The types of communication at work: everything you need to know
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:
5. 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 five forms of communication may be synchronous or asynchronous, depending on the situation. They can also take place online or offline.
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.
We’ll also explore different types of workplace communication and discuss the best way to communicate within businesses and organizations.
Synchronous vs asynchronous communication
For the main division of the types of communication, we recognize synchronous and asynchronous communication:
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.
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.
Online vs offline communication
In the past fifty years, with the emergence of the internet and innovative technologies, another major classification of the ways to communicate has emerged— online and offline communication.
Today, most people communicate and form social ties using a combination of these two types, and 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, according to Lieberman and Schroeder
The authors of the paper propose four 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:
- instant messaging;
- video conferencing;
- voice over IP;
- forum discussions;
- social media communication;
- virtual whiteboard collaboration.
How online interaction affects workplace communication
While online communication has disruptive potential for personal relationships, in the workplace, online communication tools can greatly improve communication within an organization but also with clients and third parties. They can:
- improve overall collaboration;
- speed up processes;
- save time;
- facilitate information flow;
- improve transparency;
- connect remote teams, etc.
Here are a couple of communication examples that showcase the advantages of online over offline interaction in organizations.
- 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, which is hosted on the clinic’s own server ensuring the maximum security of any patient data transferred via the chat app. 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, and 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 chat history, she performs a quick search in the #testing channel and easily finds how they solved the issue before.
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:
- English, with a share of 20.77%
- Chinese, with a share of 19.64%
- Spanish, with a share of 6.04%
- Arabic, with a share of 5.25%
- 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
- A product manager talking with the CTO about the newest feature in the medical app their team is developing.
- A blog post writer talking about illustrations for his next blog post with the blog’s illustrator.
- An HR specialist talking with the CMO about the requirements for the new SEO outreach specialist.
Tips for better 1-to-1 interpersonal communication
Getting the message across in 1-to-1 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.
- Think of the simplest way to get the 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.
- Be thoughtful and respectful
No matter what message you’re trying to convey, if you’re condescending in tone or inconsiderate of your interlocutor, they will get only one message — that you don’t like them.
You need to make the person you’re talking to feel comfortable and show them you value their input. You can do so by keeping your tone neutral, or cordial in a more casual setting, not talking down to them, and expressing genuine interest in their opinion.
Active listening itself is one of the five major communication forms, and it’s crucial for successful 1-to-1 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 or how they’re responding to your message.
- Maintain emotional control
Some people tend to take things personally or get frustrated at the first sign of disagreement from the other person. However, appropriate emotional control is a crucial skill to learn if you don’t want to let your emotions stand in the way of successful communication and collaboration.
🎓Want to learn about the types of communication skills? Check out our comprehensive guide on what makes a successful communicator: The communication skills of effective communicators
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.
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.
Tips for better intrapersonal communication
All types of human communication rely on knowing how to communicate with yourself first.
Here are some tips to help you fine-tune your intrapersonal communication.
- 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.
- Sharpen your perception
Accurate perception is essential for healthy intrapersonal communication because it acts as a counterweight to self-awareness. The former looks outward and the latter inward, and both are equally important for balancing the internal conversation.
- Practice self-regulation
With one eye on the inner monologue and the other on the dialogue you’re engaged in, self-regulation can take the helm. It is the ability to control how you feel about and react to any situation you find yourself in, thus affecting both your silent conversations and what you choose to voice.
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.
- 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.
Tips for better communication in groups
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. Decentralized — In a decentralized group, no one takes the lead or controls the flow of communication;
2. Centralized — In a centralized structure, there’s a central authority, i.e., a person who directs the conversation and acts as a facilitator for the group.
- When to favor a centralized structure
The research found in “Small Group Decision Making” by Donald G. Ellis and B. Aubrey Fisher indicates that centralized groups are much better for 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 as they speak, the team leader should take the lead and delegate tasks. This way, everyone can focus on a specific part of the problem and avoid any confusion that would stall the process.
- When to favor a decentralized structure
According to Ellis and Fisher, decentralized groups are better for working on more complex and slower tasks.
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.
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 communication — the medium used to convey information, such as a PowerPoint presentation or a video presentation.
- 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 newest design solutions for an advertising campaign for a priority client.
Tips for better public communication
Public speaking is all about great delivery and feeling the pulse of your audience.
Here are some practical tips for better public communication.
- Know your audience
Before you start your presentation, you need to be aware of who your audience is so that you know how to approach the topic at hand.
For example, while you and your team may be accustomed to a certain lingo at the office, you might have to adjust your vocabulary when presenting your ideas to a client, as they are not familiar with your internal terminology.
You also need to have in mind how familiar the audience is with the subject. This should inform your decision on what you should and shouldn’t have to explain.
For example, if you’re a digital marketer talking about innovative SEO solutions at a marketers’ conference, you don’t need to start by explaining the basic SEO terminology. On the other hand, if you’re an SEO specialist detailing the company’s SEO practices to newly recruited writers, you might want to start from the basics.
- Be aware of your vocal production
Public communication isn’t only about choosing what you’ll say — it’s also about how you deliver it. The key elements of superb vocal control include:
1. Clarity — Speak clearly and articulate every word with precision so that the audience can understand you;
2. Intonation — Try to vary your vocal pitch. If your tone is flat, the audience will get bored;
3. Pace — Try to find a balance between being too fast and losing your audience and being too slow and boring them;
4. Volume — It’s not about a loud voice, but rather a strong voice coming from the diaphragm instead of your throat. This is especially important if you’re in a large room and the distance from the front to the back row can present a serious communication impediment and not everyone can hear you.
🎓Learn more about different types of barriers of communication here: The barriers to effective communication
- Use body language effectively
As a public speaker, you need to engage a wider audience, so it’s important to use every communication tool at hand, including your body:
- Try to always face your audience, even when you’re presenting information from a slide so that everyone can see your face;
- Make eye contact with different members of your audience during the presentation;
- Use hand gestures to emphasize parts of your speech;
- Move around the presentation space and even use movement to mark a transition to the next point (e.g. move from one side of the projection screen to the other).
There’s a detailed elaboration on nonverbal ways of communication further on in the text.
- 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 allow for the audience’s questions and comments. Alternatively, you can leave time for that at the end of the presentation.
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 that 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.
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.
Tips for writing effective emails
In general, email is a great tool for non-urgent communication. Here are some tips on how to write better emails:
- Have a clear subject line — It should clearly state what the email is about;
- Be precise and concise — Keep your email short and sweet and get to the point quickly;
- Keep the tone professional yet warm — Make sure your email conveys your point in a sharp but friendly manner;
- Always proofread — Unlike some other types of written communication, an email is rather formal, and spelling mistakes or grammatical errors can leave a bad impression.
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.
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.
Tips for communicating via instant messages
Here’s how to use instant messaging effectively:
- Use DM for short messages — DM is best used for short messages that require a quick reply;
- Keep it to the point — It’s easy to veer off the topic and engage in a casual chatter with the other person (or people), but that might distract you from work;
- Be respectful of other people’s time — Pumble and similar platforms allow people to update their availability status, so if someone’s status says “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, for example, post it there instead of spamming a work-related channel.
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.
The CTO of an app sending the CEO of a company a progress report relating to the development of the said app.
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 on report writing:
- 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 several times before you send the report to edit out any superfluous information.
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.
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 represent 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 — Avoid including 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.
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 correspondence, such as reference letters, employment verification, and job offers.
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.
Tips for writing good letters
The exact way to write a letter depends on its purpose, but there are some general rules to follow:
- 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 as 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.
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.
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.
Tips for writing memos
A memo can be an extremely effective way to communicate any 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, without any sidetracks so that it’s easy to understand;
- Use lists and bullets — Bullets are a great way to structure a message you want to convey via memo;
- Use the preferred style of your organization — If your organization has preferences as to the style of their memos, get acquainted with it and use it.
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.
Digital bulletin boards located throughout your office that showcase the latest company 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 easily readable — A bulletin that’s too long and written in chunky paragraphs or a block of text will fail to capture the attention;
- Make key information clear 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.
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.
A newsletter sent on a weekly basis to all employees via email, to provide updates on 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 in order 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.
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 nonverbal communication include body posture, handshakes, facial expressions, paralinguistics, gestures, proxemics, haptics, oculesics, appearance, and artifacts.
Here’s what each is about:
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.
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.
Tips on communicating with body posture
Posture can reflect, or seem to reflect, someone’s attitudes, emotions, and thoughts. So you need to be careful about what it conveys in communication. Here’s how to communicate better via your posture:
- Maintain an open posture — Open posture (body turned toward the interlocutor, open arms, uncrossed legs, etc.) indicates openness to conversation and general friendliness;
- Use mirroring — Mirroring another person’s posture (e.g. their hand on their hip) can indicate approval and interest. However, don’t force it or it can lead to an awkward situation.
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.
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.
Tips for a perfect handshake
A handshake often helps form the first impression, so here’s how to make that impression positive:
- Find a middle ground between too firm and too loose — You want to convey confidence by keeping it moderately firm but not hurt the other person;
- Maintain eye contact and smile — Reinforce your handshake with these other nonverbal cues for the best impression;
- Keep a respectable distance — Don’t get too close or stay so far that you have to bend over to shake hands.
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.
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.
Tips on how to use facial expressions in communication
Keeping a poker face might come in handy in a game of poker, but when conversing with coworkers, it can make you appear distant, cold, and disinterested. Here’s how to use facial expressions to appear friendly:
- Smile — A simple smile can easily dispel any doubts about your attitude or feelings. It makes your interlocutor much more comfortable;
- Open your eyes wide — Eyes wide open indicate interest in the subject discussed (but, don’t overdo it, of course).
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.
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.
Tips on how to communicate 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 — This is a sign of empathy and compression;
- Use hand gestures to emphasize your points — Hand movements can help you get your verbal message across in a more effective way;
- 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.
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.
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.
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 interlocutor;
- Articulate every word — Make sure not to mumble so that the other person or people can understand every word you’re saying.
Proxemics refers to the space we need and perceive 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.
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.
Tips on how to use proxemics
It’s often tricky to determine the appropriate amount of space between interlocutors. General rules are as follows:
- 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.
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.
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).
Tips on how to use touch in workplace communication
Touch in the workplace is a touchy subject indeed! Apart from a handshake, patting colleagues on the back or shoulder is generally perceived as appropriate, at least in the western world. Here are some tips on how to use touch in the workplace:
- If you’re not sure, don’t — 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;
- Inform yourself on what’s considered inappropriate — Some companies have policies that detail what kind of touch is appropriate, but there are some things generally considered inappropriate, such as grabbing, groping, massaging, etc.
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.
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.
Tips on how to use eye movement in communication
Many people struggle with where to direct their gaze while talking with someone, so here are some tips to help with that:
- 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 is to keep eye contact but not to stare;
- Don’t overthink it — If you think too hard about where you should look or what you should be doing with your eyes, that will cause you to shift your gaze around nervously.
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.
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.
Tips on how to help the communication process using your appearance
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, meaning you should be clean and your clothes tidy;
- Respect the dress code — Many companies nowadays have a casual or business casual dress code, but you should check this beforehand if you’re getting ready for a meeting or a job interview.
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.
- 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.
- 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 how to use 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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- An introductory video about the company created by the HR department, also for the purpose of quicker onboarding of new employees.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
A holiday brochure highlighting important information about the company’s summer retreat.
Tips for better visual communication
Visual communication is practical and often much easier to process than some other types of communication. Since we rely on our eyesight so much, adding visuals to information can increase recall by a staggering 65%.
Here are some tips on how to use visual communication.
Make technical data more interesting with visuals
If you need to do a presentation on a dry and technical subject, you may 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.
Create your own visual brand
If you often need to present data with the use of visuals, you may establish some visual “brand elements” you can then use for every presentation. You may choose to use your organization’s brand colors or design elements. This way, you create a cohesive visual experience for the audience.
Use color psychology to appeal to the audience on a deeper level
Colors often influence our perception, and we’re used to associating different colors with different situations, feelings, and states.
Designers often use color psychology to appeal to the unconscious side of the audience, and you can use it in your visuals too. For example, have you ever noticed that tech company logos tend to be blue and food brands rely on red?
Each color has its own set of subtle meanings.
Simplify complicated info with the use of visuals
The best thing about visuals is that you can use them to present abstract concepts in a simple way and make them more manageable. For example, when trying to explain a complicated process, you can use a flow chart or a roadmap to help the audience grasp it.
Embrace the “show, don’t tell” approach
Back up any explanation with a visual demonstration. For example, if your team uses Pumble and you want to explain to a new team member how it works, it’s best to show them a demo where they can see its use in action.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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 (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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Tips for active listening
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:
- Paying attention, which involves:
- Maintaining eye contact with the speaker;
- Not letting distracting thoughts get in the way of your attentiveness;
- Avoiding distractions in general;
- Not formulating your future responses in your head while you’re supposed to be listening to the other person;
- Paying attention to the speaker’s body language and the additional meaning it may carry.
- Showing that you are listening, which involves:
- Having an open posture;
- Having an inviting posture;
- Encouraging the speaker to continue talking with small verbal comments such as “yes”, “uh-huh”, and similar.
- Providing feedback, which involves:
- Clarifying any assumptions through clarification questions;
- Reflecting on what has just been said by paraphrasing it;
- Confirming that you understand what has just been said by providing summaries of what you’ve just heard.
- Deferring judgment, which involves:
- Not interrupting the speaker with counter-arguments;
- Letting the speaker finish a point before asking questions.
- Responding appropriately, which involves:
- Treating the other person the way we ourselves like to be treated.
Types of business communication
There are four types of communication, including three internal and one external type. They are upward, downward, lateral, and external forms of communication. None of these types is inherently superior to the others, and organizations should rely on them all for optimum results.
Upward communication type
As the name suggests, upward business communication flows upwards, from subordinates to their superiors and further up the organizational hierarchy. It allows higher-ups to check in with their employees, and it helps subordinates voice their concerns, suggestions, opinions, etc.
The communication is rarely 1-to-1 interpersonal, and it’s mostly systemic, capturing the overall sentiment among the employees.
Upward communication often relies on forms, surveys, reports, and other similar resources to relay the information.
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.
Downward communication type
Downward communication is another internal type of business communication that flows in the opposite direction — from the top down. Messages come from higher-ups and are directed at 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.
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.
Lateral communication type
Lateral communication is an internal communication type that flows among 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 coordinate.
Lateral communication can happen verbally or in writing (e.g. chat, email), 1-to-1 or in groups.
A customer support agent using Pumble for Customer Support to consult their colleagues in the channel dedicated to urgent issues on a ticket that needs to be resolved immediately.
External communication is a flow of information from the 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 and can have a profound impact on your reputation and customer relations. That’s why organizations need to curate their messages carefully and consider any potential misunderstandings before they roll out an announcement, ad, or another message.
Of course, for external communication to work flawlessly, an organization’s internal communication needs to be impeccable.
A marketing team issues a press release to announce an improved version of the company’s product coming out soon.
Wrapping up: what types of communication are most valued in organizations today?
The various types of verbal, nonverbal, visual, and written communication are all effective means of conveying 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.
All these forms of communication have their place in organizations today. For example, when establishing a connection with a new client, verbal communication is key, and when presenting a design idea, visual communication is essential.
However, it would seem that written communication takes precedence over other types, as it’s extremely practical for contemporary business needs. While companies often have regular face-to-face or video meetings, emails and instant messages are exchanged on a daily basis, especially in a remote or hybrid work model.
As work from home is becoming the new normal, online communication is starting to overshadow offline interactions. The latter are becoming less feasible since people often choose to work remotely when they can.
Likewise, thanks to the rise in online communication tools and employees within the same organization often working different hours, or even from different time zones, asynchronous communication outshines the synchronous type.
When it comes to the four major types of internal and external business communication, they are all equally important, as information needs to flow in all directions for successful collaboration within the organization and with outside parties.
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.
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- 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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2008.06.005
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- Topornycky, J., & Golparian, S. (2016). Balancing Openness and Interpretation in Active Listening. Collected Essays on Learning and Teaching, 9, 175–184. https://doi.org/10.22329/celt.v9i0.4430
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