The 3 main types of communication
The three main types of communication
We can break down the way information is communicated to us into three broad categories; that which we listen to, that which we read and that which we watch. Each of these can be used very effectively in any organisation but the skill lies in the careful matching of which type to use, under which circumstances.
As the leader of a team it is important to realise that every situation that you choose to communicate about, will be unique in why you need to communicate, what needs to be communicated, and who you need to communicate to. It is in considering these three factors that will help you determine how you need to communicate to your audience. And it is equally important to realise that there is no recipe book for this but more a set of guidelines that can help you think through how best to achieve maximum impact from your communication. This module will provide you with a very brief look at these three different modes of communication, verbal, visual and written.
Let’s start off with verbal communication. I’m sure you’ve all heard horror stories of people sending emails to colleagues, even though they are just over the desk. Sadly this happens all too often in situations where the art of conversation is not valued as the primary communication tool within the organisation. Typically verbal communication is the most commonly used form of communication because it is quick to do, and readily open to feedback.
Types of verbal communication may include informal and formal meetings, casual encounters and general daily conversations that occur in any work environment. If none of these are commonly used as a communication tool in your organisation, ask yourself, “Why?” There could be explanations, for example if you work remotely perhaps it’s not always practical. But in general, in most organisations, it should be strongly encouraged to develop a high level of professional discourse or conversation to meet the vast majority of the communication needs. As a leader in an organisation it will certainly benefit you to build your team’s skills in the art of conversation, and to build their ability to engage in professional dialogue because it really is the most powerful communication tool that can be used effectively within any organisation.
Next we move on to visual communication. For as long as we have had visual media such as TV, organisations have made use of this to advertise their products to as wide an audience as possible. Nowadays, with the rapid growth in social media platforms this visual advertising or visual communication has become very affordable for organisations and consequently is very widely utilised as a way of communicating messages to clients and customers, and more widely to the general public.
The Social Media phenomenon is really gathering pace in today’s world and has become an increasingly popular way of communicating with your team as well. This has clear benefits for us as leaders in an organisation, in that we can make use of visual media to convey messages to our teams. These messages can be immensely powerful if created in the right way and if timed correctly. For the skilled visual messager, it is possible to really hone in on the specifics of the message that you are trying to convey. An example where visual messaging is used is in the delivery of ‘flipped’ meeting material where team members can watch a video or a brief message in advance of a meeting, thus saving meeting time.
The use of visual messaging is often positive. It could be that you are marketing a particular part of your business, or you are trying to put over a positive impression of your organisation to your audience, or it could be that you are providing some pre-meeting information to your team. It is unlikely that you would employ a visual message if you were dealing with something which is confidential, politically challenging or any negative messaging that you may have to take care of, such as a disciplinary procedure.
The disadvantages of using visual media are that it can be time consuming and does come with technical frustrations. If you are wanting to communicate something quickly to your clients, making a short film or video recording can be an unnecessary time expenditure, if you consider what you are wanting to achieve. So you, as the leader, should be prudent when making the decision to record a message through film or video.
Also, visual communications tend not to work if direct messages are to be given to individuals or groups of employees, when a face-to-face meeting would better be employed.
There is so much to talk about in the use of visual media, but not in this module. Suffice to say that, as the leader of a team, you will develop a sense of when this can be effectively used as a communication tool.
The third type of communication is written communication. From a leader’s point of view written communication is an extremely valuable tool because it leaves behind a record of what has been communicated. Much of what organisations communicate has to be done in writing anyway and as a leader you will learn to embrace the positive aspects of written comms and really put these to excellent use within the context of your team operations. It may be that you have to provide your team with a ‘to do’ list for the week, or details on how to complete an appraisal form, or indeed how to write a sensitive letter to a concerned parent. Any number of situations exist where written communication is the only way to convey your message.
But, written messages can be a challenge for many of us, and can be for several reasons.
- One is that many of us find it difficult to convey what we really mean, in written words. It’s not always easy to find the exact words to describe how we are feeling about a particular issue, and successfully put this across to our audience. Perfecting the art of written communication can take a lot of time and experience, and even then you risk unwittingly being ambiguous or conveying something in a tone that is misinterpreted.
- Another reason is that we don’t always choose the right format to write in. There are so many platforms to write on, for example short memos or whatsapp messages, formal letters, email, and so on. The list is long and for someone wanting to convey a message it is important to know which one to choose for the desired effect. Sending a sensitive message to a worried parent via whatsapp may be inappropriate, whereas a carefully crafted email written to their address may be more likely to achieve what you wish it to.
Written communication is always, however, going to be necessary in any organisation because there is always a level of documentation that needs to be maintained as a written record. No company exists without written policies or a written vision statement for example. As a leader you will need to learn how to write the right things at the right time.
This is a very brief look at the 3 types of communication that we use. Your role as a leader is to consider what you will need to use, and when. You would do well to work on your communication skills in all three areas though so that you get to understand the pros and cons of each of them. The more you make use of the different types of communication, the more you will gain an understanding of how your team responds to them. In time your style will become synonymous with the communication strategy of your team. But it is important to remember that even the most experienced leaders give serious thought to their communication styles and strategies for the duration of their leadership journeys, because they understand that clear and effective communication can either make or break their leadership in spite of anything else.
Point of Reflection
Reflect on the balance of communication types in your team. Is the majority of communication verbal, written or visual? Is the balance right in your opinion? Why?
Personal Development Activity
Strategic Thinking (1 hour)
In the following scenario there are several communication needs. As the team leader of the team in question, your role is to map out the communication strategy, making sure you address each of the key strategic questions effectively:
- Who needs to receive the communication?
- What info needs to be included in the communication?
- What style of communication will be used?
- When will this be communicated?
You are the Departmental leader of the Geography department and you want to take your students to see the Rift Valley in Africa. Being an international residential trip, there are significant costs involved so you want to notify parents far in advance to allow for a payment plan system to be implemented. Additionally, students will require visas and other travel documents that will be required to travel there.
Your communication strategy will need to ensure that you build enthusiasm within the parent and student body, and keep them well informed as to the requirements in the lead up to the trip.
In your leadership journal create a table that looks like this and populate it with the relevant information:
Which piece of Communication?
Who needs the comms?
What info to include?
What mode to be used (visual, written, verbal)?
When to communicate?