Four Types of Communication

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Communication is the process by which someone conveys a message to someone else, allowing both people to share a common understanding. While most people think of oral or written language when thinking of communication, these are actually only two of the four types of communication. Imagine a world where no one could communicate with one another, even with signs and symbols, and it's easy to see just how important it is that we are able to communicate with other people.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

The four main types of communication in the workplace are oral, nonverbal, written and visual.

Methods of Communication List

Oral and written communication are the two best known of the four ways of using communication. These are both particularly beneficial in the workplace, particularly because they can both be fine tuned in order to be formal or informal.

The other two types of communication are nonverbal and visual communication. These might not be the most effective communication styles in the workplace, but it is still important to understand them, as they can be useful or detrimental depending on how they are used, especially considering that these are the easiest forms of communication to misinterpret.

While it's easy to overlook these forms of communication, remember that nonverbal communication was used before humans developed any form of language, and visual communication was originally used before the development of written communication.

Understanding Oral Communication

Oral communication (also called verbal communication) uses sounds to communicate words through a shared language. When two people speak different languages, oral communication can often be useless or at the very least strained by the limits of a handful of similar words. It's interesting to note that because our internal monologue is organized into words, this is still considered oral communication even though it is not spoken aloud.

While verbal communication is one of the clearest forms of communication, it still can result in misunderstandings even among people who speak the same language, such as when someone mishears someone else or when someone uses ambiguous wording.

When using oral communication in the workplace, it is important to recognize that because misunderstandings are so easy, it is always important to choose your words carefully and speak clearly. You do not want to offend a co-worker, boss, subordinate, customer or even a competitor due to a misunderstanding.

Listening Is Critical

An often-overlooked aspect of verbal communication is listening. By listening carefully to someone speaking to you, you can minimize misunderstandings and also better craft appropriate responses to their questions and concerns. In fact, some people consider listening to be the most important part of communication. To listen effectively, always:

  • Focus on the speaker.
  • Make sure you understand and ask questions when necessary.
  • Wait for your turn to speak.
  • Show interest.
  • Repeat what was said in your own words.

The Importance of Nonverbal Communication

Sometimes, what you don't say is actually the most important part of your message. That's because things like your body language, the tone of your voice and your facial expressions can cement the importance of what you say or can completely undermine your words.

Mastering nonverbal communication is a useful skill for those who want to effectively communicate with others. These cues can tell you if someone is listening, if they are telling the truth and how they feel about something. They can also help ensure that what you are saying matches up with what you are expressing. When speaking with or listening to someone else, pay particular attention to:

  • Eye contact
  • Pace or speed of speech
  • Tone of voice
  • Position of arms and legs
  • Overall posture or body position
  • Facial expressions

Communication and Different Cultures

The things we don't express through words are important to keep in mind when trying to express a clear message, particularly when speaking to people of other cultures who might assign even more value to certain nonverbal cues than most Americans. If you plan on meeting with someone from another culture, it can be a good idea to first find out if your cultures have differences in nonverbal communication in order to avoid miscommunications.

In most cultures, folded arms, crossed legs and lack of eye contact are all defensive signals given by people who feel uncomfortable, making them seem untrustworthy. Kissing someone's hand, hugs, a hand on someone's shoulder, back pats and similar actions are all signs of intimacy which may be welcomed by some people and some cultures but might make others highly uncomfortable. Overall, these should be avoided in the office.

Using Written Communication

When it comes to communication in the workplace, written communication might just be the most important, especially when it comes to positions and companies where interpersonal contact is limited, and emails are the preferred means of disseminating information. Those who want to master written communication for business need to focus on clarity as well as the appropriate use of formal writing.

In the workplace, writing may consist of emails, reports, evaluations, instant messages, texts, formal letters, contracts, training materials and more. Because writing is not generally accompanied with nonverbal cues that allow you to communicate emotions and intentions more easily, it is critical that you write your messages clearly. Sarcasm is particularly difficult to communicate in writing and should be entirely avoided in business writing. On the upside, unlike verbal and nonverbal communication, the written word can be reviewed and revised before being sent to the receiver, a benefit of which you should always take advantage in order to ensure you send the right message.

In business, you should always write professionally with correct grammar and punctuation. Do not shorten words like "you" to "u" or use emojis in professional writing. That being said, many business communications can still be informal. While a client contract might need to be wordy and uptight, a message regarding the company softball game can be light and fun, and many replies to co-worker emails can be as short as a simple "Sounds good!" or "I will be there."

How to Communicate Visually

Imagine trying to construct a message for someone who doesn't speak your language, and you'll soon see the benefits of visual communication. This method of communication is achieved through visual aids, which could include photos, movies, emojis, signs, symbols, drawings, maps and more.

Unfortunately, visual communication can be the least clear form of communication, as one person may interpret an image in a totally different way than another. For example, a picture of a dog could represent companionship and loyalty to most Americans, a filthy beast to people from certain countries and a terrifying monster to someone who was mauled by a dog as a child.

Generally speaking, visual communication is the least-used form of communication in the workplace, as it is usually reserved as a way to add a little color to a speech or written document. It can be particularly useful for those in the advertising department, though, as it offers the chance to express a message or feeling without ever speaking or writing a word. Because visual communication can be so ambiguous, it is critical that you ensure your message can be understood by those you hope to reach before you use it.

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About the Author

Jill Harness is a blogger with experience researching and writing on all types of subjects including business topics. She specializes in writing SEO content for private clients, particularly attorneys. You can find out more about Jill's experience and learn how to contact her through her website, www.jillharness.com.