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Types of Communication – Back to Basics

Updated: June 5, 2024 | Published: March 28, 2020

Updated: June 5, 2024

Published: March 28, 2020


Trying to brush up on your basic communication knowledge? We’ve got you covered — read all about the five types of communication: verbal, nonverbal, written, visual, and listening. Yes, listening is a type of communication too! Communication happens between the sender and receiver, and can occur in groups as well. People often take it for granted, but it is an essential part of being human.

Learn all about the five types of communication below.

Importance of Communication

Effective communication is critical for personal relationships, professional success, and societal cohesion. Clear and concise communication leads to understanding, collaboration, and conflict resolution. It’s so important in all aspects of life, helping you build strong connections and solve problems.

Variety in Communication: Choose Wisely

We are lucky as humans to have a whole host of communication types available for us at our fingertips. But with great variety comes the responsibility to choose your method wisely!

For example, the best way to apply for a job is a written message (preferably over email) to the hiring manager — not a verbal, spoken message in passing. Similarly, you may not want to break bad news using a written form over text, but rather in verbal/visual form where you can accurately portray your message in a sensitive matter. More on these types below!

Interpersonal Communication

When referencing communication types, people are usually speaking about interpersonal communication, as opposed to intrapersonal communication. The difference is simple. Interpersonal communication is communication that occurs between people or between groups, whereas intrapersonal communication is communication that occurs within one’s own mind.

One common form of interpersonal communication is that which occurs between a small group of people. Group members are usually face-to-face and participate in dialogue with one another, which can either be directed, planned, or spontaneous. Having open interpersonal communication with others helps to break down barriers and increase understanding. It

important for intercultural communication, workplace communication, and for personal relationships as well.

Four University of the People students at a cafe table Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Types of Communication

The five types of communication you need to know about are verbal communication, nonverbal communication, written communication, visual communication, and listening.

1. Verbal Communication

Verbal communication encompasses all communication using spoken words, or unspoken words as in the case with sign language. It is important to understand how to effectively communicate your ideas verbally in order to avoid misunderstandings and maximize interest while you speak. Make sure to use the right type of language, speak clearly, know your audience, respond in the best way, and use an appropriate tone when speaking.

Two students sitting on bench talking in winter Photo by Anna Vander Stel on Unsplash

2. Nonverbal Communication

What is actually being said is only half the battle — the rest lies in what isn’t being said. This means your tone, facial expressions, body language, hand movements, and eye contact. When you make yourself aware of what the rest of you is doing as you speak, you can make corrections and eventually use all the right nonverbal cues to convey your point.

3. Written Communication

Written communication is a form of verbal communication, but it is so different than spoken verbal communication that this form gets its own separate type. Written communication can take the form of anything you write or type such as letters, emails, notes, texts, billboards, even a message written in the sky! With written communication, it is important you know your audience, your purpose, and maintain consistency throughout your written message.

4. Visual Communication

Visual communication is one you may not have heard of, but it is one that complements the other types of communication well. Visual communication is delivering information, messages, and points by way of graphical representations, or visual aids.
Some commonly used examples are slide presentations, diagrams, physical models, drawings, and illustrations. When you use visual communication in addition to verbal, nonverbal, and written communication, you create a very effective way for your message to be heard and understood.

Thought bubble made of crumpled yellow papers on green background Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

5. Listening

Listening is a surprisingly important part of communication and in order to be a great communicator, you must master the art of listening. Remember that listening doesn’t just mean hearing, or politely waiting for your turn to speak. When others are speaking, you should practice active listening, which means that you are engaging your mind while the person speaks, intently focusing on what they are saying.

Formal Communication vs Informal Communication

Another way that types of communication can be broken down into is in formal vs informal communication. There are times when one should be used over the other, such as when delivering a speech (formal), or when making brunch plans with a friend (informal).

In formal communication, where conversation partners are part of a group, organization, or society, there are three types of communication:

  • Vertical: Information flows freely up and down the organizational structure. For example, your boss’s boss speaks to you, you speak to your boss, and you speak to the employees under you.
  • Horizontal: This is where information or communication flows across a structure. For example, you and your coworkers speak together back and forth.
  • Diagonal: Finally, there is diagonal formal communication where all levels communicate with one another in any direction.

Online Communication

Communicating over the internet comes with special considerations. When you combine anonymity with a wide reach, messages can get muddled. Just think about how communication works on social media platforms.

With the University of the People, however, we make it a point to deliver the most effective online communication possible — we are 100% online, after all. Through their discussion boards and peer assessments, students communicate thoughts and ideas wherever and whenever they want.

University of the People student typing on a laptop Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Emotional Awareness in Communication

One of the most poorly covered, but very important aspects of communication is emotional awareness. Emotional awareness is the ability to understand others’ feelings as well as your own, and take note of how that may be affecting a current situation. It is imperative that you have high emotional awareness in order to be an effective communicator. Here are some ways to improve your emotional awareness in communication:

  • Use Empathy: Empathetic people are able to understand others’ emotions. Once you have that down, you can start to relate to them during your conversation.
  • Consider Your Own Emotions: Your own feelings may be getting in the way of either delivering or receiving the message clearly. Check how you are feeling and be aware of how that may influence your communication ability.
  • Think of Others’ Emotions: Remember the ways your own mood and emotions affect your ability to communicate and apply that to others. Take time to consider that someone’s mood or previous experience may be affecting their actions.
  • Build Trust: You can build trust by having open and honest conversations, as well as matching your nonverbal cues such as tone, facial expressions, and body language to your verbal ones.
  • Recognize and Correct Misunderstandings: Misunderstandings are the barrier to great communication. The more quickly to discover and correct them, the more calm everyone will be, and the quicker you’ll get on the right track.

Communicating in Difficult Situations

One of the hardest parts of communication is when you need to deliver some not-so-great information. It’s important to choose the best type of communication in that case, whether it is in person, written, formal or informal — only you know the message and who you need to deliver it to.

When you communicate in difficult situations, it can be overwhelming or emotional for both the sender and receiver of the message. Try to remember emotional awareness in difficult situations and you will do fine!

Tips for Improving Your Communication Style

Enhance your communication skills with these practical strategies:

  • Active Listening: Focus fully on the speaker, avoid interrupting, and respond thoughtfully. This shows respect and ensures you understand their message.
  • Clarity: Speak clearly and concisely. Use simple language and avoid jargon to make your message easy to understand.
  • Empathy: Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Understanding their feelings and perspectives helps build stronger connections.
  • Adaptability: Adjust your communication style based on the context and audience. Different situations may require different approaches.
  • Continuous Practice and Feedback: Regularly practice your communication skills and seek feedback to refine and improve them.

By focusing on these areas, you can improve both your verbal and non-verbal communication, leading to more effective interactions.

The Bottom Line

It’s important to know and understand all types of communication so that you can learn to use them effectively and become a great communicator. You are already on your way there after reading this guide — happy communicating!

FAQ Section

What are the fundamental types of communication essential for effective understanding?

The fundamental types of communication are verbal, nonverbal, written, visual, and listening. Each type plays a crucial role in ensuring effective understanding and conveying messages accurately.

Can effective communication skills be learned and improved over time?

Effective communication skills can be learned and improved through practice, feedback, and training. Regularly engaging in conversations, seeking constructive criticism, and participating in communication workshops can enhance these skills.

How do communication skills contribute to personal and professional success?

Good communication skills contribute to personal and professional success by improving relationships, facilitating teamwork, and enhancing problem-solving abilities. Clear communication helps express ideas effectively and build trust.

What ethical considerations should be kept in mind when communicating with others?

Ethical considerations include honesty, respect, confidentiality, and fairness. It’s important to be truthful, respect others’ viewpoints, maintain privacy, and ensure communication is free from bias and prejudice.

Can miscommunication lead to conflicts, and how can these conflicts be resolved?

Yes, miscommunication can lead to conflicts. These conflicts can be resolved through active listening, seeking clarification, addressing misunderstandings promptly, and engaging in open and respectful dialogue.

How can clear and concise communication enhance teamwork and collaboration?

Clear and concise communication enhances teamwork and collaboration by ensuring all team members understand their roles, responsibilities, and project goals. It reduces misunderstandings and fosters a collaborative work environment.

How can technology enhance or hinder communication in modern society?

Technology can enhance communication by providing various instant and efficient interaction platforms, such as emails, video calls, and messaging apps. However, it can hinder communication through misunderstandings in text-based communication and the lack of nonverbal cues.

What are the consequences of poor communication in various contexts?

Poor communication can lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, decreased productivity, and strained relationships in both personal and professional contexts. It can also result in errors and decreased team morale.

What role does body language play in conveying messages accurately?

Body language plays a significant role in conveying messages accurately by complementing verbal communication. It includes facial expressions, gestures, posture, and eye contact, which can reinforce or contradict what is being said.

How can you proactively assess and improve your communication skills?

You can assess and improve your communication skills by seeking feedback, practicing active listening, engaging in public speaking, participating in communication training sessions, and self-reflecting on your communication experiences.