face-to-face meeting, though some may use video conferencing in place of face-to-face meetings for more formal conversations that require remote communication.
For example, an employer may establish a videoconference with a job candidate to conduct a remote interview in place of an in-person one.
3. Written communication
Although less common due to technological advancements, written communication can still play an important role in the workplace. This form of communication involves physically written notes, letters and memos. Written communication may either be formal or informal, depending on its context.
For example, leaving a handwritten note as a reminder to a coworker can be an informal style of communication. An example of formal written correspondence may be a handwritten card written to thank a coworker for their support. Similar to virtual remote communication, written communication involves less immediacy than face-to-face communication.
4. Social media communication
Social media communication in the workplace is more commonly used to promote messages to external consumers rather than internal employees. Many companies use social media to connect with their target consumers through advertisements and promotions.
Social media can be a great way for companies to attract the attention of customers, and it can combine various communication mediums. For example, some platforms support visual content like pictures, while others emphasize video communication. Most platforms allow users to interact in private or public chat messages, which can allow for communication between two or more participants.
Some companies or work teams may use social media for internal purposes. For example, your work team might use an instant messaging platform to quickly send messages to coworkers.
Others may use professional social media platforms to conduct outreach with potential business partners. Although social media messaging is typically less formal than other types of messaging, it can be a convenient way to communicate with an audience.
5. Nonverbal communication
In addition to spoken and written communication, nonverbal cues can help you express your message to your audience. Being aware of how nonverbal cues like tone and gestures affect your communication can help you use these elements to better express yourself to your listeners.
Often, people give nonverbal cues subconsciously when they speak to another person, but learning about these cues and how they express your ideas and feelings can help you use them to enhance your communication.
Since nonverbal cues rely on gestures and expressions, such as smiling, they can be difficult to express through some mediums. When talking on the phone or sending written correspondence, you may need to account for the lack of nonverbal cues so you can ensure your audience understands your message clearly.
When speaking to someone in person or face-to-face, be conscious of your nonverbal cues and use them to improve the clarity of your communication or make the right impression on your audience.
Tips for choosing a medium
Here are some things to consider when choosing the right medium for your communication:
Consider the urgency of your message and how likely the audience is to receive and respond to your message based on the medium. For example, if you're trying to contact a team member outside of work hours, they may be more likely to respond to a phone call rather than an email.
Written forms of communication have less immediacy than face-to-face conversations. Audiences may not respond immediately to written forms of communication, while it's more natural to respond immediately in a conversation.
Some types of communication may be more formal than others. While emails are typically informal or semiformal, a hand-written letter is typically very formal. When you take the time to write a letter, it shows additional effort and consideration which other communication mediums may not require.
By comparison, sending a text message or instant message through your company's social media platform is highly informal. Some face-to-face meetings are more formal than others. While having a conversation with a coworker in the break room is informal, scheduling a face-to-face meeting is typically more formal because it requires planning.
Knowing the purpose of your message can also help you choose the right communication medium. When communicating with an audience, you may want to inform, express, influence, direct or make a request. In other situations, you may ask questions or expect a response from your audience.
Depending on your intent, you might choose a different medium for communication. For example, you might choose to do an in-person presentation to train a group of new employees so you can reach a large audience while also providing immediate opportunities for the participants to ask questions.
Your relationship with your audience can influence what type of communication medium is most effective. The communication method you use to communicate with your employer may differ from the method used to contact a coworker.
Since these audiences have different relationships with you, adapting your communication medium to suit their needs and expectations allows you to communicate effectively. When asking your employer a question, you might send a semiformal email, whereas you may use an informal chat message to contact a peer.
Consider how easily your target audience can access your message based on your chosen medium. Some audiences may access your message easier when it's remote, while others may prefer in-person communication. If you work for a company with many remote employees and clients, hosting in-person meetings may not be possible.
By comparison, if you work with a small, in-person team, it may be quicker to have an impromptu, in-person meeting rather than emailing or scheduling a video conference. When you consider your audience's needs for accessibility, you can improve the likelihood of your audience receiving your message.
Some types of information are more easily expressed through certain mediums. For example, when sharing data with your audience, having visual references can support your communication.
Charts and graphs make it easier for your audience to comprehend data, so you might choose a communication medium that allows you to include visuals if you're discussing data patterns.
For information that you may need to reference later, having a written record can help you store that information. You may prefer to use email or a written memo for conversations you wish to document.
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