Types of communication

In order to understand how you can communicate effectively, you’ll first need to understand what types of communication you have at your disposal to convey and interpret thoughts and ideas.

The basic types of communication we can use are:

  1. Verbal communication
  2. Written communication
  3. Nonverbal communication
  4. Visual communication 

These 4 types of communication further branch into several subtypes you’ll likely use while communicating with members of your team, your other colleagues, and your managers.

However, let’s remember that effective communication is a two-way process that requires you to not only convey information but also interpret it.

With that in mind, we have decided to devote some time in this article to active listening, a practice that offers practical tips for interpreting all types of communication.

Lastly, to wrap things up, we’ll talk about the different types of communication that can exist between individuals in their professional capacity. Namely, we’ll look at communication between equal coworkers, between superiors and subordinates, and between company representatives and external entities. 

But before we get into all of that, we wanted to discuss two classifications that can affect any type of communication you may engage in.

Synchronous vs asynchronous communication

The main four types of communication can be synchronous or asynchronous, depending on the situation.

Synchronous communication

If the conversation you’re participating in is synchronous, that means that it is happening in real-time.

In other words, all parties involved in the communication process are taking turns in the exchange of information simultaneously. 

🔸 Examples of synchronous communication include:

  • Live meetings — e.g. team members gathering at the same location to carry out a daily meeting,
  • Audio calls — e.g. two members of a team talking about their project over the phone or a business messaging app,
  • Video calls — e.g. team members using a virtual solution with video functionalities to carry out daily meetings, and
  • Instant messaging — e.g. two members of a team using a business communication app to talk about their current project.
A business communication app like Pumble allows team members to communicate through channels, threads, and direct messages
A business communication app like Pumble allows team members to communicate through channels, threads, and direct messages

Asynchronous communication

If the conversation you’re engaged in is asynchronous, the parties involved in the exchange are not participating in the conversation at the same time.

That is a common occurrence with remote teams whose members operate in different time zones, and thus have different work hours from each other.

🔸 Examples of asynchronous communication include:

  • Email — e.g. several members of a remote team using email to communicate project changes,
  • Instant messaging — two members of a remote team using internal communication software to exchange ideas, with the expectation that there will be a delay in replies, considering that the two teammates are separated by 10 time zones, and
  • Pre-recorded videos — e.g. an onboarding video presented to new recruits in a company.

🎓 The modern professional often uses both of these styles of communication. To learn more about how the two coexist, check out this article:

Online vs offline communication

With the emergence of the Internet and the various accompanying technologies, another major classification of the way we communicate has emerged — online and offline communication.

Today, most people communicate and form social ties using a combination of these two modes of communication.

However, the implications of such a mixed communication model on our social interactions are still not fully understood.

In their paper, Two social lives: How differences between online and offline interaction influence social outcomes, Alicea Lieberman and Juliana Schroeder have explored the structural differences between these two types of communication, as well as how online engagement affects offline interactions.

Structural differences between online and offline communication

Lieberman and Schroeder propose 4 major structural differences between online and offline forms of communication:

  • Nonverbal cues. Most online platforms, especially text-based ones, don’t transmit visual, auditory, and other nonverbal cues. Even video conferencing platforms lack at least some cues, e.g. touch, the physical space between interlocutors, movement, etc.
  • Anonymity. People can anonymously observe others, browse their profiles, and read their comments online, thus forming opinions about them even before formally meeting them.
  • Distribution of content. Unlike in a physical space, online platforms allow people to reach unlimited audiences and share content with a large number of people quickly and simultaneously.
  • Forming and maintaining social ties. Online communication technology erases geographical barriers and allows millions of people worldwide to communicate with ease.

Types of online communication

The means of communicating online have diversified greatly, so there are many forms of online communication, including:

  • Email,
  • Instant messaging,
  • Video conferencing,
  • Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP),
  • Forum discussions,
  • Social media communication,
  • Virtual whiteboard collaboration, etc.

How online interaction affects workplace communication

Even though online communication may have disruptive potential for personal relationships, in the workplace, online communication tools can greatly improve communication within an organization.

In fact, new technologies have simplified the process of exchanging information with clients and third parties. In turn, that has:

  • Improved overall collaboration,
  • Sped up processes,
  • Saved time,
  • Facilitated information flow,
  • Improved transparency,
  • Connected remote teams, etc.

Here are a couple of communication examples that showcase the advantages of online over offline interaction in organizations.

🔸 Examples:

  • A patient has a dubious rash and wants to contact a medical clinic. The clinic uses Pumble for internal and external communication. Instead of coming to the clinic, they send a photo of the rash to their doctor via the platform. The GP can’t provide a definitive diagnosis, so they use the #dermatology channel on Pumble to consult with the specialists at another clinic within their healthcare network.
  • A product development team encounters a software bug in the later stages of the product’s development. The product should launch soon, so they need to fix it fast. A QA tester remembers a similar bug in another app they launched a couple of months ago, but doesn’t remember how they fixed it. As the product team has been using Pumble for communication and collaboration, and the app has unlimited messaging history, she performs a quick search in the #testing channel and easily finds how they solved the issue before.
The business communication app, Pumble, allows you to filter your search results and even sort them according to relevancy
The business communication app, Pumble, allows you to filter your search results and even sort them according to relevancy

Type #1: Verbal communication

According to Andrea McDuffie’s definition, verbal communication involves any form of communication that uses spoken language as a means of sharing information intentionally.

It is usually a synchronous type of communication. The exception would be speakers who record their messages as audio or video calls and send them to others. In such cases, we regard verbal communication as asynchronous.

Considering that the key to verbal communication is spoken language and that different countries speak different languages, the knowledge of at least one language that is not native to us is important for cross-cultural understanding.

That is crucial for teams whose members speak different languages. As reported by Alexika, the top 5 business languages of the world professionals are most likely to use in cross-cultural situations (sorted by their share of the world’s GDP) are:

  1. English, with a share of 20.77%
  2. Chinese, with a share of 19.64%
  3. Spanish, with a share of 6.04%
  4. Arabic, with a share of 5.25%
  5. Japanese, with a share of 4.1%

The types of verbal communication we recognize include:

  • Intrapersonal communication, 
  • One-to-one interpersonal communication, 
  • Small group communication,
  • Public communication, and
  • Mass verbal communication

Having said that, let’s see if we can learn something new about the different types of verbal communication.

#1: Intrapersonal communication

According to Scott McLean, the author of The Basics of Interpersonal Communication, intrapersonal communication consists of the silent conversations we have with ourselves.

These silent conversations may include visualizations or acts of imagination. However, we may also communicate with ourselves while communicating with others and switching between the roles of the sender and receiver of information.

In that sense, intrapersonal communication is a private form of communication that often follows other types of communication.

We may encode these internal thoughts into messages we’ll then pass on to others, but, we may also keep at least some of them to ourselves.

🔸 Example:

An employee is talking about the details of his assignment with his manager.

Prior to their meeting, the employee had prepared a list of questions. However, as the conversation unfolds, he ultimately decides that he already has the answers to some of those questions, which he decides to keep to himself.

Jim was going to ask his manager some questions but decided against it, as shown in this interaction on Pumble, a team collaboration app
Jim was going to ask his manager some questions but decided against it, as shown in this interaction on Pumble, a team collaboration app

Tips for better intrapersonal communication

All human communication relies on knowing how to communicate with yourself first.

Here are some tips to help you fine-tune your intrapersonal communication.

Tip #1: Practice self-awareness

Self-awareness is the ability to use your inner assessment tools to look at your feelings, thoughts, and reactions from a distance.

If we’re engaged in interpersonal interaction, this ability allows us to monitor our internal monologue and how it affects both us and the conversation.

Tip #2: Sharpen your perception

Accurate perception is essential for healthy intrapersonal communication because it acts as a counterweight to self-awareness.

While our self-awareness is focused inward, sharpening our perception can allow us to see the external aspects of communication more clearly.

Ultimately, both are equally important for balancing the internal conversation.

Tip #3: Practice self-regulation

Once you are properly in tune with both your inner monologue and the dialogue you’re engaged in, self-regulation can take the helm.

The ability to control how you feel about and react to any situation you find yourself in can affect both your silent conversations and what you choose to voice.

#2: One-to-one interpersonal communication

As you can imagine, this type of communication typically looks like a one-on-one conversation between two individuals.

Now, there are many communication models that can be used to dissect one-to-one interactions. However, in this case, we could say that the main elements of this type of exchange are:

  • The message, i.e. the piece of information someone wants to share,
  • The sender, i.e. the person who initiates the conversation in order to share the said message (by “encoding” it from thought to words spoken),
  • The receiver, i.e. the person who needs to understand the said message (by “decoding” it from words heard to thought),
  • The noise, i.e. the interferences that may arise to hinder communication between the sender and receiver, and
  • The feedback, i.e. the reply the receiver has about the new piece of information, based on how this new piece of information was understood and interpreted.

The two individuals will swap their roles as sender and receiver of messages as their communication unfolds.

🎓 Each type of communication can be disrupted by a variety of factors. Learn more about those barriers to communication here:

🔸 Examples: 

  • A product manager talking with the CTO about the newest feature in the medical app their team is developing.
  • An HR specialist talking with the CMO about the requirements for the new SEO outreach specialist.
  • A blog post writer talking about illustrations for his next blog post with the blog’s illustrator.
An example of one-to-one interpersonal communication on Pumble, a team collaboration app
An example of one-to-one interpersonal communication on Pumble, a team collaboration app

Tips for better one-to-one interpersonal communication

Getting the message across in one-to-one interpersonal communication may seem like a breeze, but people misunderstand each other even in the simplest of interactions.

Here are some tips to help you become a more effective interpersonal communicator.

Tip #1: Think of the simplest way to get your message across

Before you start to speak, take a moment to find the least convoluted way to communicate your message. If you veer off the topic, jumping from thought to thought, your interlocutor may find it hard to follow.

Saying more in fewer words is a useful skill, as shorter sentences with simpler words are easier to understand.

Tip #2: Be thoughtful and respectful

No matter what message you’re trying to convey, if you’re condescending or inconsiderate of your interlocutor, they will only receive one message — that you don’t like them.

You need to make the person you’re talking to feel comfortable and show them that you value their input. To do so, make sure you::

  • Keep your tone neutral or cordial, in a more casual setting,
  • Don’t talk down to them, and
  • Express genuine interest in their opinions.
Tip #3: Listen

Active listening itself is crucial for successful one-to-one interpersonal communication.

As this type of interaction requires you to switch between the roles of sender and receiver, you need to pay close attention to what your interlocutor is trying to say and how they’re responding to your message.

Tip #4: Maintain emotional control

Some people tend to take things personally or get frustrated at the first sign of disagreement. However, being able to control your emotions is key if you don’t want to let your emotions stand in the way of successful communication and collaboration.

🎓 This article will teach you more about the communication skills you should develop to further your career:

#3: Small group communication

Small group communication is a form of interpersonal communication that unfolds between more than two individuals.

The number of participants in the conversation is still small enough to allow everyone to interact with each other at one point during the conversation.

However, unless the small group is discussing a specific topic, it may become difficult for all the participants to fully understand what the others are trying to convey.

🔸 Examples:

  • A daily standup meeting between members of a company’s sales team. 
  • An annual board meeting about the overall business strategy for the company in the upcoming year. 
  • An informal discussion between members of a small marketing team about the company’s newsletter for next month.
Small group meetings
Small group meetings can also take place on a video call on business communication apps like Pumble

Tips for achieving better group communication in the workplace

How the communication will unfold in a small group depends on the group structure, be it temporary or permanent. We recognize two main structures:

  1. Centralized groups, which have a central authority, i.e. a person who directs the conversation and acts as a facilitator for the group, and
  2. Decentralized groups, in which no one takes the lead or controls the flow of communication.

So, when would it be appropriate to favor one structure of group communication over the other?

Tip #1: Use a centralized structure for time-sensitive tasks

The research found in Small Group Decision Making by Donald G. Ellis and B. Aubrey Fisher indicates that centralized groups are much better at handling tasks that require speed and efficiency.

For example, if a support team is having an emergency meeting to discuss how to solve a problem that’s causing a client to lose money, the team leader should step up and delegate tasks.

Doing so would allow everyone to focus on a specific part of the problem and avoid any confusion that would stall the process.

Tip #2: Use a decentralized structure for better long-term collaboration

According to Ellis and Fisher, decentralized groups are better for working on more complex, ongoing projects.

For example, when talking about how to improve a new app, a team of developers takes turns brainstorming fresh ideas on what new features to add, discussing any potential problems, and proposing creative and innovative solutions.

🎓 No matter what type of group structure you tend to favor, this guide should help you improve your team communication skills:

#4: Public communication

Public communication exchanges typically involve one person (or a group of people) sharing information with another group of people. The elements of this type of communication include:

  • The public speaker, i.e. the person or group of people who are sharing the information,
  • An audience, i.e. the group of people who are listening to the public speaker(s) share information, and
  • The channel of public communication, i.e. the medium used to convey information, such as a PowerPoint presentation or a video presentation.

🔸 Examples:

  • The CTO in charge of a fashion app holding a presentation about the newest technologies being introduced to the future development of the app. 
  • The manager of an election campaign highlighting the accomplishments of the communication department in front of the other teams. 
  • A junior graphic designer presenting the marketing department with the latest design solutions for an advertising campaign for a priority client.
Public communication can also exist in written form — for example, on Pumble, a business communication app, the #general channel is used as a public forum to issue company-wide announcements
Public communication can also exist in written form — for example, on Pumble, a business communication app, the #general channel is used as a public forum to issue company-wide announcements

Tips for better public communication

Many people fear public speaking — these practical tips should make it seem less daunting.

Tip #1: Know your audience

Before you start your presentation, you need to understand who your audience is and how familiar they are with the subject of discussion.

That will inform everything from your choice of vocabulary to the pace of your speech, as you’ll know which sections require detailed explanations and which do not.

Tip #2: Be aware of your vocal production

Public communication isn’t only about choosing what you’ll say — it’s also about how you say it. Work on your delivery by paying attention to the following vocal qualities:

  • Clarity — Make sure you articulate every word with precision,
  • Intonation — Try to vary your vocal pitch to keep the audience interested,
  • Pace — Don’t speak too slowly or too quickly, and
  • Volume — Make sure everyone in the room can hear you.
Tip #3: Use body language effectively

As a public speaker, you need to use every communication tool at your disposal, including your body. With that in mind:

  • Try to always face your audience, even when you’re presenting information from a slide show.
  • Make eye contact with different members of your audience.
  • Use hand gestures to emphasize parts of your speech.
  • Feel free to move around to show that you’re comfortable and mark transition points during your speech.

If you’re interested in a more detailed elaboration of nonverbal communication, we’ll be sure to discuss it later on in this article.

Tip #4: Allow time for questions and feedback

Although public communication is different from interpersonal communication, it shouldn’t be a one-way street.

You can pause after each section of the presentation to receive the audience’s questions and comments. Alternatively, you can leave time for that at the end of the presentation.

#5: Mass verbal communication

As you might imagine, mass communication is the process of sending and receiving messages through a medium such as newspapers, television, or radio shows.

Of course, since we are focusing on verbal mass communication, that would limit us to the latter two. However, keeping in mind that new technologies have brought further developments in what we can consider a medium of mass communication, we could also place social media in this category.

In most cases, a company’s mass verbal communication tends to sends a more purposeful message. Rather than being the product of a single person, messages that are intended for mass communication are usually created by a group of people.

🔸 Examples:

  • The CEO of a company talks about its future plans on national television.
  • A company’s internal podcast that is also shared on social media networks.
  • An influencer advertising a company’s product on their social media pages.

Tips for mass verbal communication

Watching both the content of your message and your style of delivery becomes even more important when you’re engaging in mass verbal communication.

With that in mind, here are some tips you’ll want to consider before communicating your message:

  • Keep in mind that mass communication is difficult to retract, so be mindful of your words.
  • Do the research before you say anything — make sure you can back your statements up with facts.
  • Practice what you have to say before setting foot on that stage (so to speak).
  • Present a unified front with your colleagues.

All of these tips should go hand-in-hand with the other verbal communication tips we have mentioned so far.

Type #2: Written communication

Written communication involves transmitting your thoughts, ideas, questions, and concerns through symbols — i.e. letters that build words, phrases, and sentences.

Like most of the other types of communication, written communication may be synchronous or asynchronous.

Broadly speaking, we distinguish between 3 types of written communication:

  1. Transactional written communication, consisting of messages that require a response from the receiver. You could be asking for a favor, requesting a meeting, or needing some clarification before taking on a task.
  2. Informational written communication, which exists for the benefit of the receiver. It may take the form of a memo about some new company policies, a notification about the agenda for the upcoming meeting, or a report about the performance of a company department.
  3. Instructional written communication, which includes messages that are sent for the purpose of providing instructions to the receiver. It may clarify details about the project a team member has been assigned or offer step-by-step instructions for a new type of task.

Each of the listed types of written communication may manifest in the form of: 

  • Emails,
  • Instant messages
  • Reports
  • Forms
  • Letters
  • Memorandums
  • Bulletins, or 
  • Newsletters.

Having said that, let’s talk about the basic principles of those types of written communication in further detail.

#1: Emails

An email is a method of exchanging written messages between people by using electronic devices. 

The common types of emails you may send and receive include:

  • Confirmation emails, which create a permanent, written record of a previously made agreement, and
  • Request-and-reply emails, which ask a question, specify a task, comment on company policies, ask for confirmation about a meeting, and expect a reply in return.

In general, email is a great tool for non-urgent communication.

🔸 Example:

An HR specialist has just had lunch with the company’s newest hire. 

During this encounter, they agreed to hold the new employee’s next check-in meeting on February 25, at noon.

Once the new hire gets back to their desk, they will receive an email containing the details of their agreement from the HR representative.

That confirmation email will be a written record of everything that was discussed during the business lunch, for future reference.

A similar event has transpired in the screenshot below.

After setting up a meeting on the team collaboration app, Pumble, Joan intends to send a confirmation email to the participants
After setting up a meeting on the team collaboration app, Pumble, Joan intends to send a confirmation email to the participants

Tips for writing effective emails

According to one Statista study, the number of email users worldwide is expected to rise from a little more than 4 billion in 2020, to almost 4.5 billion in 2024.

Luckily, the following tips should help anyone transform into a fantastic email correspondent. If you want to write better emails, make sure you:

  • Have a clear subject line stating what the email is about.
  • Are precise and concise, getting to the point quickly.
  • Keep the tone of the message professional yet warm, conveying your point in a sharp but friendly manner.
  • Always proofread, as spelling mistakes or grammatical errors can leave a bad impression (and there will be no editing of your email once the message is sent).

🎓 Learn more about professional opening and closing lines you can use in your emails here:

#2: Instant messages

Instant messages are a type of written communication consisting of real-time text transmissions. 

Using a team communication app allows you to perform a variety of actions to improve communication with co-workers. For example, you can:

🔸 Example:

A group of professionals is using a business messaging app to discuss design solutions for a website their company is currently working on. 

For this purpose, they may use a public channel aptly titled #design.

The channel in question could be limited to those who work as designers for the company. Alternatively, it could also include copywriters, illustrators, and other professionals who play a role in the design process.

In this channel, people can ask questions, share links to existing design solutions the team can use for inspiration, attach design proposals, and otherwise discuss the potential design of their products.

An example of instant messaging in Pumble, a team collaboration app
An example of instant messaging in Pumble, a team collaboration app

Tips for communicating via instant messages

Here’s how to use instant messaging effectively:

  • Use DMs for short messages that require a quick reply.
  • Keep it to the point. It’s easy to veer off the topic and engage in casual chatter with your interlocutor(s), but don’t let that distract you from work.
  • Be respectful of other people’s time. A team communication app like Pumble allows its users to update their availability status. So, if someone’s status says that they’re “on a break” or “in a meeting,” respect that, and get back to them when they’re available.
  • Keep informal conversations outside of formal channels. Many teams have channels for fun and casual conversations. So, if you want to share a meme or a trailer for an upcoming movie, post it in the appropriate channel instead of spamming a work-related one.

🎓 As we have established, there are right and wrong ways to use instant messaging software in a professional setting. If you need more information on the subject, check out this illuminating article:

#3: Reports

Reports are accounts given on a particular matter, usually in the form of official documents.

Such documents are created through research and a methodical organization of the data collected. Types of reports include, but are not limited to:

  • Informational reports, which present unbiased facts about the outcomes of a particular situation, such as the number of members in a team, the roles of said members, and their performance during a specific time period,
  • Analytical reports, which analyze the current situation of a company to help its management make optimal decisions for the future,
  • Research reports, which analyze, collect, and present the data, studies, statistics, and other relevant information about a certain topic,
  • Explanatory reports, which explain a topic or a situation to help relevant individuals understand it, and
  • Progress reports, which update people on the progress made on a project, task, or group of tasks, within a specific time period.

🔸 Example:

The CTO of an app sends the CEO of a company a progress report relating to the development of the aforementioned app.

A business messaging app like Pumble makes sharing reports easy
A business messaging app like Pumble makes sharing reports easy

Tips for writing great reports

Reports need to be highly organized and easy to follow, so you need to be extra careful while writing them. Here are some tips that may help you improve your report-writing skills:

  • Be on-point — Identify the purpose of your report and stick to it.
  • Use active, concise language — Cut any unnecessary words, avoid wordy expressions, and use simple language and a neutral tone.
  • Use a clear layout — Make the report easy to read by adhering to an organized layout with headings and subheadings, lists and bullets, etc.
  • Edit before sending — Reread your report several times to remove superfluous information.

#4: Forms 

A form is a templated document with fields or placeholders in which you can write text or select options in order to quickly answer pre-made questions. 

Forms can be used for surveys or to help you standardize and speed up the process of collecting various information from employees or potential new candidates for a job position. 

🔸 Example:

An online interview questionnaire form used by the HR department to gather personal information and position-relevant details about potential candidates that show an interest in a vacant job position.

Tips for designing user-friendly forms

Forms are an efficient way to collect information, but, if executed poorly, they can be a nuisance. Here’s how to create a user-friendly form that’s easy to fill in:

  • Ask only for essential information. Don’t include too many optional fields as they unnecessarily slow down the process of filling out the forms and convolute their structure.
  • Make labels to the point. Use short and descriptive labels to explain the purpose of each field and avoid overexplaining.
  • Use in-line validation. Make sure an error message appears in real time if the information is invalid.
  • Use progress bars for longer forms. If a form goes on and on with no end in sight, you might lose the user mid-form.

🎓 If you’re not sure what a worksheet template might look like, you’ll find some examples here:

#5: Letters

Letters are a form of written communication that involves putting one’s thoughts, ideas, questions, and concerns into a text written (or typed) by hand, on paper, which is then sent. 

Although emails currently take precedence over written or printed business letters, this form of communication is still used for certain types of correspondence, such as reference letters, employment verification, and job offers.

🔸 Example:

One of the finalists for a junior marketing position brings a handwritten reference letter from a former employer, which makes them stand out.

Two HR employees discuss a potential hire who submitted a handwritten reference letter on Pumble, a business messaging app
Two HR employees discuss a potential hire who submitted a handwritten reference letter on Pumble, a business messaging app

Tips for writing good letters

The exact way to write a letter depends on its purpose, but there are some general rules to follow. Namely, you should:

  • Stick to the right format. In business correspondence, you need to adhere to a certain format as opposed to some more casual types of written communication, such as instant messaging.
  • Keep it focused. Bear in mind the purpose of the letter and include everything that needs to be said. After all, you can’t simply follow up with another quick letter if you forget something.
  • Use straightforward language. Letter writing is an old form, but don’t let your inner Shakespeare go wild just because you’re putting words on paper. Keep the language simple and appropriate.
  • Be meticulous about grammar and spelling. Correspondence via letters is a slow process, which is why you are expected to be thorough when proofreading.

#6: Memorandums

Memorandums, or memos, are a form of mass written communication used for communicating company policies, procedures, and other relevant official information within an organization. 

The purpose of a memo is to simply inform the audience of new developments. But, they may also include persuasion elements and a call to action.

🔸 Example:

A memo might be distributed to the marketing team of a fashion line. 

The document informs the team about the newest market research and analysis, findings from focus groups, and results of relevant surveys. 

At the end of the memo, there is a call to action to update the new fashion line for the summer season in accordance with the information presented in the document.

Tips for writing memos

A memo can be an extremely effective way to communicate official information to a large group of people. Here’s how to write it successfully:

  • Keep it simple. A memo should be short and to the point, so that it’s easy to understand.
  • Use numbered and bulleted lists. Bullet points are a great way to structure any message you want to convey via memo.
  • Use the preferred style of your organization. If your company has stylistic preferences for its memos, get acquainted with them and use them.

#7: Bulletins

A bulletin or a noticeboard is a short official statement, announcement, or summary of an organization’s latest news.

The structure of a bulletin is similar to the structure of a typical news story — the most important information is given first.

Like memos, bulletins are usually meant for internal consumption.

🔸 Example:

A company might place digital bulletin boards throughout its offices to showcase the latest announcements.

Tips for writing a bulletin

Bulletins are there to capture people’s attention and inform them of something. Here’s how to write them:

  • Make content concise and easy to read. A bulletin that’s too long and written in chunky paragraphs or a block of text will fail to capture the attention.
  • Put key information in the opening line. You should clearly communicate what’s happening, where, when, and why.
  • Double-check all information. Since bulletins often include facts and figures, make sure they are correct.

#8: Newsletters

A newsletter is another news-like form of written communication that shows progress updates and official statements. The crucial difference between bulletins and newsletters is that, while bulletins may involve one-time announcements, a newsletter is sent periodically. 

Newsletters are not just meant to inform, but also to improve employee morale, engagement, and productivity.

🔸 Example:

If a company wants to take a more direct approach to internal communication, it may send a weekly email newsletter informing employees of the latest developments in a company.

Tips for writing a successful newsletter

Internal newsletters are a great way to nurture team spirit and inspire productivity. Here are some basic tips on how to write them:

  • Keep them short and sweet. Include no more than 4 to 5 sections per newsletter so as not to overwhelm employees.
  • Keep the tone light. Use appropriate language, but don’t make the newsletter too formal.
  • Send them regularly… A familiar format coming on a weekly or monthly basis will keep the employees interested in the newsletter.
  • …but not too frequently. Don’t overdo it or people will get annoyed with the newsletter.

🎓 Sometimes, you’ll find that the best words to use in a situation have already been said by someone else. If you’re looking to start your newsletter with an interesting quote, check out this article:

Type #3: Nonverbal communication

Nonverbal communication refers to nonverbal patterns, such as gestures, facial expressions, body posture, and other movements we use to convey information, without using words.

Nonverbal communication is usually synchronous. But, what if we’re watching a previously recorded video presentation of a speaker that also broadcasts their nonverbal cues? Well, in that case, we would classify the transmission as being asynchronous.

Either way, when the people we are talking to can see us, nonverbal communication could add another layer of meaning to the conversation.

Of course, we may not always intend to convey that additional information. In fact, sometimes, even that subconscious disclosure can be misleading in some way.

Having said that, let’s consider individually the various aspects of nonverbal communication, such as:

  • Body posture
  • Handshakes
  • Facial expressions
  • Paralinguistics
  • Gestures
  • Proxemics
  • Haptics
  • Oculesics
  • Appearance, and 
  • Artifacts.

#1: Body posture

Body posture is a form of nonverbal communication that may reveal a person’s feelings and attitudes.

Elements of this type of nonverbal communication include the way someone sits, walks, stands, or otherwise positions their body.

🔸 Example:

When people at a daily standup meeting start leaning against the wall after some time or trying to make themselves more comfortable, it’s probably a sign that it’s time to end the meeting. Based on the messages their posture is sending, we might conclude that the audience is losing interest and/or focus.

Tips on communicating with body posture

Posture can reflect, or seem to reflect, someone’s attitudes, emotions, and thoughts. If you want to make sure you’re getting a good message across, make sure to:

  • Maintain an open posture. Keeping your body turned toward your interlocutor, with relaxed arms and uncrossed legs, will make you appear more open to conversation.
  • Use mirroring. Mirroring another person’s posture (e.g. their hand on their hip) can indicate approval and interest. However, forcing it can lead to an awkward situation.

#2: Handshakes

Handshakes are a common form of nonverbal communication in the business world.

People may shake hands when they are:

  • Meeting someone for the first time,
  • Saying goodbye to someone they may not see for a while,
  • Congratulating someone, or
  • Meeting or visiting someone they have not seen for a longer period of time.

During introductions, handshakes can be a vital part of first impressions, which may affect all future interactions.

🔸 Example:

A new hire, upon first meeting their team, provides a firm handshake to everyone while maintaining eye contact. 

Doing so forms a good first impression and a strong foundation for a great professional relationship with her teammates in the future.

Tips for achieving the perfect handshake

If you’re looking to make a good first impression, here are some handshake tips that might help:

  • Find a middle ground between too firm and too loose. You want to convey confidence by keeping it moderately firm without causing the other person discomfort.
  • Maintain eye contact and smile. Reinforce your handshake with other nonverbal cues that signal your affability.
  • Keep a respectable distance. Don’t stand too close or so far that you have to bend over to shake hands.

🎓 If you’re never quite sure how to act or what to say when you meet a new business contact, check out this article:

#3: Facial expressions

Facial expressions are a form of nonverbal communication that allows us to convey meaning by moving the muscles of our faces. 

According to Dr. Aleix Martinez from Ohio State University, there are 21 different facial expressions that convey a variety of meanings, from happiness to disgusted surprise. 

The facial expressions that indicate that the person is angry, sad, scared, or happy are similar throughout different cultures.

Yet, despite longstanding beliefs that certain facial expressions are universal indicators of specific emotions, some studies have indicated that “East Asians and Western Caucasians differ in terms of the features they think constitute an angry face or a happy face.”

According to Rachael E. Jack, PhD, of the University of Glasgow, while western participants of the study relied on a person’s eyebrows and mouth to discern their underlying emotions, Chinese participants were more focused on the eyes.

🔸 Example:

The head of design has flashed a look of surprise while examining the design solution of the newest junior graphic designer. The other graphic designers in the room misinterpret the expression as being indicative of dislike.

Jim and Nick are discussing their manager’s facial expressions on the company’s internal communication software, Pumble
Jim and Nick are discussing their manager’s facial expressions on the company’s internal communication software, Pumble

Tips on using facial expressions in business communication

Having a good poker face might come in handy in a card game. However, when conversing with coworkers, it can make you appear distant and disinterested.

So, here’s a refresher on how you could use facial expressions to appear more amicable:

  • Smile. A friendly expression can easily dispel any doubts others may have about your attitude or feelings.
  • Open your eyes wide to indicate interest in the subject of discussion (just don’t overdo it).
  • Relax your forehead. Straining your facial muscles can make it look like you’re forcing yourself to participate in the conversation.

#4: Gestures

Gestures are movements of the head, face, or other parts of the body that may communicate specific messages. 

Universal gestures people use throughout the world include waving, pointing, and even using fingers to indicate numbers.

However, many gestures are culture-specific and may hold a variety of meanings for a variety of people. For example, nodding of the head means “Yes” in some cultures, but “No” in others.

🔸 Example:

A criminal defense attorney is frequently looking at his watch during the prosecution’s closing argument. The show of boredom is the defense attorney’s attempt to strategically undermine the prosecutor’s words in the eyes of the jury.

Tips on communicating with gestures

The way we move can communicate a lot in and of itself. To make sure your gestures are not in contrast with what you’re saying, follow these tips:

  • Mirror the other person’s expressions to show empathy and compassion,
  • Use hand gestures to emphasize your points and get your verbal message across in a more effective way, and
  • Learn about the cultural differences regarding gestures (for example, if you’re in Thailand, you should bow slightly in a sign of greeting instead of shaking hands — the latter is considered rude).

#5: Paralinguistics

Paralinguistics involves vocal communication that is separate from actual language. 

This type of vocal — but not verbal — communication can manifest as vocal tone, pitch, volume, and inflection.

🔸 Example:

The head of design is congratulating the junior graphic designer with an enthusiastic tone of voice, which the other graphic designers now correctly interpret as a show of approval for the junior graphic designer’s efforts.

Upon hearing their manager’s voice, Jim and Nick correctly identify the meaning behind her expression, as seen in this interaction on Pumble, a team collaboration app
Upon hearing their manager’s voice, Jim and Nick correctly identify the meaning behind her expression, as seen in this interaction on Pumble, a team collaboration app

Tips for successful paralinguistic communication

If you want to project confidence and friendliness in communication, you should use your voice wisely. Here are some tips to help you do that:

  • Adjust the volume of your voice. Try to speak from the diaphragm so that your voice is strong and clearly audible without being too loud.
  • Vary your intonation. Speaking in a monotone voice will bore your interlocutors.
  • Articulate every word. Mumbling will make it difficult for others to understand what you’re saying.

#6: Proxemics

Proxemics is the interpretation of peoples’ attitudes based on their command of the physical space and their proximity to each other.

The physical space people perceive as their own depends on cultural expectations, social norms, personality characteristics, as well as the factors of the situation they find themselves in, including how familiar they are with their interlocutors.

Nowadays, we also have to keep global health guidelines in mind when interpreting what the space between people can reveal about their interaction.

In any case, when discussing proxemics, researchers typically separate the space surrounding us into 4 distinct zones:

  • Intimate space — the area within 18 inches of your body,
  • Personal space — the area between 1–4 feet away from you,
  • Social space — the area between 4–12 feet away from you, and 
  • Public space — the area starting at 12 feet away from you.

As you can imagine, most of your professional interactions will take place in the latter two zones.

🔸 Example:

A political candidate is holding a speech with only 4 feet of space between them and the audience members who are sitting the closest. The proximity to a public figure may cause discomfort to some audience members, who were under the impression that they were attending a more formal affair.

Tips on using proxemics

Generally, determining the appropriate amount of space that should exist between you and your interlocutors can be pretty tricky.

However, when it comes to business communication, there are some hard and fast rules we can follow. Namely, you should:

  • Try not to breach people’s intimate and personal space, especially if they’re mere acquaintances,
  • Stay in the social space during in-person meetings or other interactions, and
  • Use the public space for impersonal interactions, such as presentations or speeches — without going more than 25 feet away from your audience.

#7: Haptics

Haptics is a form of nonverbal communication that is conveyed through touch. 

In most cases, people use touch to communicate affection, sympathy, or familiarity. But, according to Julia Wood and her book Interpersonal Communication: Everyday Encounters, touch can also convey status or power.

🔸 Example:

A vice-principal of an elementary school (i.e. a high-status individual within the workplace) tends to invade other people’s personal space with more frequency and intensity than the rest of the school’s staff (i.e. the lower-status individuals).

Tips on using touch in workplace communication

Touch in the workplace is a touchy subject indeed! In addition to the occasional handshake, patting colleagues on the back or shoulder is generally perceived as appropriate, at least in the western world.

But if you need more specific guidelines, here are some tips on using touch in the workplace:

  • If you’re not sure, don’t make physical contact. Many people don’t like to be touched, especially by those they don’t know well. So unless you’re sure it’s fine, don’t do it.
  • Find out what’s considered inappropriate. Some companies have policies that detail what kind of touch is appropriate, but some types of physical contact are universally considered inappropriate, such as grabbing, groping, massaging, etc.

#8: Oculesics

Oculesics is a form of nonverbal communication that involves eye movement and other types of ocular behavior that can be interpreted as a means to communicate something. 

Those who pay attention to oculesic clues may keep track of where their interlocutor’s gaze is going or how frequently they’re blinking. The goal of the exercise is to interpret the meanings of those behaviors.

A gaze can be used to convey a range of emotions, including, but not limited to, hostility towards someone or interest in something. According to McCarthy and Lee and their paper about Children’s knowledge of deceptive gaze cues and its relation to their actual lying behavior, you can also use the direction of one’s gaze to determine whether they’re being honest with you or not. 

🔸 Example:

The manager who handles a team of sales specialists wants to know why a big client decided to cancel their contract and write an extremely negative review about the team’s app.

She asks Amelia and Stella, who jointly handled the client in question, if they know the reason behind the cancelation.

Both say that they’re not to blame for the client’s behavior. However:

  • Amelia maintains steady eye contact with the sales manager when answering the question, while
  • Stella has difficulty maintaining eye contact, shifting her gaze several times as she is speaking.

In this case, the study of oculesics may help the sales manager come close to identifying the liar.

Tips on using eye contact in professional communication

Many people are prone to overthinking their ocular behaviors, especially when they are engaged in conversation. The following tips should alleviate that concern:

  • Maintain steady eye contact. There’s a 50/70 rule that states you should keep eye contact 50% of the time while you speak and 70% when you listen. However, that’s difficult to measure, so a simpler rule would be to keep eye contact but try not to stare.
  • Give your eyes a break. If you find yourself blinking too frequently or even too infrequently, get those eye movements under control. Excuse yourself if necessary.
  • Don’t overthink it. As important as controlling our nonverbal cues is, being present in the conversation is even more crucial. If you think too hard about where you should look or what you should be doing with your eyes, you may come across as being too internally preoccupied to participate in the conversation properly.

#9: Appearance

Appearance is another form of nonverbal communication that may contribute additional meaning to a conversation. 

The way we present ourselves to the world is, naturally, a big part of first impressions. As we all know, people’s appearance can inspire others to form judgments and even misconceptions. 

Additionally, our appearance reflects what we expect our conversations to be like. If you encounter a person wearing a suit, you’d be more likely to address them formally than if you ran into them while they were casually dressed.

🔸 Example:

An HR department has narrowed down the search for an enterprise sales specialist position to two equally competent candidates.

In the end, one candidate’s choice of clothing becomes the deciding factor.

This Pumble interaction shows how our appearance can influence our professional prospects
This Pumble interaction shows how our appearance can influence our professional prospects

Tips on making sure your appearance is communicating the right message

Your style of clothing, whether or not you like to wear makeup and accessories, and similar appearance-related things are entirely up to you.

However, in a professional setting, there are some things to think about concerning your appearance:

  • Take care of personal hygiene. It should go without saying that proper personal hygiene is a must — keep yourself and your clothes clean and tidy.
  • Respect the dress code. Many companies nowadays have a casual or business casual dress code. Still, you should inquire about this beforehand if you’re getting ready for a meeting or a job interview.

#10: Artifacts

Artifacts are a form of nonverbal communication that involves objects, images, and other tools you may use to communicate. 

These may also include uniforms various professionals wear to indicate their profession and additional details about their positions.

🔸 Examples:

  • When signing up for an education forum, a geography teacher might use a profile picture that shows them in front of a map of the world to indicate their profession. 
  • Doctors, soldiers, and police officers will have specific uniforms that indicate their occupation, status, and rank. The uniforms in question differ across the world but usually have certain key similarities.

Tip on using artifacts for professional communication

If you want to appear more professional, you can do so by changing all your profile pictures across the company platforms to corporate headshots with a light smile and wearing business casual attire.

In the name of consistency, you could put the same picture on your LinkedIn profile and any other business-related account you have.

Type #4: Visual communication

According to the definition, visual communication is the process of conveying information through visual elements.

This type of communication may consist of images like photographs or illustrations, data visualizations such as charts and graphs, and other similar visual elements that help convey our meaning.

Like many other types of communication, visual communication can be synchronous or asynchronous.

The elements and tools of visual communication we might use in the workplace include:

  • Images
  • Videos
  • Flow charts
  • Roadmaps
  • Data charts
  • Infographics
  • Presentation slides
  • Visual reports
  • Mind maps
  • Paper handouts, and 
  • Prints.

#1: Images

Images are a form of visual communication that relies on a visual representation of an object or concept in order to convey new information.

You can print them out, add them to presentation slides, include them in your charts and infographics, send them as attachments in emails, or attach them to direct messages in team communication apps.

🔸 Example:

A blog writer wants an illustrator to draw a map of the world for her new blog post titled Fun facts and statistics about time zones.

She sends him an image of the world, parsed by 24 time zones, via an attachment in the company’s business messaging app, to serve as a reference.

In this Pumble interaction, the illustrator responds to the blog writer’s request by asking her to attach the relevant images to the task she creates in Plaky, the company’s project management software
In this Pumble interaction, the illustrator responds to the blog writer’s request by asking her to attach the relevant images to the task she creates in Plaky, the company’s project management software

#2: Videos

A video is a form of visual communication that relies on a set of moving images to convey an idea or explain a concept. 

You can use videos as training aids, as a way to introduce or explain new products, or to introduce the company values to new hires.

🔸 Example:

  • A group of video tutorials can expedite the onboarding process by showing new hires how to use the set of apps that are mandatory in a company. 
  • An introductory video about the company can be created by the HR department, also for the purpose of hastening the onboarding process.

#3: Data charts 

Data charts are graphical representations of data. They can take on a variety of shapes, depending on what kind of data we want to represent. For example, we can create:

  • Bar charts, which represent patterns and trends in the form of vertical bars,
  • Line charts, which represent data trends in the form of lines corresponding to values on the x- and y-axis,
  • Area charts, which are another way to show data on an x- and y-axis,
  • Pie charts, which display data in a circular graph, which is segmented into slices, and
  • Doughnut charts, which are similar to pie charts, except the middle area of the circular graph is missing.

🔸 Example:

The blog writer who wrote the blog post titled Fun facts and statistics about time zones uses team collaboration software to send the illustrator of the blog a pie chart showing the 24 time zones and the number of countries each of the time zones encompasses. 

The blog post writer wants the pie chart to serve as a reference image and inspiration for the blog illustrator so that he can recreate a similar pie chart for her blog post.

A blog writer requests a pie chart visual from the illustrator she’s working with and is, once again, referred to Plaky, the company’s project management software
A blog writer requests a pie chart visual from the illustrator she’s working with and is, once again, referred to Plaky, the company’s project management software

#4: Flow charts

Flow charts are a type of diagram that depicts a workflow or a process. 

When creating a flow chart, people often use boxes to represent the different steps in a process. The boxes, i.e. steps, are typically connected to each other with arrows or lines.

🔸 Example:

A junior talent acquisition specialist in an HR team is tasked with planning improvements in the recruiting process. 

She plans these improvements through a flow chart that involves the following connected boxes:

  • “Where are we now?”
  • “What do we want to accomplish?”
  • “How are we going to accomplish that?”
  • “How will we know we have accomplished that?”
An example of a flow chart showing the HR employee’s thought process
An example of a flow chart showing the HR employee’s thought process

An example of a flow chart showing the HR employee’s thought process

🎓 If you’re interested in seeing more examples of flow charts and learning more about the benefits of instant messaging software, we invite you to check out the following article:

#5: Roadmaps

Roadmaps are visual strategic plans meant to help you achieve a particular goal. 

They include steps you need to take and milestones you need to reach in order to call your efforts a success.

🔸 Example:

A product map that illustrates the steps you need to take and milestones you need to reach on the road from the planning stages to the successful launch of the app you are developing.

Some companies, like Pumble, have publicly available roadmaps, allowing clients and customers to be in the loop when it comes to product updates.

A section of Pumble’s Roadmap page as of February 2023
A section of Pumble’s Roadmap page as of February 2023

#6: Mind maps

Mind maps are a type of chart that helps you convey your ideas visually. 

You start with a central topic and then attach subtopics and related ideas to it. The non-linear layout allows you to connect every item you add to the central topic, but also to each other.

Mind maps can be used for visualizing:

  • Points discussed in meetings and other types of communication situations,
  • Report (and other document) outlines,
  • Everyone’s ideas during brainstorming sessions,
  • Business strategies, and
  • Project management processes.

🔸 Example:

A mind map might show the brainstorming process of a company looking for a suitable name for their new app. 

The central topic is “A name for the new app.”

The subtopics attached to it are the potential names. 

The related ideas attached to the subtopics are the pros (e.g. “Easy to remember”) and cons (e.g. Domain not available”) related to the potential names.

#7: Infographics

An infographic is a collection of images, charts, and diagrams (accompanied by a minimal amount of text) that provides an easy-to-understand overview of a particular topic. 

Infographics are a useful tool when you want a straightforward, but also visually appealing and eye-catching way to:

  • Display statistics,
  • List tips,
  • Explain concepts,
  • Visualize important dates in history,
  • Describe a process,
  • Visualize demographic data,
  • Compare products, and
  • Organize information.

🔸 Example:

The school’s psychologist creates an infographic on the topic of motivation that summarizes various relevant motivation theories (such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). 

They hang it on the wall of the faculty lounge, to help their colleagues who are teachers keep their motivation levels high throughout their work.

An infographic showcasing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
An infographic showcasing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs from Clockify blog

#8: Presentation slides

At this point, everyone knows what a presentation is. Even if you haven’t had a reason to use it professionally yet, you’ve probably made a slide show or two in your life.

Typically, the presenter, or someone on their team, will start the process of creating a presentation by compiling the information they want to convey.

Then, they would use this data to create slides consisting of a moderate amount of text, diagrams, charts, images, and other visual representations of data.

Since presentations are a pretty common method of transmitting information in the modern workplace, many companies have branded templates available for employees who are often called upon to present.

🔸 Example:

The head of HR can use a presentation to talk about the number of candidates the HR team has processed in the previous quarter.

Prior to their meeting with executive management, they may delegate the task of creating the presentation.

However, they would still need to learn the statistics compiled within and prepare a speech. After all, slide shows are merely visual tools that accompany a spoken presentation.

The last page of a presentation is typically reserved for sources, acknowledgments, or calls to action
The last page of a presentation is typically reserved for sources, acknowledgments, or calls to action

#9: Visual reports

Visual reports are accounts given on a particular matter, but with visual enhancements that make the textual elements easier to scan and comprehend. 

These visual enhancements may include:

  • A highlight color (or colors) meant to help draw attention to key information,
  • Color blocks, to help you group different types of information together (e.g. general statistics, expert research, company findings, etc.),
  • A clear text hierarchy to help the reader to navigate the text with ease,
  • Various types of charts and tables, and
  • Visual motifs, such as the brand’s logo in the footnote of every page.

🔸 Example:

A marketing manager is tasked with creating an annual performance review of her five-member team for the benefit of higher management.

She decides to include a summary of her findings in her visual report in the form of a table. The first column contains the names of the team members, while the remaining columns contain key performance metrics.

The rows are color-blocked, to visually group each team member with their key performance results and make the report easier to scan.

Joan has sent her team’s annual performance review to Milo on Pumble, a business messaging app
Joan has sent her team’s annual performance review to Milo on Pumble, a business messaging app

#10: Printed visual aids

Printed flyers, brochures, and posters are visual communication tools that contain key information.

They can be used by organizations or companies, but they can also be important visual aids during meetings, presentations, speeches, or lectures.

For example, paper handouts that are distributed during these occasions can provide important additional information to the audience.

Yet, crucially, these handouts must be given at the right stage during the meeting, presentation, speech, or lecture. If they are given too early, they will serve as an unwanted distraction to what you’re trying to communicate, as the audience will focus their attention on the handout and not on you. 

🔸 Example:

Upon finishing their presentation detailing the pros and cons of various locations for the filming of the company’s upcoming advertisement campaign, the location scout distributes brochures from each potential site to the gathered attendees.

Tips for better visual communication

Visual communication is practical and often much easier to process than some other types of communication. In fact, according to scientists, attaching visuals to information can increase recall by a staggering 65%.

With that in mind, let’s talk about how we can use the visual communication tools we’ve just discussed more effectively.

Tip #1: Make technical data more interesting with visuals

If you need to do a presentation on a dry and technical subject, spruce it up with the use of colorful presentation slides, charts, and infographics.

Organizing data in such a way will make it easier for the audience to get engaged.

Tip #2: Use visual elements to simplify abstract ideas

Similarly to the previous tip, visual elements can also make it easier to explain any abstract concepts you might need to discuss.

For example, when trying to explain a complicated process, you can use a flow chart or a roadmap to help the audience grasp it.

Alternatively, when discussing design ideas, an illustration or a photograph would naturally explain your ideas better than words ever could.

Tip #3: Embrace the “show, don’t tell” approach

Ultimately, visual elements are a useful tool when it comes to showcasing the way things work.

For example, if your team uses Pumble and you want to explain to a new hire how it works, it’s best to show them a demo where they can see its use in action.

Tip #4: Create a visual brand

If you often find yourself presenting data with the use of visuals, you may want to establish some stylistic consistency across your materials.

If you’re not self-employed, you’d use your organization’s brand assets, including its primary colors and other design elements.

However, if you are self-employed, you might want to look into creating some brand assets of your own. That should help you create a cohesive visual experience for the audience.

Tip #5: Use color psychology to appeal to the audience on a deeper level

Designers often use color psychology to appeal to the subconscious. For example, have you ever noticed that tech company logos tend to be blue and food brands rely on red?

That’s because these colors are associated with concepts these companies are trying to embody.

On the one hand, the color blue is said to represent the notion of security and reliability — two ideas any tech company would love to be associated with.

On the other hand, the color red has been known to attract attention due to its association with energy, passion, and even impulsivity. As you can imagine, food companies would do anything to stimulate the audience’s appetite and impulsivity.

Then again, the color red doesn’t symbolize the same thing all across the globe — and neither do the other hues.

Suffice it to say that you’ll need to know who your audience is before you start applying the principles of color psychology.

Active listening

Active listening

Active listening is a skill that can drastically improve the quality of your interactions with people, both in a professional setting and outside of the workplace.

Even though it’s not a type of communication per se, the way you process other people’s communication can affect all of your exchanges going forward.

But, how can we improve our listening skills? Is there even a way to improve the way we hear a message?

According to science — yes.

You see, according to its definition, active listening requires more than simply hearing a person out.

Rather, the practice highlights the importance of:

  • Being fully engaged in the conversation and setting aside all distractions,
  • Being receptive and open to what the speaker is saying,
  • Being attentive to not only the verbal part of the exchange, but the speaker’s nonverbal cues as well, and
  • Adjusting your response to the speaker to make them feel truly valued.

According to Katz and McNulty, the listener can interpret the feelings of the speaker through their tone of voice, body posture, gesture, and even the choice of words. Therefore, the practice of active listening encompasses many of the other types of communication we have previously discussed.

The practices that are connected to the concept of active listening include:

  • Reflective feedback
  • Empathic listening
  • Informational listening, and 
  • Critical listening.

Active listening practice #1: Reflective feedback

The idea of reflective feedback is closely associated with the practice of active listening.

Essentially, it comes down to limiting one’s responses to 3 key techniques:

  • Mirroring — a form of reflection that involves repeating the key words the speaker is saying, or simply repeating the last few words they’ve just said, to show that we’ve understood them thus far, and to encourage them to continue.
  • Paraphrasing — a form of reflection that involves restating what the speaker has just said in one’s own words, to indicate that we are attempting to understand what they are saying. While paraphrasing, you are not supposed to offer personal views, ideas, or question what you’ve just heard.
  • Summative reflection — a form of reflection that requires us to offer our personal view of the situation while restating what the speaker has just said in our own words.

Ultimately, reflective feedback has two goals. One is to indicate that you are following and understanding the speaker’s address, and the other is to retain the information they are presenting you with.

🔸 Example:

Two team members have opposing ideas for how they should approach a particular problem. Eventually, they realize that neither is willing to compromise and decide to take it up with their manager.

While the coworkers take turns explaining their points of view, the manager doesn’t offer much in the way of response, other than the occasional:

  • “I see.”
  • “So you’d rather do it that way.”
  • “I hear you.”

Finally, the manager offers their interpretation of the problem based on everything they had heard. In this scenario, the manager was sticking mostly to reflective responses.

Of course, by this point, the opposing sides may even reach an agreement. Oftentimes, the presence of an objective party is enough to inspire others to view their own situation objectively too.

Active listening practice #2: Empathic listening

While reflective feedback alone often won’t be enough to ingratiate us with new acquaintances, it can certainly play a part in rapport building.

In fact, narrowing the focus of our practice of active listening to empathic listening (also known as “therapeutic” listening) can go a long way toward making them trust and like us.

In the world of business communication, that kind of emotional intelligence can be especially helpful in situations that require negotiation.

🔸 Example:

A sales specialist tasked with selling memory foam mattresses over the phone is listening attentively to the questions and concerns of a potential customer.

These conversations often devolve into talking about personal matters.

However, the sales specialist knows that building trust in this way may help them make a sale.

Active listening practice #3: Informational listening

Informational listening is the practice of listening with the intent of taking in new information, without analyzing it too closely. 

Active listeners who are listening in order to learn something require focus, as well as a conscious effort to understand what the other person is trying to convey. 

They may even take notes about key information to review them later.

🔸 Example:

A freelancer working from home realizes that he has a technical problem with his Internet connection. 

He calls the provider to explain the situation and listens to the support agent’s instructions intently.

In this scenario, the listener’s feedback is focused on gaining more information, so he asks clarifying questions such as:

  • “Do you need me to do anything on my end right now?”
  • “And where did you say that reset button is?”
  • “How long will it take for this to boot up again?”

Active listening practice #4: Critical listening

Like informational listening, the goal of critical listening is to understand the information we are presented with.

However, this style of listening is, perhaps, the most distant from the practice of active listening, as it requires the listener to actively evaluate the content of the message. 

Active listeners who are listening to something critically will engage in critical thinking and then make judgments based on what they hear, read, or see.

🔸 Example:

A senior front-end developer is critically listening to a junior front-end developer’s question in order to understand their problem and answer them accordingly.

Tips for active listening

According to Balancing openness and interpretation in active listening by Topornycky and Golparian, a person who is practicing active listening follows 5 key techniques.

Let’s take a moment to examine how we might apply each of these proposed tips for achieving active listening.

Tip #1: Pay attention

Many guides on active listening will tell you to pay attention and leave it at that. But, sometimes, even that is easier said than done.

With that in mind, let’s talk about some actionable steps you can take to make this step easier:

  • Maintain eye contact with the speaker (remember the 50/70 rule).
  • Don’t let distracting thoughts derail your focus (if you’re feeling off, it’s better to reschedule a conversation than be distracted).
  • Control any environmental distractions (leave that noisy room, ensure a stable internet connection, or switch to a better seat if the one you’re in is uncomfortable).
  • Don’t formulate your future responses when you’re supposed to be listening to the other person.
  • Examine the speaker’s body language and the additional meaning it may carry.

Tip #2: Show that you are listening

The practice of active listening is reliant on the feedback the speaker gets from the listener. In addition to providing verbal feedback, though, you might demonstrate your attentiveness by:

  • Nodding,
  • Smiling,
  • Having an open posture, and
  • Encouraging the speaker to continue talking with small verbalizations like “Yes,” “Uh-huh,” and “I see what you mean”.

Tip #3: Provide feedback

The other type of feedback the listener is called upon to offer includes:

  • Asking clarifying questions to dispel any misunderstandings,
  • Reflecting what the speaker is saying through paraphrasing statements, and
  • Confirming that you understand the speaker’s points by providing summaries.

Sharing your insights would be appropriate if you deem that the speaker wishes to hear them. However, in the practice of active listening, the focus should be on the types of feedback we have listed above.

Tip #4: Defer judgment

Above all, those who want to become better listeners need to approach their interactions with others without judgment. That entails:

  • Not interrupting the speaker with counter-arguments, and
  • Letting the speaker finish a point before asking questions.

If these things seem like they might be difficult to pull off, you might want to ask yourself if you’re holding on to any subconscious biases. Releasing them should allow you to approach each conversation with an open attitude.

Tip #5: Responding appropriately

Ultimately, being able to provide an appropriate response from a listener role is a crucial active listening skill. Luckily, you should be able to achieve this goal as long as you approach interactions with:

  • Honesty,
  • Openness, and
  • Willingness to treat your interlocutors the way they want to be treated.

Types of business communication

At this point, we have laid out the different types of communication we might engage in, as well as the appropriate response they warrant.

Now, all that’s left is to examine the way our professional relationships with our interlocutors affect our exchanges.

To that end, most people would say that there are 4 types of communication in business. The first 3 are internal, which means that they refer to communication within an organization or company.

These types of communication are recognized as upward, downward, and lateral communication.

The fourth type of business communication focuses on external interactions with contacts who work outside of our organization.

To achieve optimal results, professionals should know how to utilize each of these types of communication in the workplace.

🎓 In order for external communication to be successful, an organization would first have to establish impeccable internal communication. If you find that difficult to achieve, you might want to check out the following article:

#1: Upward communication

As the name suggests, upward business communication flows upwards, from subordinates to their superiors and further up the organizational hierarchy.

This type of communication allows higher-ups to check in with their employees by allowing subordinates to voice their concerns, suggestions, and opinions.

Though upward communication can be a one-to-one exchange, that is rarely the case. Instead, it’s mostly systemic, capturing the overall sentiment among the employees.

Upward communication often relies on forms, surveys, reports, and other similar methods of relaying the information.

🔸 Example:

A team manager uses Google Forms to create an anonymous survey on workplace satisfaction. They then analyze the results to pinpoint the biggest issues and work with HR to solve them.

Upward communication can also take the form of a poll conducted over the business messaging app, Pumble
Upward communication can also take the form of a poll conducted over the business messaging app, Pumble

#2: Downward communication

Conversely, downward communication is a type of internal business communication that flows from the top down. In other words, it allows the higher-ups to send messages to subordinates.

This type of interaction is mostly used to relay new information, provide instructions or operational details, delegate tasks, etc.

Downward communication is a form of public communication in that it involves a sharer of information, an audience, and a communication channel.

🔸 Example:

A content manager pins a message containing the link to the newly updated content guidelines in the #writers channel on Pumble so that everyone can see it and access it easily at any time.

An example of a pinned message on Pumble, a business messaging app
An example of a pinned message on Pumble, a business messaging app

#3: Lateral communication

The third type of internal communication consists of lateral exchanges between employees or departments equal in rank or status.

This is the ordinary day-to-day interaction between coworkers, which allows them to coordinate tasks, solve problems, provide support to each other, etc. Alternatively, it’s communication between entire departments that allows them to collaborate.

Lateral communication can happen verbally or in writing (e.g. instant messaging or email), one-to-one, or in groups.

🔸 Example:

A customer support agent can use Pumble for customer support to consult their colleagues in the channel dedicated to urgent issues on a ticket that needs to be resolved immediately.

🎓 In addition to these three types of communication in the workplace, you may have also heard about diagonal communication. If not, you can read all about it in this article:

#4: External communication

External communication refers to the flow of information from an organization to external parties, such as customers, partners, vendors, suppliers, legal entities, media, and the general public.

The way your business communicates with outside parties affects how the world perceives you. After all, the way you communicate with your customers, contractors, and suppliers can have a profound impact on your professional reputation.

That’s why organizations need to curate their messages carefully and consider any potential misunderstandings before they roll out an announcement, ad, or another kind of external message.

🔸 Examples:

  • A marketing team issues a press release to announce an improved version of the company’s product coming out soon.
  • An organization sends out an email newsletter informing its VIP customers about upcoming events.
  • A company grants a freelancer guest access to their internal communication software to expedite collaboration.
A team collaboration app like Pumble allows you to give third parties access to your internal workspace to simplify external communication
A team collaboration app like Pumble allows you to give third parties access to your internal workspace to simplify external communication

Wrapping up: Communicate more effectively by mastering all types of communication in the workplace

If you’re trying to advance in your career, learning more about the way different types of communication can alter the format and rules of your interactions is a great place to start.

Of course, some of those rules are applicable to all manner of professional communication. When in doubt, be sure to:

  1. Identify the level of formality that is expected of you and stick to it. Keep your tone professional but friendly should be appropriate in most situations.
  2. Know your audience. Whether you are tasked with presenting or simply engaged in casual workplace interactions, be sure to adjust your approach to your audience.
  3. Simplify your message as much as possible and use concise, active language to express it.
  4. Improve your presentation skills by varying your speech pattern and keeping an open posture and a friendly demeanor.
  5. Always proofread and double-check the information in any form of business communication you send out.
  6. Practice active listening and sharpen your perception skills to become better at processing nonverbal communication.
  7. Maintain emotional control by becoming more self-aware.

By focusing on these aspects of business communication, you should be able to master the 4 types of communication we have mentioned today — and more!

References:

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