You’ve probably seen jobs advertised that require good communication skills or, better yet, excellent communication skills. Given how important your communication skills are in the workplace, it’s a good idea to be clear about the different types of communication that can take place at work. To make sure you’re well equipped for whatever communication type your job requires, here are the 9 different types of communication in the workplace and when to use them.

1. Verbal / Oral Communication

Verbal communication is the use of words to share information. Verbal communication can refer to written and spoken words. Oral communication, on the other hand, refers specifically to words being spoken. However, these days, you’ll find that both words are often used interchangeably, and you’ll see lots of job advertisements using verbal when referring to spoken communication.

If you’ve been working for any period, then you’ll probably agree that speaking to people is usually the best way to go, at least in the first instance if this option’s available. Besides being the quickest way to get your message across, there are many other benefits. 

It’s much easier to build rapport when speaking to someone compared to emails or other forms of communication. Verbal communication, done right, means you can avoid misunderstandings, things won’t be taken the wrong way, and if they are, at least you can clear up any issues there and then. 

Let’s face it, we’ve all received those emails that had us wondering what on earth the person at the other end was feeling or thinking. 

Are they mad at me? Did I do something to pi**s them off? 

With verbal communication, if you did, then you’ll probably know. 

Verbal communication is the way to go with most things. It’s a much easier two-way dialogue, is great for relationship building, and reduces the risk of issues down the line due to miscommunication. 

“Verbal communication, particularly in a remote working environment, takes on an even greater significance,”

Notes business owner Jared Bauman of https://jaredbauman.com/.

“In the shift from traditional office spaces to virtual ones, the nuances of face-to-face interaction are often lost. As a business owner, I’ve observed that remote teams thrive when they prioritize real-time, verbal interactions. This doesn’t just mean scheduled meetings but also impromptu calls to clarify a brief point or to share a quick update. These seemingly small interactions help in replicating the ‘hallway conversations’ that are a staple in physical offices. They foster a sense of closeness and immediacy that emails or texts simply can’t match. While written communication is crucial for documentation and clarity, integrating regular, informal verbal communication can significantly enhance understanding, team cohesion, and, ultimately, the success of your remote workforce.”

 When to use it

Speaking to people is the best way to go. Use this wherever and whenever possible. Especially where there’s a relationship that needs a bit of TLC or when you need to resolve issues.

2. Non-Verbal Communication

It’s not what you say but how you say it. This age-old saying has stuck around forever for a reason. In communication, people will pick up on more than just the words you use. 

They’ll pick up on your non-verbal communication and it includes: 

  • Body language
  • Tone of voice
  • Facial expressions
  • Eye contact 
  • Intonation 

You can say the right words in the wrong way, and the response you get will be completely different. And speaking to someone while not making any eye contact will make them feel like you’re not listening. 

When to use it

It’s impossible not to use non-verbal cues when communicating. Whether you mean to or not, you will be giving them. The key is to make sure that the cues you give off are the right ones that align with your message. 

Just like you wouldn’t shake your head and say yes, all your non-verbal communication needs to be congruent with your verbal communication to make your message clear. 

Used well, good non-verbal communication leads to better communication overall, less confusion, and better rapport. 

3. Formal Communication

Formal communication is another one of the different types of communication in the workplace, and it means exactly what it says. When you communicate formally, you communicate officially. The purpose of formal communication is to get the information across in a professional business manner. 

This doesn’t mean that you can’t be professional when communicating more informally, but it does mean no slang or being too familiar or casual in your communication. 

When to use it

With time, you will hopefully build good relationships with your colleagues, your manager, and anyone you do business with regularly. However, there is still a place for formal communication, and depending on which industry you work in, how often this is will vary. 

As a guide, formal communication is good for the following situations:

  • When emailing anyone for the first time, particularly people outside your company and senior people inside
  • When communicating specific types of information to your team 
  • Depending on your industry, when communicating with clients and stakeholders
  • When sending a follow-up email after a meeting or discussion to confirm what’s been discussed and agreed 

Different types of communication in the workplace and when to use them

4. Lateral/ Horizontal Communication

Lateral communication, also called horizontal communication, is the communication between individuals, teams, groups, or departments in an organization at the same hierarchical level. 

The benefits of lateral communication include more open discussion, better collaboration, and idea-sharing, which can lead to better innovation and less miscommunication, confusion, and duplication of work between teams where responsibilities may overlay or where both teams are working on the same project. 

In this type of communication, teams also have more opportunities to be involved in decision-making processes, and any disagreement or conflict can also be discussed and resolved quickly.

The downside of this lateral communication is that it can slow things down if decisions then have to be checked and approved by management or if fast, they also need to be checked or confirmed. 

When to use it

There are countless situations where lateral communication is beneficial. Although you’ll be using it often, some of the times when it comes in handy include:

  • When you’re working on a project with your own or other teams 
  • To share cross-functional knowledge 
  • When you want to resolve conflict or agree on ways of working between teams

different types of communication in the workplace and when to use them

5. Vertical Communication

Vertical communication is the opposite of horizontal communication and is the communication between people, teams, or departments of an organization at different hierarchical levels. For example, between you and your boss.

While the thought of this type of communication might give you an image of horrible bosses barking orders. Vertical communication has to happen for a company to run or even exist. Even in the flattest company structure where everyone reports to the CEO, at some point, there will be information communicated to the rest of the team from the CEO, and this would still be vertical communication. 

And don’t forget, the chain works both ways, so it’s about the team communicating “up” as well as the management communicating “down” 

Advantages

The advantages of this type of communication include

You can share your thoughts and concerns with management 

Where it works well both ways, there will be a good relationship between the team and the senior members of staff

Everyone can be made aware of the policies, direction, and plans 

increases efficiency and can lead to effective decision-making 

Increases discipline within the organization 

Disadvantages

There are some disadvantages to vertical communication. 

The bigger the company, the more hierarchical layers there are. This can lead to very slow decision-making processes since so many people are involved, not just this, this also means that information is passed down more slowly as well and may even get distorted along the way, or not passed along at all. 

Another disadvantage of this type of communication type is that it can reduce relationships and cause separation between the management and the team, worse still if the information isn’t fed through this can lead to all sorts of issues including loss of trust. 

When to use it

But there are times when vertical communication is necessary. For one thing, it can increase trust. 

Some of the leaders that I’ve trusted most have been the ones who shared information openly with the team. 

Also, When you need to escalate an issue that can’t be resolved among your peers, it helps to have a clear escalation chain and to know that you can speak to someone who will be able to take action 

Finally, as a manager, sharing information about processes, job roles, and policies all require vertical communication. 

[Related: How To Master Communication with Your Employees]

6. Informal Communication

Informal communication is a casual conversation between coworkers. It sits outside any business hierarchy and is more personal. It’s the type of communication you have with your family and friends. 

As you build strong relationships with your colleagues, the stronger these relationships become, the more informal communication you’ll have.

Informal communication promotes rapport building. At its best, it means that people get along, making the office somewhere you want to be. A place where you can get things done whilst still having a laugh with the people you work with.

At its worst, informal communication, also referred to as the grapevine, can lead to gossiping and inappropriate conversions in the workplace, which can damage the environment and culture.

When to use it

Relationships in the workplace do evolve, so over time, depending on who you’re dealing with, you might be more comfortable and able to move to communicate informally. However, the best advice is to remember where informal communication is concerned is that however comfortable things get, you’re still at work and the last thing you want to do is to say or write something that will come back to bite you in the ass later.

different types of communication in the workplace and when to use them

7. Written Communication

Finally, there’s written communication, which goes beyond email. Written communication is anything that involves putting pen to paper or typing. This includes emails, messenger, Slack, text, PowerPoint presentations, or even simply taking notes that might be used or referenced later. Anything where you have the words written down. 

There are tons of reasons to write things down. If you don’t already, consider some of these great benefits: 

It’s a great way to organize information since you can lay things out in a variety of visual ways, for example, by using bullet points and tables. 

You can be clear and concise in a way that makes it easier to communicate more complex information.  

Written communication gives you something to refer back to, so you don’t have to rely on your memory; phew! 

Since it leaves a paper trail, you have the facts should anything be questioned at a later date, so it’s got your back. 

It can be a timesaver where you need to communicate with several people whose diaries might be packed

These are just some of the many reasons to start communicating in writing. But of course, written communication doesn’t negate the need for a conversation. 

However great your emails are, nothing will ever be better than actually speaking to someone and getting to know them that way. 

When to use it

From the many benefits of written communication, you’ve probably figured out that it’s a good one to use, even if it’s just in brief. Some examples of when you might want to get things written down include:

  • To follow up on a voicemail
  • As a follow-up to a discussion that’s happened between two or more parties
  • If you need to explain a process in a clear and step-by-step manner 
  • To provide a status update on a project
  • The dreaded resignation from a job
  • Thank someone publicly or formally 

Woman presenting at work

8. Visual Communication

If you’ve had to do a presentation, then it’s highly likely that you used visual communication. Visual communication utilizes more than just words; it also uses images, graphs, and other visual displays to get the message across.

Advantages

There are many advantages to using visual communication at work. Firstly, different people absorb information in different ways, therefore by using a mixture of communication styles, you’ll be more engaging to a wider audience. What’s more, no one likes to sit through endless presentations, especially when the slides are filled with words! Using image-rich visuals makes things more interesting. Finally, we all know that an image says a thousand words, so using graphs, charts, and other visuals will be more powerful and attention-grabbing in getting the message across.

When to use it

Since people absorb information in different ways, make sure you use visuals whenever you’re presenting to a group of people. This way, you will grab everyone’s attention. Another important use of visual communication is when you’re trying to explain complex topics or when you have a lot of data to share. Using visuals, tables, graphs, and images, you’ll be able to communicate the complexity in a succinct and clear format.

Finally, if you ever had to present to senior leaders, then visual communication is your friend. Numbers, charts, images, and graphs can tell a powerful story much quicker than words, and leaders don’t have time to go wading through pages of writing to get to the key points.

[Related: 10 Tips For Powerful Presentations That Will Captivate Your Audience]

9. Listening

Last but definitely not least, on this list of different types of communication in the workplace is listening. Which might surprise you. While listening does indeed fall under non-verbal communication, this is such a critical part of communication that it deserves to be highlighted specifically. Ignoring listening or not giving it the credit that it’s due where workplace communication is concerned is the best way to have constant stress. Lack of listening leads to mistakes, time being wasted, duplication of work, and even relationship breakdown. Yet, it still isn’t always considered one of the key types of communication in the workplace.

It’s incredible what you can take away when you truly listen. And remember, where listening is concerned, sometimes, it’s about what isn’t being said as much as what is. It’s about taking in everything and not just the words that are being said.

I promise you that if you can improve your ability to listen, the outcome will stun you.

There you have it. There are plenty of ways that you can communicate with the people you work with. From coworkers to stakeholders to suppliers and more. Each group of people provides a different set of challenges, so next time you need to get your message across, make sure you pick the best mode of communication for the occasion. 

And while you’re at it, since communication is such a critical skill in any job role, it’s worth improving your communication skills. The rewards will surprise you.