Types of Communication: Definition, Examples, Benefits for the Workplace

Which types of communication are most effective? Many of us fancy ourselves good communicators, but in this article, we take a look at the four major types of communication and consider the following:

  • What to do and not do when we communicate,

  • A few examples of good and bad communication, and 

  • Benefits or disadvantages of each communication type for your organisation.

Planning around your workforce starts with a great people strategy.

What Are the Main Types of Communication?

The four main types of communication are verbal, non-verbal, visual and written communication. This article discusses all four types below, but first, let’s consider why communication is important at work.

Communication is effective when a message is sent and received clearly. But great communication goes further. It helps employees understand what they should do and why they should care about doing it well.  

In an ideal environment, employees communicate well, frequently, efficiently, honestly and with respect. It’s a good sign when people speak openly and ask questions because it improves empathy, reduces risks due to miscommunication and helps healthy relationships blossom. 

But how is this achieved? 

1. Verbal Communication

We need to use the right words when speaking, but effective verbal communication also includes pitch, tone of voice, pauses, speed, structure, logic, flow and word choice. Great verbal communicators do more than get the message across: they inspire others. You can, too, with practice.

Here are a few tips to improve your verbal communication:

The Dos of Verbal Communication

The Don’ts of Verbal Communication

Remember it’s not about what you want to say; it’s about what your audience needs to hear.

Assume people have understood you just because they nod their heads.

Structure your message. (This is more important during presentations or meetings.)

Adjust the way you speak based on people’s non-verbal responses. 

Worry! Making mistakes when you speak is normal and natural.

Speak slowly.

Stress out about using filler words like erm and um. When you need to think, pause instead. 

Ask clarifying questions.

Consider the context. 

Benefits of Using Verbal Communication Effectively

Organisations that invest in effective verbal communication skills (for example, using train-the-trainer programmes) can improve individual skills and elevate the company. This promotes cohesion, improves standards and might even excite people about learning a new skill.

2. Non-Verbal Communication

Some studies suggest that between 70 and 80% of communication is non-verbal. Effective communication is about how you say things and the words you use. 

Non-verbal communication includes tone and pitch, posture and body language, eye contact, facial expressions, hand gestures and even physical distance (proxemics). 

Non-verbal communication reinforces the words, provides feedback to others and defines relationships more clearly (for example, people who trust and empathise with each other are likely to mirror body language).

Use these tips to improve non-verbal communication skills:

The Dos of Non-Verbal Communication

The Don’ts of Non-Verbal Communication

Vary your voice. 

Raise your eyebrows.

Smile when speaking and listening.

Cross your arms.

Show people you’re engaged.

Look away when someone is talking (even during Zoom or Teams meetings).

Wait until people have stopped speaking before responding and listen to understand, not reply. 

Fidget (if you can avoid it).

Ask them follow-up questions. 

Ignore how you feel (it will reflect in your body language, whether you want it to or not).

Benefits of Using Non-Verbal Communication Effectively

Knowing how to interpret nonverbal communication is a very valuable skill. It helps leaders interpret cues, suss out dishonesty or discontent and garner support. 

People who understand nonverbal communication show empathy, relate with others, engage effectively and interact meaningfully.

Helping your employees understand non-verbal communication can increase trust, clarity and rapport. But when signals are ignored, it can create tension, mistrust and confusion.

3. Visual communication

A picture is worth a thousand words because every image evokes connotations and deeper meaning. Emojis, for example, can mean completely different things to different people.

Whether you’re using imagery in a presentation, sharing a photograph, recording or sharing a video or just popping a gif in a message, it might mean far more than you think – so use imagery with care.

The Dos of Visual Communication

The Don’ts of Visual Communication

Consider what the image is saying and why you’re including it.

Use images that could offend people (even if you think they’re funny).

Think about the context – is it appropriate?

Make images or text too small to see.

Consider if it adds value – could people still get the same meaning or feeling without the image?

Use the wrong branding.

Add text to explain it, if necessary (for example, with charts and graphs).

Over-rely on images without giving information to explain them.

Press ‘send’ on an image-based message without checking it first.

Benefits of Using Visual Communication Effectively

Long before we could read or write, we used images to tell stories, document events or pass on information. Even today, road signs are pictographic because a lot of information can be conveyed with one symbol or image.

In a work context, people who understand how to use imagery effectively can turn a boring presentation into an inspiring one or create a compelling message. For example, graphs can show trends, compare numbers or explain relationships between things. 

If in doubt, though, get an expert to help you. 

4. Written Communication

Whether you’re crafting an email, typing out a quick text or Slack message, writing a report or preparing slides for a presentation, the same principles from earlier still apply: keep it simple and effective, consider your reader first, and do it properly. 

The Dos of Written Communication

The Don’ts of Written Communication

Put the most important point at the top of the message.

Rely on written communication when something is urgent.

Consider structure carefully. Logical, flowing text is easier to read. 

Ignore miscommunication or send incendiary replies. Pick up the phone and call someone to clear up any misunderstandings instead. 

Keep it short, sweet and clear.

Forget that colloquialisms, metaphors, idioms and slang often won’t mean the same thing across cultures.

Anticipate people’s questions by providing links or attachments for more information.

Always re-read it before you send it.

Remember that people can also read ‘tone’ in an email. Never send an email when you’re angry! 

Benefits of Using Written Communication Effectively

Clear messages are more effective. Remember, words have no context or additional cues. People can read things into messages that weren’t originally intended. To avoid miscommunication, people can be trained in effective written communication. 

This can include: what tone to use, how to write in different contexts, how much information to include, how to get the point across and when to use a different channel (for example, a video meeting or phone call).

Frequently Asked Questions About Communication Types

What Are the 4 Types of Communication?

The four types of communication are verbal, non-verbal, visual and written communication. No matter how we communicate, start by thinking about what the reader/listener should think, feel and do once they’ve heard or read our message.

What Are Examples of Workplace Communication?

At work, people typically communicate face-to-face (verbally), in writing (using email, messaging tools like Slack or project management tools like Trello), using images (like graphs and pictures on presentations) and non-verbally. 

Which Types of Communication Work Best? 

Company leaders, HR teams and managers should take every opportunity to improve their team’s communication effectiveness through training, coaching and sharing knowledge and best practice. 

When HR-related documentation needs to be recorded, ensure it’s done effectively, safely and securely. Keep all your most-pressing employee documents secure, and speak with an expert by booking your own demo with Personio today. 

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