Communication is integral to the success and efficiency of every workplace. It is often described as a “soft skill” or interpersonal trait and encompasses all the ways individuals convey and receive information. There are several ways that people communicate, and understanding all of them will help you share information effectively. In this article, we explain the different types of communication and how to improve your skills in each one.
What is communication?
Communication is the process of giving and receiving information. This might include sharing ideas, explaining your feelings or describing something. Being able to communicate effectively is essential in nearly any environment, including the workplace. At work, you may use communication to convey thoughts or ideas, build relationships, delegate tasks and manage a team.
Developing strong communication skills can help contribute to your career success, make you a more attractive job candidate and help you expand your professional network. Like other skills, learning to communicate effectively requires time and patience. With practice, your communication skills may become some of your most valuable assets.
Types of communication
Communication typically falls into one of four categories: Verbal, nonverbal, written and visual. For example, you might use written communication when applying for a job or sending an email. On the other hand, you will likely rely on verbal communication during an in-person interview or when sharing a presentation with a group.
Identifying these communication styles and understanding how to improve them can help increase your chances of success in your chosen career.
Here are the four basic categories of communication styles with tips for how to develop and improve each one:
Written communication involves writing, typing or printing using letters and numbers to transmit information. It is also the primary method for providing a record of information for reference later on. Writing is the way information is conveyed in books, pamphlets, blogs, letters and memos. Electronic communication such as emails and direct messaging are also considered written forms of communication and are commonly used in today's workplace.
Here are some ways to develop written communication skills:
- Keep it simple. It's important to keep your message short, clear and concise when communicating in writing. Even in situations when providing a lot of detail is necessary, such as giving instructions, consider your audience and find areas where you can communicate your message with clarity and brevity.
- Avoid relying on tone. It can be challenging to communicate a specific tone in writing. For example, jokes and sarcasm may be interpreted differently depending on the audience. When communicating in writing, keep your message simple and plain. Later, you can follow up with verbal communications which will allow you to give your message more personality.
- Review your writing. Take some time to review your emails, letters or memos to help you identify errors and ensure your message is being accurately conveyed. For important types of communication intended for a large number of people, it might be helpful to have someone else review your writing, such as a trusted associate.
- Gather examples of writing you find effective. Save emails, memos and other types of communication you receive that you feel are helpful or interesting. You can use these examples as references for your own writing.
Visual communication involves the expression of ideas using images. These can include photographs, paintings, drawings, charts and graphs. Visual media is often used in presentations to illustrate key concepts along with verbal/written communication. Because there are various learning styles, visual communication may enhance some people's understanding of ideas and information.
Here are a few steps you can take to develop your visual communication skills:
- Make sure your images are relevant. Before including images in a presentation or email, make sure they are relevant. Including unrelated visuals may confuse your audience and prevent your message from being communicated effectively. You may want to ask others for their feedback first. Seeking another perspective can confirm whether or not the image you wish to use actually adds value.
- Be aware of your audience. Use visuals that your audience will understand. For example, if you are displaying a graphic with important data, take some time to provide your audience with context. You should never use images that may represent sensitive or offensive topics. If you aren't sure whether a visual may be considered offensive, it's best to leave it out.
Verbal communication involves the use of language to share information and ideas through speaking or using sign language. It is one of the most common types of communication, especially in the workplace, where it is used during phone calls, video conferences, presentations, one-on-one conversations and meetings. In addition to being the most common, it is also one of the most efficient. Verbal communication often supports nonverbal and written communication.
Here are ways you can develop your verbal communication skills:
- Speak confidently and articulate well. This is most important when presenting ideas to a group. Make sure everyone can hear you, be confident and choose your words carefully so that you're easy to understand.
- Listen attentively. An important part of verbal communication involves listening and hearing what others have to say. Active listening skills contribute to the success of meetings, presentations and especially one-on-one conversations. By practicing your listening skills, you can improve your skills as a communicator.
- Practice avoiding filler words. When giving a presentation, it may be tempting to use filler words such as “um”, “like”, “so” or “yeah”. These expressions may seem like natural ways to finish a statement or pause to collect your thoughts, but they are often distracting. Practice your presentation with a trusted friend or colleague to help you point out the times you use filler expressions. Consider replacing them by taking a breath instead.
Nonverbal communication is the use of body language, gestures and facial expressions to communicate information to others. Body language can be both intentional and unintentional. When you hear a pleasing remark you may automatically respond with a smile, which is a pleasant yet unintended response, or you may smile intentionally, even when you are uncomfortable, to put your listeners at ease. Nonverbal communication can be useful in understanding the way other people think, feel and express themselves.
Sometimes people display 'closed' body language inadvertently. They may cross their arms or hunch their shoulders, which may signal that they are feeling anxious, angry or uncertain. 'Open” body language, such as someone is sitting with both feet on the ground, arms open and palms relaxed, often indicates that someone is calm and open to receiving and understanding information.
Here are ways you can develop nonverbal communication skills:
- Understand how your emotions are expressed physically. Throughout the day, be mindful of the way your body expresses the feelings you have in various situations. You may notice that your stomach tightens if you feel anxious or your shoulders become tense when you are frustrated. Working on your self-awareness and being attentive to your body's signals can help you employ nonverbal communication to your benefit.
- Be intentional. Positive body language can be reassuring and empowering, while your gently furrowed brow may signal that you are struggling to understand a concept. Intentional body language accompanied by direct verbal communication is an effective way to seek clarification.
- Practice nonverbal communications you see as effective. Perhaps certain facial expressions or body language has helped you understand a colleague. Draw on these observations as you manage your own nonverbal communications.
Developing and improving your communication skills takes time and practice. Set goals for improving your communication skills, and identify and work through the things you want to improve in a structured way. Consider breaking down the steps you need to take to improve the way you express yourself. It can also be helpful to practice your communication skills with the people you interact with regularly, such as your friends, colleagues, managers and mentors. They may be able to provide you with feedback on which areas would be best for you to focus on.
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