The 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 four basic types of communication you can use to convey information to others are:

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

However, considering that effective communication is a two-way process that requires you not only convey information to others, but also interpret information others are trying to convey to you, another, fifth, type of communication emerges:

  1. Active listening 

Of course, in addition to actively listening to what others are communicating verbally, you’ll also often need to interpret what others are conveying in the form of nonverbal, written, and visual communication.

The above-listed types of communication may be synchronous or asynchronous, depending on the situation. 

These five main 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.

You’ll use some of the types and subtypes of communication consciously while communicating. 

But, other types and subtypes may emerge subconsciously, and convey information that you may not want to convey, or information that is simply misleading. 

In this guide, we’ll talk about each of the five main types of communication, as well as their accompanying subtypes. We’ll also provide illustrative examples for each, to help you better use and recognize the existing communication types and subtypes when communicating with others.

Synchronous vs asynchronous communication

For the main division of the types of communication, we recognize synchronous and asynchronous communication:

  1. Synchronous communication implies that all the parties involved in the communication process are taking turns in the exchange of information at the same time. 

🔸 Examples of synchronous communication include:

  • Live meetings — e.g. team members gather at the same location to carry out a daily meeting;
  • Audio calls — e.g. two members of a team talk about their project over the phone;
  • Video calls — e.g. team members use a virtual solution with video functionalities to carry out a daily meeting; 
  • Instant messaging — e.g. two members of a team use a chat app to talk about their current project.
  1. Asynchronous communication implies that the parties involved in the communication process are not participating in the said communication process at the same time. This 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:

  • Fax — e.g. two members of a remote team use a fax machine to share physical documents;
  • Email — e.g. several members of a remote team use email to communicate project changes;
  • Instant messaging — two members of a remote team use a chat app to communicate with each other, with the expectation that there will be a delay in replies, considering that the two teammates are separated by 10 time zones.

Verbal communication

According to a definition by Andrea McDuffie, as cited by SpringerLink, verbal communication involves any form of communication that uses spoken language as a means of sharing information with others 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. This 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 1-to-1 interpersonal communication, intrapersonal communication, small group communication, and public communication

Here’s what each is about:

1-to-1 interpersonal communication

1-to-1 Interpersonal communication involves a 1-on-1 conversation between two individuals. The main elements of such interpersonal communication include:

  • 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;
  • 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.

🎓Learn more about the elements of interpersonal communication here: What is good team communication and why is it important

🔸 Examples: 

  1. A product manager talking with the CTO about the newest feature in the medical app their team is developing. 
  2. A blog post writer talking about illustrations for his next blog post with the blog’s illustrator. 
  3. An HR specialist talking with the CMO about the requirements for the new SEO outreach specialist.

Intrapersonal communication

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

These silent conversations may include visualizations or acts of imagination. But, 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, this 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 with her manager about the details of her assigned task. 

While thinking about the important questions she wants to ask, she voices half of them to her manager. 

While conversing, she ultimately decides that she already has the answers to the other half of the questions she has just considered, so she keeps them to herself. 

Small group communication

Small group communication is a form of interpersonal communication that unfolds between more than two individuals. But, the number of participants in the conversation is still small enough to allow all participants to interact with all the other participants, at one point in 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: 

  1. A daily standup meeting between members of a company’s sales team
  2. An annual board meeting about the overall business strategy for the company in the upcoming year. 
  3. An informal discussion between members of a small marketing team about the company’s newsletter for next month.

Public communication

Public communication involves one person or a group of people sharing information with another group of people. The elements of public communication include:

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

🔸 Examples: 

  1. The CTO in charge of a fashion app holding a presentation about the newest technologies being introduced to the future development of the app. 
  2. The manager of an election campaign highlighting the accomplishments of the communication department in front of the other teams. 
  3. A junior graphic designer presenting the marketing department with the newest design solutions for an advertising campaign for a priority client.

Written communication

According to the definition, written communication is a type of communication that involves transmitting your thoughts, ideas, questions, and concerns through symbols — i.e. letters that build words, phrases, and sentences. Written communication may be synchronous or asynchronous.

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

  1. Transactional written communication — this type of written communication involves a message that is sent to get a response from the receiver. It may involve asking for a favor, requesting a meeting, or a plea for a quick clarification about a task.
  2. Informational written communication — this type of written communication involves a message that is sent for the benefit of the receiver. It may involve 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 — this type of written communication involves a message that is sent for the purpose of providing instructions or directions about an assignment to the receiver. It may involve details about the project a team member has been assigned with, or step-by-step instructions about 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.

Here’s what each is about:


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 — emails whose purpose is to create a permanent, written record of a previously made agreement;
  • Request-and-reply emails — emails who ask a question, specify a task, comment on company policies, ask for confirmation about a meeting, and expect a reply in return.

According to one Statista research, 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.

🔸 Example: 

The head of the HR department and a new employee have just had lunch. 

During this lunch, they have discussed the time and day for their next check-in meeting about the new employee’s progress. 

They’ve made an agreement to hold the check-in meeting on February 25, at 12 pm. 

Once he gets back to his desk, the head of HR sends the new employee an email with the details of what they agreed on. 

This way, both the head of HR and the new employee will have a written record of what they’ve just agreed on, for future reference. 

Instant messages

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

Most apps for instant messaging allow you to perform a variety of actions to improve communication with co-workers, including:

  • Share information with groups of people, in chat rooms or channels that focus on a particular topic;
  • Share information with individuals, via direct messages;
  • Address specific people in chat rooms or channels;
  • Share links and files;
  • Attach videos and images.

🔸 Example: 

A group of professionals using a chat app, such as Pumble, to discuss the design solutions for a website their company is currently working on. 

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

This channel may include only the people who hold the position of designers in the company. But, it may also include people who hold the position of 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 chat app 


Reports are accounts given on a particular matter, usually in the form of official documents. Such documents involve thorough research and a methodical organization of the data collected. Types of reports include, but are not limited to:

  • Informational reports — documents that present unbiased facts about the outcomes of a certain situation, such as the number of members in a team, the roles of members in a team, and their performance results during a particular time period;
  • Analytical reports — documents that analyze the current situation of a company to help the said company make optimal decisions for the future;
  • Research reports — documents that analyze, collect, and present the data, studies, statistics, and other relevant information important for a relevant topic;
  • Explanatory reports — documents that explain a topic or a situation to help relevant individuals understand it;
  • Progress reports — documents that 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 sending the CEO of a company a progress report relating to the development of the said app.


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.


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

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

🔸 Example: 

One of the finalists for a junior marketing position brings a hand-written reference letter from a former employer, which makes the said candidate stand out among other finalists.


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 distributed to the marketing team of a fashion line that 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 memo.


A bulletin is a short official statement, announcement, or a summary of the latest news about the health and wealth of the company’s latest efforts. 

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

🔸 Example: 

Digital bulletin boards located throughout your office that showcase the latest company announcements.


Newsletters are 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: 

A newsletter sent on a weekly basis to all employees via email, to provide updates on the latest developments in a company.

Nonverbal communication

According to the definition, nonverbal communication refers to nonverbal patterns, such as gestures, facial expressions, body posture, and other forms of communication we use to convey information, without using words. 

In the cases when the people we are verbally communicating with can see us, nonverbal communication may follow verbal communication by adding further meaning to it — meaning which we may not always intend to convey, or that may be misleading in some way. Nonverbal communication is usually synchronous — but, if the receiver(s) of a message (i.e. the audience) are watching a previously recorded video presentation of a speaker where the speaker’s nonverbal cues are clear, then we can regard this type of communication as asynchronous. 

The types of verbal communication include body posture, handshakes, facial expressions, paralinguistics, gestures, proxemics, haptics, oculesics, appearance, and artifacts.

Here’s what each is about:

Body posture

Body posture is a form of nonverbal communication that indicates feelings and attitudes. 

It includes the way you sit, walk, stand, or otherwise position your body.

🔸 Example: 

When people at a daily standup meeting start leaning against the wall after some time or are otherwise trying to keep themselves more comfortable while standing, it’s probably a sign that it’s time to end the meeting as people may be losing interest and/or focus on the topics discussed. 


Handshakes are a common form of non-verbal 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 longer period of time;
  • Congratulating someone;
  • Meeting or visiting someone they have not seen for a longer period of time.

In the case when you are meeting someone for the first time, your behavior during the handshake may be part of the first impression you make.

🔸 Example: 

A new hire, upon first meeting her team, provides a firm handshake to everyone while maintaining eye contact as she introduces herself. 

This leads to a good first impression and a strong foundation for a great professional relationship with her teammates in the future.

Facial expressions

Facial expressions are a form of nonverbal communication that involves movements and positions of your face in such ways that they convey a specific meaning. 

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. But, some expressions do have different meanings in different cultures.

🔸 Example: 

The head of design showing a look of surprise regarding the design solution of their newest junior graphic designer, which the other graphic designers misinterpret as dislike for the design solutions presented.


Gestures involve movements of the head, face, or other parts of the body for the purpose of communicating particular messages. 

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

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

🔸 Example: 

A criminal defense attorney frequently looking at his watch during the closing word of the prosecutor, to show his “boredom” and undermine the relevance of the prosecutor’s words in the eyes of the jury.


Paralinguistics involves vocal communication that is separate from actual language. 

This type of vocal communication may manifest as a tone of voice, pitch, loudness, and inflection.

🔸 Example: 

The head of design congratulating the junior graphic designer with a strong tone of voice, which the other graphic designers present now correctly interpret as approval and enthusiasm over the talent of the junior graphic designer.


Proxemics refers to the space we need and perceives as belonging to us while we are communicating. 

This personal space depends on cultural expectations, personality characteristics, the factors of the current situation, social norms, but also the level of familiarity between the communicators. For example:

  • An impersonal interaction, such as a speech in front of an audience, mandates a public space, i.e. about 12-25 feet of space between the public speaker and the audience. 
  • An interpersonal interaction, such as a casual conversation between two colleagues, mandates a social space, i.e. about 4-12 feet of space between the two communicators.

🔸 Example: 

A political candidate holding a speech with only 4 feet of space between her and the audience members who are sitting the closest — this causes discomfort on the part of the said audience members.


Haptics is a form of nonverbal communication that involves communicating through touch. 

In most cases, touch may be used to convey affection, sympathy, or familiarity. But, according to Julia Wood and her book “Interpersonal Communication: Everyday Encounters”, touch can also be used in communication to convey status or power.

🔸 Example: 

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


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

Eye movements may involve blinking, looking, or staring at someone. 

An eye gaze is typically 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 an eye gaze to determine whether a speaker is being honest with you or not. 

🔸 Example: 

The sales manager who handles 20 sales specialists is interested to know who handled the lead process of a client who quickly decided to abandon the process and write an extremely negative review about the team’s app. 

She asks Amelia and Stella, the two most likely “culprits”, about who handled the lead process for this particular client. 

Both say: “It wasn’t me”. 

They accompany their statements with eye movements that will ultimately help the sales manager come close to identifying the liar:

  • Amelia maintains steady eye contact with the sales manager when answering the question, which implies that she is telling the truth.
  • Stella has difficulty maintaining eye contact, and her gaze shifts directions several times, which implies she has something to hide. 


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

An appearance may indicate whether the said conversation is expected to be formal or informal.

Moreover, people’s appearance may trigger certain judgments and even incorrect interpretations in the eyes of others. 

An article by Steven Gans, MD, a board-certified in psychiatry, active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital, implies that others may even feel differently towards us, based on the color of clothes we wear.

🔸 Example: 

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

For the final round of interviews, one candidate shows up wearing sweatpants (Candidate A), and the other shows up in classic business attire (Candidate B). 

Considering that this sales position will require the sales specialist to have frequent calls with high-profile clients, the candidate’s idea of suitable attire plays a subtle, but vital part in the selection process. 

Ultimately, the sweatpants turn out to be the deciding point that pushes the HR department to drop Candidate A and make a job offer to Candidate B.


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

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

🔸 Examples: 

  1. When signing up for a forum about education, you select a profile picture that has you in front of a map of the world, indicating that you’re a geography teacher. 
  2. 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. 

Visual communication

According to the definition, visual communication involves the process of conveying information through visual elements. Most types of visual communication involve illustrations, images, supporting text, data visualizations such as charts and graphs, and other similar visual elements that help convey the intended meaning. Depending on the situation, this type of communication can be synchronous or asynchronous.

The types of visual communication include images, videos, flow charts, roadmaps, data charts, infographics, presentation slides, visual reports, mind maps, paper handouts, and prints.

Here’s what each is about:


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 chat apps. 

🔸 Example: 

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

So, she sends him an image of the world, parsed by 24 time zones, via an attachment in her chat app, to serve as inspiration for his work, and a reference to what she has envisioned for this blog post cover illustration.


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

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

🔸 Example: 

  1. A group of video tutorials, meant to help the onboarding of new hires by showing how to use the set of apps that are mandatory in a company. 
  2. An introductory video about the company created by the HR department, also for the purpose of quicker onboarding of new employees.

Flow charts

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

When creating a flow chart, people usually use boxes to represent the different steps in a process. 

The boxes, i.e. steps, are connected with each other, in the right order, 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?”


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 towards a goal 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.

Data charts 

Data charts are graphical representations of data. 

The data may be presented in the following ways:

  • Bar charts, where data is presented as bars;
  • Line charts, where data is presented as lines;
  • Area charts, where data is presented as bars and lines;
  • Pie charts, where data is presented as slices;
  • Doughnut charts, where data is presented as parts of a whole.

🔸 Example: 

The blog writer who wrote the blog post titled: “Fun facts and statistics about time zones” uses the company’s chat app 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. 


An infographic is a collection of images, charts, diagrams, and a minimal amount of text that together provide an easy-to-understand overview of a particular topic. 

An infographic is a useful tool when you want a straightforward, but also a 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;
  • Organize information by hierarchy.

🔸 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”). 

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

Presentation slides

Presentation slides are pages of a presentation. The communicators compile the information they want to convey and then use this data to create presentations that consist of text, diagrams, charts, images, and other visual representations of data. 

The communicator uses an app for this purpose — popular choices include MS PowerPoint, LibreOffice Impress, and Prezi. 

🔸 Example: 

The head of HR has created a Prezi presentation for the members of the director’s board, to clarify the number of candidates the HR team has processed in the previous quarter.

Visual Reports

Visual reports are accounts given on a particular matter, but with visual enhancements that make the textual elements of this often official document easier to scan and comprehend by readers. 

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 meant to help the reader to navigate the text with ease;
  • A multiple-column layer, for better readability;
  • Various types of charts ( e.g. bar, line, pie, or doughnut charts);
  • 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 for her five-member team, so she creates a visual report for this purpose. 

This visual report includes a four-column layer. The first column contains the names of the team members, while the remaining three columns contain key performance metrics. 

Each row that begins with the name of a team member is color-blocked, to visually group the said team members with their key performance results, and make the report easier to scan. 

At the end of the visual report, there are two pie charts that further illustrate the team member’s performance with the relevant key metrics. 

Mind maps

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

You simply select a central topic and then attach subtopics and related ideas to it, in a non-linear layout that 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 outlines;
  • Document outlines;
  • Everyone’s ideas during brainstorming sessions;
  • Business strategies;
  • Project management processes.

🔸 Example: 

A mind map that shows 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.

Paper handouts

Paper handouts are sheets of paper that contain topical information. 

They may be distributed during meetings, presentations, speeches, or lectures, to help the audience grasp the main concepts and ideas discussed. 

These paper 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: 

A history professor teaching her class about the key innovation introduced by the Ancient Romans. 

Near the end of her lecture, she provides the students with paper handouts highlighting the main accomplishments of the Ancient Romans.


Print is another common form of visual communication used by organizations, businesses, but also events. 

Print may include flyers, brochures, and posters you may want to use to convey key information.  

🔸 Example: 

A holiday brochure highlighting important information about the company’s summer retreat.

Active listening

Listening to someone implies you’re hearing what that someone is saying. But, according to its definition, active listening involves more than just hearing someone — active listening refers to a listening pattern that:

  • Keeps you engaged in your conversation;
  • Keeps you fully concentrated on what the other person is saying;
  • Keeps you attentive to what the other person is saying;
  • Makes you show that attentiveness by paraphrasing and reflecting what the other person is saying;
  • Makes the other person feel truly heard and valued.

According to Topornycky and Golparian and their work, ”Balancing openness and interpretation in active listening”, a person who is practicing active listening follows five key technics:

  1. Paying attention, which involves:
    1. Maintaining eye contact with the speaker;
    2. Not letting distracting thoughts get in the way of your attentiveness;
    3. Avoiding distractions in general;
    4. Not formulating your future responses in your head while you’re supposed to be listening to the other person;
    5. Paying attention to the speaker’s body language and the additional meaning it may carry.
  2. Showing that you are listening, which involves:
    1. Nodding;
    2. Smiling;
    3. Having an open posture;
    4. Having an inviting posture;
    5. Encouraging the speaker to continue talking with small verbal comments such as “yes”, “uh-huh”, and similar.
  3. Providing feedback, which involves:
    1. Clarifying any assumptions through clarification questions;
    2. Reflecting on what has just been said by paraphrasing it; 
    3. Confirming that you understand what has just been said by providing summaries of what you’ve just heard.
  4. Deferring judgment, which involves:
    1. Not interrupting the speaker with counter-arguments;
    2. Letting the speaker finish a point before asking questions.
  5. Responding appropriately, which involves:
    1. Honesty;
    2. Openness;
    3. Treating the other person the way we ourselves like to be treated.

Considering that this type of communication is coupled with verbal communication by definition, it is usually synchronous in nature. However, in the case that the receiver(s) of the message are actively listening to a pre-recorded audio or video call, such an instance of active listening is regarded as asynchronous.

The types of active listening include informational listening, critical listening, empathic listening, rapport listening, and reflecting

Informational listening

Informational listening involves listening with the intent of taking in new information, without further analyzing it. 

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, in order to have a chance to review it later.

🔸 Example: 

A talent acquisition specialist is working from home, and he has a technical problem with his computer. 

He calls up the company’s tech support over the phone and the tech support specialist talks the talent acquisition specialist through the technical problem over the phone, while he listens to all the instructions intently.

Critical listening

Critical listening involves listening with the purpose of understanding and evaluating 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 her problem and answer her accordingly.

Empathic listening

Empathic listening (also known as “therapeutic” listening) involves listening to someone in order to understand their feelings and emotions. 

Active listeners who are listening with the purpose of better understanding someone’s emotions and feelings need to connect with the other person and encourage them to explain and elaborate on their feelings and emotions.

🔸 Example: 

A school psychologist who is emphatically listening to the problems of a teacher who has troubles with his classroom management skills due to conflicts with select students.

Rapport listening

Rapport listening involves listening to someone with the purpose of building rapport with them and encouraging them to trust and better like us. 

This type of active listening is common in situations that involve negotiation.

🔸 Example: 

A sales specialist tasked with selling memory foam mattresses over the phone, listening to the questions and concerns of a potential customer, in order to build trust (and, ideally, make a sale).


Reflecting while listening to someone is a process of restating what the speaker is feeling and saying. 

Reflecting feelings is a type of active listening that involves listening to someone while also reflecting the feelings they are conveying in communication. 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. Listeners who aim to reflect the feelings of the speakers, help build an emotional rapport between them and the speakers.

Reflecting meaning is a type of active listening that involves listening to someone while confirming that you understand the meaning they are trying to convey.

In order to reflect meaning or feeling, you’ll need to rely on three 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 you’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, by using your own words, to indicate that you 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 involves confirming that you understand what has just been said. Unlike paraphrasing, summative reflection requires you to offer personal views while restating what the speaker has just said.

🔸 Example: 

A chemistry professor is sharing concerns about a student with the school psychologist. 

The school psychologist mirrors her concerns by repeating the key words she uses to describe the problem. 

She also paraphrases some of the important, but not crucial points. 

She restates the gist of the key issue while offering her professional opinion about the said student. 

As a result, the chemistry professor feels her points have been understood, her opinion about the student valued, and her decision to turn to the school psychologist justified. 


The various types of verbal, nonverbal, visual, and written communication are all effective means of conveying various new information to other people. 

In addition to that, actively listening to what others are saying, as well as properly interpreting the nonverbal, visual, and written communication of which we are the recipient is also crucial for effective communication. 

In line with all that, it’s crucial to be aware of the various types and subtypes of communication, in order to help us communicate what we want better, help others understand us better, and help us understand others better.  


  • Katz, N., & McNulty, K. (1994). Reflective Listening. Retrieved February 4, 2021, from
  • McCarthy, A., & Lee, K. (2009). Children’s knowledge of deceptive gaze cues and its relation to their actual lying behavior. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 103(2), 117–134.
  • McDuffie A. (2013) Verbal Communication. In: Volkmar F.R. (eds) Encyclopedia of Autism Spectrum Disorders. Springer, New York, NY.
  • McLean, S. (2005). The Basics of Interpersonal Communication. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon
  • Molloy, A. (2014). Feeling Disgustedly Surprised? Scientists Identify 21 Facial Expressions. Independent. Retrieved February 4, 2021, from
  • Topornycky, J., & Golparian, S. (2016). Balancing Openness and Interpretation in Active Listening. Collected Essays on Learning and Teaching, 9, 175–184.
  • Statista. (2021). Number of e-mail users worldwide from 2017 to 2024(in millions). Retrieved February 4, 2021, from
  • Wood, T. J. (2012). Interpersonal Communication: Everyday Encounters. Boston: Wadsworth.

Marija Kojic is a researcher and writer specialized in team communication and collaboration. She enjoys helping people discover meaningful and effective ways to communicate and collaborate smarter. Marija has written many blog posts for Clockify, but she has also appeared in G2 Crowd Learning Hub, The Good Men Project, and Pick the Brain, among other places.