What are the three types of communication?
Excellent communication skills are key to business success. In fact, according to Warren Buffet, they can significantly increase your earning power. In an interview at Stanford he once commented, “The one easy way to become worth 50 percent more than you are now, is to hone your communication skills. If you can’t communicate, it’s like winking at a girl in the dark – nothing happens. You can have all the brainpower in the world, but you have to be able to transmit it.” So, it’s worth learning more about the three types of communication.
Communication, at its most fundamental, is the transmission of a message from a sender to a receiver. That message could be verbal (via words, either spoken or written); it could be visual (via pictures, graphics or video; or it could be non-verbal, (via facial expression, body language or tone of voice). Much of our business communication is a combination of these elements.
Verbal communication is either written or spoken. In business, written communication can be anything from an email to a proposal. Spoken communication varies from a quick meeting update to a formal presentation. Spoken communication takes place in real time (unless it’s recorded). Written communication, by contrast, takes place over a longer period of time.
The most important element of verbal communication is clarity. Your message must be well structured and make logical sense. Ideally, it will use as few words as possible to get the point across. Most importantly, it needs to be framed in a way that will make it acceptable to the reader or listener. George Orwell summed up the rules of verbal communication perfectly when he said, “Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. Never use jargon if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. But break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”
That last point is key. Being aware of the feelings of your listener/s and framing the message appropriately is of paramount importance, especially if the message you are delivering is difficult or the stakes are high.
While the process may be the same, high-stakes verbal communication requires more planning, reflection, and skill than normal day-to-day interactions at work. Examples of high-stakes communication include asking for a raise, giving a presentation and discussions where opinions vary or emotions run strong. One of the most consistent recommendations from communications experts is to work toward using ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ as well as ‘and’ instead of ‘but’ in these situations. In addition, you need to be aware that how you are communicating is equally as important as what you are communicating.
Non Verbal Communication
As mentioned above, while what you say is a vital part of any verbal communication, but how you say it can be even more important. We can send a very clear message without saying a single word.
Research shows that nonverbal cues can affect whether you get a job offer, make a sale or gain buy-in to an idea. Your body language, facial expression and tone of voice demonstrate your credibility and trustworthiness to your audience. To be effective communicators, we need to align our body language, appearance, and tone with the words we’re trying to convey.
Here are a few more important nonverbal types of communication cues:
A firm handshake is a great way to convey confidence. An open posture helps to establish trust. A direct smile conveys warmth and sincerity.
What is considered ‘appropriate’ when it comes to the directness and duration of eye contact will vary greatly across cultures but, as a general rule of thumb, being able to look someone in the eye is considered a sign of trustworthiness.
The human face can produce thousands of different expressions. Our brains register micro expressions unconsciously and they can give us a ‘feeling’ about someone. This is known as affect. The easiest way to connect with someone, either in person or via video conference, is to smile when you first make eye contact.
Your body position relative to another person is another powerful silent messenger that conveys interest and connection. In interview situations, experts advise mirroring an interviewer’s tendency to lean in or settle back. The subtle repetition of the other person’s posture conveys that we are listening and responding.
The meaning of a simple touch differs between individuals, genders, and cultures. In Mexico, when meeting for business, men might grasp one another by the arm. To pull away is seen as rude. In the US and Europe, we place great value in a firm handshake. But handshaking as a competitive sport (aka hand-mangling) is definitely to be discouraged!
An interesting nonverbal communication is knowing that the appropriate distance varies between cultures and genders but standing too far away from a colleague (such as a public speaking distance of more than seven feet) or too close (the intimate distance for embracing) can thwart an effective verbal interaction. To learn more about body language watch this keynote from ex FBI investigator Joe Navarro.
Another important element of nonverbal communication is tone, which can completely change the perceived meaning of a message. For an example of the importance of nonverbal communication, imagine that you’re a customer interested in opening a new bank account. At one bank, the teller looks you in the eye when she speaks. Her voice is confident and her words are easy to understand. “Thank you for considering HSBC. We appreciate this opportunity and would love to explore ways that we can work together to help your business grow,” she says with a friendly smile.
At the second bank, the teller looks down at his desk as he speaks. He mumbles, shifts in his seat and fidgets with his hands. His words say, “Thank you for considering Nationwide. We appreciate this opportunity and would love to explore ways that we can work together to help your business grow,” but his voice conveys no enthusiasm or warmth.
Which bank would you choose?
If a speaker’s words and body language don’t match their message, the mismatch between verbal and nonverbal cues can cause the receiver to distrust the message.
The third important type of communication is visual communication, which can be in the form of handouts or PowerPoint slides using images, graphs or charts. These types of communication tools complement other forms of communication by adding context and depicting the meaning of information in a different way. Visual learners find understanding information they can see much easier.
If you are considering sharing a visual aid in your presentation or email, consider asking others for feedback. Adding visuals can sometimes make concepts confusing or muddled. Getting a third-party perspective can help you decide whether the visual aid adds value to your communications.
Also, consider your audience. Putting pictures in a team presentation could create a connection with your listeners but could completely destroy your credibility in a board-level presentation.
Key takeaways for the three types of communication:
The three types of communication are verbal, nonverbal and visual. Verbal communication has the advantage of immediate feedback and is best when the stakes are high. Verbal communications are also impacted by non-verbal signals such as body language, facial expression and tone of voice. Written communication has the advantage of being able to be sent at any time. It’s best for conveying large amounts of complex information. Visual communication helps certain types of people to understand the message more easily.
If you’d like to learn more about how to improve your verbal communication skills, check out our communication skills courses here or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.