Communication is simply the act of conveying information, and it is always going on around us. Whether a person is speaking to an audience, typing an email, waving at a friend or putting up a sign, he or she is engaged in communication. When it comes to conveying information, humans have many methods at their disposal. Some methods involve using formal languages, like English or Spanish; others transmit messages without a single word or sound. People even communicate unawares. However, all methods of communication can be broken down into four basic types.
People are probably most familiar with verbal communication. Verbal communication refers to the oral transmission, or speaking, of information. Much of verbal communication takes place face-to-face, but not all. Spoken messages transmitted by telephone, radio, television and other media also count. Verbal communication always involves words, sound, speaking and language, and can be interpersonal or public. Over 3,000 languages exist in the world to facilitate verbal communication.
Though verbal communication is not the most commonly used type, it has its own particular advantages. Speakers can exercise precise control over their messages, tailoring their delivery speed, volume and tone to fit the needs of listeners. If listeners misinterpret a speaker’s message, the speaker can clarify any statements made and resolve misunderstandings on the spot. Verbal communication is also great for explaining difficult or abstract concepts, making it vital to education and business.
Experts estimate that up to two-thirds of all human communication is nonverbal, making it the most common method of conveying information. Body language, gestures, facial expressions, touch, posture and even clothing are all forms of nonverbal communication that can reveal a person’s thoughts, attitudes and desires. Since physical expression is innate to human behavior, most people are unconscious of the amount of information they transmit to others. Crossed arms suggest defensiveness, a tapping foot shows impatience, and a long embrace denotes intimacy. Nearly all forms of nonverbal communication derive their meaning from culture and context. Plugging one’s ears in a classroom conveys a very different message than plugging one’s ears at an air show.
All types of communication contain nonverbal elements. In speech, these elements are known as paralanguage and include rate, pitch, volume, intonation and speaking style. Nonverbal elements in written communication include handwriting style and page layout. Nonverbal communication plays an essential role in interpersonal relationships and can lead to success if managed properly.
Written communication refers to either manually or electronically composing messages that can be read in a formal language. Letters, emails, memos, essays, text messages and books are all forms of written communication. Written communication involves the use of grammar, spelling, syntax, organization and punctuation. Since written communication lacks the immediacy of speaking, as well as many of the nonverbal elements that convey intent in face-to-face interactions, misunderstandings frequently arise with its use.
However, written communication offers several unique advantages. First of all, messages can be repeatedly refined and amended for clarity before being transmitted to the intended recipient. Secondly, the recipient can preserve messages for future reference, eliminating the need for message repetition. Written messages can also be easily copied and sent to others. Finally, communicating by correspondence provides a record of communication that can be extremely useful in business or legal matters.
Visual communication involves displaying information visually through such media as signs, posters, paintings, graphs, sculpture, architectural design, photographs and videos. Most often, visual communication is paired with written or verbal communication to create memorable and highly compelling messages. Communicating visually is an effective means of conveying information because it harmonizes with how humans instinctively learn. The brain naturally processes far more visual information than any other kind. At the same time, the subjective nature of interpreting visual symbols can lead to misunderstandings, so visual messages should be crafted carefully.
Communication is vital to human existence. It’s used to persuade, inform, educate and entertain. Communication helps people to live healthy, fulfilling lives. Without it, humans could accomplish nothing. Though some types of communication may seem more familiar or persuasive than others, the most effective kind always depends on the purpose, goal and intended audience of the message. The key to being a great communicator is knowing when to use each type.