A Guide to the Types of Communication in the Workplace

Recognize the types of communication in the workplace so you can focus your training accordingly.

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A Guide to the Types of Communication in the Workplace

When it comes to having good communication in the workplace, it’s important to understand the various types of communication. Why? Because, when we think about communicating, most of us only think about verbal, one-to-one communication. The truth is that face-to-face conversations make up only 5% of business communication, and phone calls comprise only 9% of business communication. This means that the remaining 86% of communication among clients, customers, and employees takes place by online tools, email and other rather indirect forms. That’s a lot to consider!

It’s important that your managers and other employees know how to communicate verbally, nonverbally, textually, and visually. They should be able to communicate with those at the same hierarchical level as they are (lateral communication) as well as with those positioned above and below them. When everyone can use effective communication techniques, you’ll notice significant benefits — among them increased self-awareness and improved employee productivity and engagement.

Verbal communication

Verbal communication, also called oral communication, occurs anytime that someone speaks. It can take the form of meetings, phone conversations, presentations, watercooler chats, or quick exchanges in the hall. Work with your employees so that they understand: when speaking with other people, be clear and concise. Avoid jargon and corporate-speak, which can be off-putting and can make you sound insincere. It’s important to remember that successful communication, at its root, involves the ability to be polite and respectful.

An example of bad verbal communication

“Hey, Joe.”

“Hello, Sarah.”

“I need you to give 110% when you leverage the bleeding edge SmithCo campaign and send it over the wall to the execs.”


What’s this manager trying to say? Sarah’s communication skills obviously need work. Dissecting this sentence requires a corporate thesaurus, but when we review an article about corporate jargon, we learn that this manager is trying to convey that she needs Joe to try his best on the SmithCo campaign in order to impress the executives at SmithCo and, ultimately, to acquire their advertising contract. Unfortunately, the words Sarah uses are ineffective and unclear, and they set unreasonable expectations.

Most people, upon hearing that sentence, will stop listening somewhere around the phrase “110%.” We all know that we can only give 100% in any given situation, so your employee’s mind automatically goes to all the reasons why giving 110% would be impossible. In most cases, if you speak corporate jargon, you’ve lost your audience. If your employee manages to hang on long enough to hear the words “bleeding edge,” “SmithCo,” and “over the wall,” it’s likely that he has no idea what you want, so all you’re going to get is a nod and “Sure thing, Sarah.” Your chance at clear communication ended before it ever began.

Avoid jargon and corporate-speak, which can be off-putting and can make you sound insincere. It’s important to remember that successful communication, at its root, involves the ability to be polite and respectful.

An an example of good verbal communication

It’s important to note that good communication involves both the speaker and the listener!

“Hey, Joe, can I talk to you about the SmithCo advertising campaign for a minute?”

“Sure thing, Sarah. I was just on my way to talk to the video production team. Would you like to come and see what we’ve got?”

“I have a meeting in 5 minutes, but were they able to get all those night shots we wanted?”

“The shots are blurry. That’s what I’m going to look at now, but I should have a draft copy of the video with the fixes that we decide on now by 3 p.m.”

“Great. I think I have some time at 3:15. Can I watch that with you?”

“Absolutely. See you then.”

This attempt at verbal communication is much stronger. The burden of understanding isn’t only on Joe, the employee. Both parties to the conversation have acknowledged that several different departments and several different people are working on the SmithCo advertising campaign and that the end result is taking longer than expected due to hangups in the quality of the video.

This time, though, instead of telling Joe that it’s all on him to make sure the campaign is perfect, Sarah shows that she is willing to help. With everyone’s input and insight, they’ll have a better chance of getting the advertising campaign to SmithCo on time.

Nonverbal communication

Along with verbal communication, employees and managers should pay attention to their nonverbal communication. This includes facial expressions, eye contact and movement, posture, and gestures. Since our body language can be unconscious, it’s important to be self-aware when communicating face-to-face or in videos where people can watch you. This is because nonverbal cues can reinforce a message, contradict it, or act as a substitution for the verbal message.

  • To reinforce the message, match your body language to your words. Saying that someone is doing a good job while smiling reinforces the message. Saying it while you grimace makes them think you are being sarcastic and actually are criticizing them.
  • Be careful not to contradict the message you’re trying to deliver. It can happen in very subtle ways.
  • Be careful, too, not to substitute for the verbal message. If someone asks a question and you either shake your head, nod, or shrug your shoulders instead of speaking, that nonverbal action gives an answer, but it lacks context and is open for interpretation.

Written communication

Since vocal tone, body language, and inflection cannot be determined via text, it is extremely important to use the correct words in order to fully convey the message.

Businesses communicate most frequently using writing. Written communication comes as emails, instant messaging, text messages, white boards, letters, written forms and other paper documents. Since vocal tone, body language, and inflection cannot be determined via text, it is extremely important to use the correct words in order to fully convey the message. Be sure to run spell-check and a grammar check before sending the email or distributing the directive. It’s also important to know when to use each of these various types of messages.

An example of a bad email

Email Subject: URGENT

Joe, I need to see you in my office right now!

Signed – Manager Bob

This email communication is hostile and ineffective. When is “right now”? Since this is an email, Joe may not read it right away. Was this regarding an emergency that has now passed? Does it mean that the manager might be even more furious than he appears to be in this email? Neither the subject line nor the message indicate the topic that Bob wants to discuss, so Joe won’t know to bring the appropriate materials to Bob’s office. This can waste time and create needless stress for Joe. It also indicates that, most likely, Bob’s sole purpose in demanding an in-office meeting is to reprimand Joe. What if Bob isn’t in his office when Joe arrives? Joe’s productivity is shot until he gets to the bottom of this email. Is that what Bob wanted?

An example of a good email

Subject: Can we meet this afternoon to discuss the SmithCo Campaign?

Good morning Joe,

I was hoping to speak to you later today about the SmithCo campaign. Does four this afternoon work for you? I’d like to go over all the videos and documentation we have so far, since this project is supposed to be completed by the end of next week.

Signed, Manager Bob

This email is much more effective. It appears that Joe was given plenty of time to see it, to get his thoughts and information together, and to respond before the appointed hour. It states clearly what Bob would like to talk about so that Joe can bring the appropriate materials. In addition, it also (politely) asks if Joe’s available at four (showing that his boss recognizes that Joe’s time is valuable), and it leaves room to negotiate the time of the meeting, if needed. This email is more apt to facilitate a positive discussion, so that they can finish the SmithCo campaign on time.

An example of a bad text message

Bob: Hello, Joe

People often make the mistake of sending a sort of preliminary, warmup text message with a conversational greeting. These openings are simply a waste of time. When communicating by text, it’s best to get to the point quickly so that the other person can provide an answer or input. Don’t exchange pleasantries before getting to the point.

An example of a good text message:

Bob: Joe, I was wondering if you could send me that file on the SmithCo campaign. I would like to review it before lunch.

This text message tells Joe exactly what Bob needs and when he needs it. Now, Joe can email Bob and/or file-share him the needed information as soon as he sees the message or when the notification of the message appears on his cell phone or computer.

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Visual communication

Visual communication in the corporate world often involves public speaking with the use of PowerPoint presentations, diagrams, and/or charts.

When you take on this task, you must practice your speech along with your presentation. You also must assure yourself that all of your visual communication is easy to read and understand. If the presentation, diagram, or chart is to be used in a conference room, make sure that the text, charts, and diagrams are large enough to be seen by the people in the back of the room.

It can also be helpful to give everyone a copy of the diagrams and charts, either in paper form or as a digital file, so they can follow along and make notes.

It’s also very important to do a practice run-through of the presentation in the venue, to make sure that the technology works and that you understand how to change screens, increase the size of the images on the fly, and adjust the sound (if sound is also being used). By taking these steps, you are ensuring that your presentation will run smoothly and you’ll be giving everyone the best chance of understanding and digesting the material that you’re offering, so that it can be put into practice.

Master the types of communication in the workplace

Communication plays a vital role in business. By mastering these 4 methods of communication, you will help to enhance the productivity of your business, get your projects completed on time, make your employees feel valued, and improve your company culture. To learn more about formal and informal communication techniques, check out our communication checklist.

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