Types of communication

Updated April 17, 2017

Communication is central to the way we function. We need it to convey and receive information, to build relationships and to function in society. At its basic level, effective communication is about transmitting a "message" in such a way that it can be received and decoded accurately by the person or people to whom you sent it. A message could be a simple piece of information or it could be intended to persuade or influence. There are four major types of communication that we use, both formally and informally.

Verbal communication

Verbal communication is basically talking: our primary method of communication. Every day we talk to members of our family, work colleagues, neighbours, friends, the man in the corner shop and many others. Verbal communication takes place between two or more people. One person can also communicate to many people, for example, when making a presentation, delivering a lecture, or teaching a class. Verbal communication oils the wheels of social interaction. We tell stories and jokes, pass on information and ask questions. We use verbal communication to help us learn, but particularly to connect with each other and build relationships. It is not in fact a great medium for conveying large amounts of complex information.

Non-verbal communication

Non-verbal communication includes things such as tone of voice, body language and eye contact. Non-verbal communication can add additional layers of meaning to verbal communication, particularly by conveying the emotions behind the words. Many aspects of non-verbal comunication are unconscious. You can be saying one thing and contradicting it with your body language. For example, you could open your front door and say "welcome." But if you didn't stand back to allow the visitor to enter, what you said is essentially meaningless. If someone is lying, they usually give it away with their body language.

Written communication

Written communication is based on writing down words. It includes letters, emails, reports, notices, posters and memos -- even SMS messages. One of the advantages of using written communication is that you usually have the time to write and edit several drafts before transmitting a final, polished message. One of the downsides is that you do not have the benefit of nonverbal gestures to help with interpreting your communication. Sometimes with inexperienced and unskilled writers, tone and intent can get lost -- leading to misunderstandings.

Visual communication

Visual communication includes topography, photography, signs, symbols and designs. Television and video clips, although they usually include words, are also forms of visual communication. Signs, such as the male and female figures that differentiate toilet facilities, can be understood by people who speak different languages and by those who cannot read. However, they are often more subtle and complex than people realise, and are still culturally specific. For example, due to the way our languages work, most people in western countries read visual symbols from left to right. In Arabic-spreaking countries, however, they read from right to left.

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About the Author

Lalla Scotter has been writing professionally since 1988, covering topics ranging from leadership to agriculture. Her work has appeared in publications such as the "Financial Times" and "Oxford Today." Scotter holds an honors Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Bristol.