While many people may think of communication as a primarily vocal or face-to-face experience, the expression of ideas, concepts, beliefs, and thoughts can occur in many different ways. While there are four primary types of communication, there is a multitude of techniques, tips, and tricks that can help facilitate effective communication among groups of people and between two individuals.
This article will explore the various aspects of communication, with a heavy emphasis on proper communication techniques. Understanding these methods can help individuals that may struggle to communicate with coworkers, friends, and family members effectively. But before diving into what forms of communication exist, and which ones are most effective in certain types of situations, it is crucial to explain the origins of human connection briefly.
A Brief History of Human Communication Techniques
Primates communicate in a variety of ways, though nonverbal communication, such as body language, tends to be more prevalent in non-human primate populations than verbal communication. Our ability to speak, which incorporates the use of many sounds to form words, is one of the defining factors that separates us from our primate cousins.
Before oral human language developed, early Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis used visual cues to express vital information. Ancient hunters would have drawn unnecessary attention to themselves and possibly lost their prey had they relied on speech, and gestures and body language became especially important.
The first step toward modern language came in the form of drawn or painted symbols. These symbols represented real objects, animals, and events and would later evolve into spoken symbolic communication. Words are forms of symbolic communication. The term ‘apple’ is not an apple, but many people will understand that this particular series of letters combine to form the written English ‘symbol’ for the tasty fruit.
Communication continues to change and adapt over time. A few hundred years ago, humans could interact with one another face-to-face, or through writing. Technological advancement has seen an increase in remote forms of communication, in addition to text-based and emoticon-based communication.
While our current society still primarily uses verbal communication, nonverbal forms are becoming more popular, prevalent, and crucial.
What Are the Basic Types of Communication?
There are four basic types of communication, and it may surprise you to learn that you most likely use them all during a typical day.
Verbal communication refers to ideas that are expressed aloud, verbally, or through sign language. This type of connection often occurs face-to-face, but receiving a phone call is also considered verbal communication.
The effectiveness of verbal communication depends on a large variety of factors, including the tone of someone’s voice, their diction, their accent, and their language. Face-to-face verbal communication is typically combined with nonverbal body language, as those listening are likely to interpret the words spoken to them in the context of the speaker’s paralanguage and body language.
As such, verbal communication can be one of the least reliable forms of communication. A study performed by UCLA once purported that verbal communication only constitutes about 7% of any face-to-face interaction or conversation, with the remainder consisting of nonverbal cues such as vocal tone and facial expression. However, it’s important to note that these findings have been challenged in recent years.
Nonverbal communication is often referred to as ‘body language,’ though it also includes gestures and facial expressions. Human children often learn to express themselves with nonverbal cues before mastering the spoken language. Teachers can benefit from the use of positive nonverbal communication, as it is the universal form of expression among human beings.
This is because primary emotions such as fear, sadness, and joy, are easily recognizable no matter what language or culture an individual adheres to. Understanding body language, facial expressions, and gestures are a significant part of effective communication. It can be challenging to communicate with someone who refuses to make eye contact, has their arms crossed, and seems to be looking aimlessly around.
Recognizing that someone is not open to communication is just as vital as understanding which communication techniques are more effective than others – after all, you could play a marvelous concerto in the park. Still, if the park is closed to the public that day, no one will hear you play. Knowing which social opportunities to take and which ones to avoid is a significant aspect of understanding and utilizing proper nonverbal communication.
Written communication is anything that comes in the form of text. Written, typed, or printed numbers, symbols, letters, or words all qualify as written communication. Common types of written communication include emails, text messages, to-do lists, notes, articles, and pretty much anything else than can be printed, sent or uploaded, and read by others.
This type of communication can be challenging to interpret, as there is little physical or verbal context given to written works. The intent of a written piece may not be effectively communicated by the writer, resulting in an argument among the readers as to the intended voice and style of the article. Ambiguity, while a buffet for English teachers and professors, does tend to make written communication less effective.
Verbal and nonverbal forms of communication have a far longer history of use among humans, with written communication being both the newest and most dubious method.
This is due, in part, to the fact that the world is divided by culture and language. A sentence that is translated from language to another may lose some of its meaning and significance, depending on the correctness of the translation and the cultural and language differences among readers.
Written communication is, therefore, one of the most challenging forms of communication to master and understand, especially on a global scale.
Images, drawings, and graphs are all fantastic examples of visual communication. This type of connection is typically used to convey abstract ideas or complex data, allowing it to be more effectively comprehended than if provided verbally.
For example, the quarterly earnings and deficits of a large company may be easier to understand with a visual aid such as a graph or chart, than by merely reading a list of figures or hearing a long-winded lecture on the subject.
The primary goal of visual communication is to make an impact upon receivers that would generally be difficult to achieve with other forms of communication. Those who work in marketing or media tend to rely heavily on visual communication to express ideas to large and diverse audiences.
Verbal Communication Techniques
Having an excellent command of verbal communication techniques can improve relationships with many groups, including coworkers, friends, and family. The most important thing to remember about verbal communication is that it is naturally a combined form of expression.
For example, vocal intonation plays a significant role in verbal communication, and face-to-face interactions tend to incorporate nonverbal cues in addition to the verbal ones. Remote verbal communication, through a telephone, computer, or similar electronic device, doesn’t include as much nonverbal information as in-person interactions do, but paralanguage still plays a vital role.
What is Paralanguage?
Before we can begin to explore verbal communication techniques and tips, we must first identify the role that paralanguage plays in proper verbal communication, and what it is.
Paralanguage refers to vocal intonation, vocal pitch, speed, the occurrence of hesitation sounds or words, gestures, and facial expressions. Emotion typically affects a person’s paralanguage, providing others with an insight into that speaker’s internal thoughts and feelings.
For example, someone who is speaking rapidly, and in a higher tone of voice than they typically use, could be expressing excitement, anger, or stress. Someone who speaks in a slow, monotone register may be expressing their disinterest or tiredness.
The diction chosen by any individual speaker is highly colored by the paralanguage that they use. Therefore, someone could be expressing regret, but unless they ‘sound sorry,’ the listener is unlikely to trust the words of the speaker, preferring instead to interpret the combination of visual cues and body language to form their conclusion regarding the intended message.
As such, paralanguage plays a massive role in verbal communication.
Verbal Communication Techniques for the Workplace
Active listening is crucial to effective verbal communication within the workplace environment. It is also an essential aspect of healthy relationships outside of work. However, mastering the art of listening can be very difficult for some, and may require practice.
Often, it is only too easy to stop listening to someone to begin forming a response. However, by doing this, we fail to actively listen to the person speaking, resulting in a loss of communication. By actively listening, not only is respect being shown and given, but information has a higher chance of being comprehended and shared, lessening additional questions or comments and making the entire interaction far more effective.
Actively listening, rather than hearing, can significantly improve general relationships with coworkers and supervisors. Not only will the people who communicate with you feel more valued while doing so, but they may also be more likely to return the kindness when it is your turn to speak.
Speaking less often, thinking before speaking, and showing humility and kindness are some of the things that all workers should practice. Though it may seem insignificant, following such practice can significantly influence workplace dynamics and the working environment.
Honesty and integrity are often things that can be expressed vocally, and it is essential to speak with absolute truthfulness, even though it may not be flattering to do so. Admitting mistakes early-on, communicating concerns with supervisors, and being honest with yourself and with others around you is one way to improve communication in the workplace.
On the other hand, showing confidence in work well-done is also essential. This does not extend to bragging, which is a negative form of social behavior.
However, individuals that struggle to comprehend societal and behavioral norms, and comply with them, may benefit from verbal modeling and imitation. People tend to feel more at ease around those who speak like them, so adopting the diction of your manager, coworkers, or workplace can help ease social anxiety relating to workplace communication.
While it may feel strange at first, it can build a feeling of community of camaraderie over time, lessening overall anxiety and potentially improving relationships with coworkers and higher-ups.
Verbal Communication Techniques for Outside the Workplace
It is often wise to separate work life from personal life, as many careers require a certain standard of professionalism. Adopting the diction and social habits of coworkers while at work is excellent, and can be helpful, but imitating friends and family to enjoy increased closeness does not always work well.
Relationships that are not business-related need a different touch, and there are a few vocal communication techniques that can help improve these relationships among friends and family members. Honesty is the first rule to follow.
Not only can close friends and family members tell when we are lying, but they can also hold onto that lie for a very long time. Liars are untrustworthy people whose words mean very little, so being dishonest is one of the worst ways to practice vocal communication.
Friendliness goes a long way. While it can be challenging to maintain an attitude of friendliness and helpfulness at all times, it is vital to practice friendliness whenever possible. Small acts of kindness can make a tremendous impact on a person’s self-esteem, self-image, and societal reputation.
Speaking more slowly, or less often, is also a great way to improve the way that we communicate with others. Instead of being in a rush to make a point, tripping over words and madly gesturing while searching for the right phrase, it is better to think about what you need to communicate beforehand, and clearly and reasonably express that idea.
Individuals that are viewed as calm and collected are far more approachable and easy to strike up a conversation with than those that seem frantic or scatter-brained.
Nonverbal Communication Techniques
Nonverbal communication, such as body language, dramatically influences the effectiveness and intent of vocal communication. As such, it is imperative to use proper nonverbal communication techniques, no matter who you are speaking with. Doing so can completely alter the interpretation of the message being given.
What is Body Language?
Body language is the primary form of nonverbal communication that people use to express their innermost feelings, thoughts, and desires. Frequently, body language presents itself as an unconscious reflection of these internal machinations. However, with practice and understanding, people can manipulate their natural body language to facilitate verbal communication and bolster the effectiveness of their intended message.
For example, those who are naturally uncomfortable in new social situations may cross their arms as a way to make themselves feel safer and more at ease. However, this sends a message to all around them that they are unreceptive to open communication. Being aware of poor body language habits is the first step to changing and improving them.
There are hundreds if not thousands of books and articles published about body language habits and practices. Still, there are a few key points that can improve any relationship, whether it be a workplace friendship or a long-lasting romance.
Nonverbal Communications Techniques for the Workplace
Posture, eye contact, and facial expression are essential components of excellent nonverbal workplace communication. Those who arrive to work slouched over, unwilling to make small talk or eye contact with coworkers, and with unpleasant or downright grumpy facial expression are unlikely to make a great impression on coworkers or supervisors.
Having and maintaining an upright posture is the first step to expressing positive nonverbal communication. It shows focus, interest, and energy, all of which are extremely attractive to employers. This sense of power can also extend to coworkers, helping them to feel more energized and more capable as they go through their day.
Eye contact is another essential body language habit to consider. Instinctually, our eyes tend to shift around erratically when taking in new information or processing an overload of sensory input. Those attempting to concoct a quick lie tend to suffer from this natural tendency, which is why ‘shifty eyes’ are typically associated with the act of being dishonest.
If a coworker or supervisor asks a question and you are not sure how to respond, it is better either immediately inform them that you are unsure, or to take a moment to think about the question before answering. You can also let your coworker or supervisor know that you need a moment to respond. The last thing you want to do is either lie or look around the room while you think of a response.
Facial expression is also significant for healthy workplace relationships. A gentle smile is typically at this is necessary when speaking with coworkers or a supervisor, and is often seen as a sign of respect, understanding, and familiarity. It can be easy to ‘zone out’ during work and adopt what is known as a ‘resting face,’ which tends to be rather grumpy.
Recognizing when this occurs and why is key to changing the habit. While it would be unsettling to find a coworker that is always grinning for no reason, ensuring that your demeanor is as pleasant and calm as possible throughout the day can have a remarkable effect on how coworkers and managers view your performance.
Nonverbal Communication Techniques for Outside the Workplace
There is a litany of nonverbal cues that people subconsciously use to express intent, desire, and emotion. From chest-pointing, toe-pointing, hair-playing, and more, there are several everyday body language habits that people use to improve relationships outside of work.
Mirroring is one of the most significant ways of telling how much a person likes you or trusts you. When out and about with friends or family, you may begin to notice that certain friends or family members start imitating your gestures, posture, stance, or expressions. This is called mirroring. It is a subconscious behavior that can help socially anxious individuals confirm the level of comfort shared among a group.
For example, if a group of friends all decides to cross their legs, they most likely feel a secure connection and affinity for one another. If their posture and stances are entirely different, they may be struggling to connect and communicate.
Toe-pointing and chest-pointing are attention-based forms of body language. When we are interested in someone or something, we tend to naturally point our whole bodies in the direction of that person or object. Not only can we express total focus by ultimately facing the person speaking with us, but we can also interpret others’ interests by acknowledging their posture as well.
Self-grooming, such as playing with hair, are nonverbal cues of attraction. When spotting a possible mate, it’s nearly impossible not to want to look as good as possible, which for many men and women means straightening the hair, checking to see if there’s anything caught in the teeth, and sucking in an overly broad gut. If your date continues to play with their hair throughout dinner, they may be subconsciously attempting to make themselves more attractive to you.
Written Communication Techniques
Writing effectively, either for work or for pleasure, requires a great deal of practice and a comprehensive understanding of your target audience. After all, an email to a manager is likely written very differently from a personal letter to a relative.
Written Communication Techniques for the Workplace
Knowing your audience, understanding your intent, and keeping things concise are the three most significant ways to improve written communication at work. Doing these three things can lessen confusion and generate quick and effective results.
A memo that was written to address a large workforce is unlikely to be appealing to any particular employee, as it is too broad. It may also be too long for many employees to digest fully. Communicating directly with specific coworkers, employers, or employees is a fantastic alternative.
It is crucial to be aware of the audience that will read any written correspondence at work. Being too informal can be viewed as unprofessional while being too formal can feel impersonal. Writing for a targeted audience, whether it be clients or coworkers, is massively important.
Intent also plays a critical role in writing for the workplace. Poor diction can turn a positive message into a sarcastic, scathing remark. As paralanguage influences the perceived intent of vocal communication, so diction influences written communication. Using the right words and phrases for the intended audience helps to minimize misunderstandings of flaws in purpose.
But keeping written communications short and concise is not only helpful in delivering an immediate or urgent notice, but it is also a sign of professionalism. Small talk with coworkers is a valuable thing to partake in, but there are a time and a place for such forms of communication.
Expressing precisely what needs to be revealed, without fluff or wordiness, is a valuable trait for any employee. Employers are bound to appreciate concise and clear messages over unnecessarily wordy ones.
Written Communication Techniques for Outside the Workplace
Those who enjoy writing in their free time for pleasure can also benefit from adopting a few fundamental written communication techniques. Whether an individual enjoys writing fiction, poetry, or non-fiction work, writing for the needs of the audience is crucial.
Understanding and writing for a particular audience requires writers to exhibit a comprehensive understanding of that audience. For example, it would be challenging to write a book about child-rearing if you didn’t have a child, had little experience with children, and didn’t know anyone with children. Excellent writing shows care and commitment toward a particular audience.
Length, style, and diction are all variable aspects of personal writing. Once the targeted audience is understood, a writer may need to perform research on that group in addition to researching genres, styles, and writing techniques that adhere to that audience’s preferences. However, because these rules tend to fluctuate and vary from audience to audience, there are very few set techniques that work for all writers.
Visual Communication Techniques
Improving visual communication techniques often involves becoming more familiar with software and programs that help facilitate the creation of graphs, charts, and spreadsheets. However, visual communication can also be images and media, which is why graphic designers and web designers consistently research new content creation software and tools.
Society judges what effective visual communication is and what it is not, so having a basic understanding of cultural trends, societal norms, and recent media innovations are crucial to improving visual communication techniques and practices.
Creating visual images or visual media on behalf of a company or business requires an understanding of client needs and product intent. Once the needs of the client have been settled, a visual communications creator must utilize a wide range of programs and tools to produce the desired visual product.
The best way to improve visual communication inside of the workplace or outside of it is to practice drawing, sketching, illustration, and graphic design skills. This is especially true of those who work in marketing or advertising.
Adopting user-friendly software that easily transfers inputted data into colorful graphs or charts is a convenient option for those who find themselves in and out of conference rooms, having to give presentations to groups of people. While proper vocal communication is imperative to the success of such ventures, the visual communication presented can significantly alter the outcome of such a meeting.
Using the four types of communication, anyone can adequately and efficiently express even the most abstract concepts or ideas. Communication isn’t limited to the words one uses to share information. It also heavily relies on posture, vocal intonation, facial expression, and so much more.
Understanding how these types of communication work, both singularly and together, can help you become more aware of your communication successes and failures and make wise changes in communication habits and techniques!