5 types of communication in the workplace

7 min read  |   11 May, 2021   By Breathe Australia


There are five main types of workplace communication:

  1. Informal
  2. Formal
  3. Verbal
  4. Non-verbal
  5. Written

Each type plays a vital role in successfully sharing information with your colleagues and customers. Plus, when you choose to make excellent communication a priority in your business, the natural result will be a positive, efficient and profitable workplace culture.

Learn how to find the perfect balance of successful communication in your business by understanding the main benefits and drawbacks of each type of workplace communication below.


What are the benefits of informal or ‘grapevine’ communication?

Informal communication is an official term for casual conversations shared between friendly colleagues. It tends to be more personal and because of that, one of the main benefits of encouraging and harnessing informal communication in the workplace is that it helps to build strong working relationships as well as promoting effective teamwork.

Another benefit of informal communication is it helps people get along. Being able to crack a joke with a colleague at work without the fear of being reprimanded by management leads to a more enjoyable workplace and company culture. If your employees feel comfortable at work, they are more likely to stay and get things done.

Informal communication can also be super handy in minor misconduct situations. If an employee is not meeting your company standards, or is often running late, an informal chat can often solve the problem without having to give them an intimidating formal warning that goes on their record.

The main drawback of informal communication is how it can sometimes lead to gossiping or inappropriate conversions which may offend some people or get out of hand and actually start to damage the company culture.

So, it’s important to gently remind employees if necessary that however comfortable one feels with their colleagues, everyone is still at a place of work and that they should avoid saying or writing anything that might hurt someone or jeopardise someone’s job.

Plus, make sure that you aren’t contributing to rumours yourself by saying things in the wrong way. The way you communicate is critical and has a profound effect on how your employees feel and react.


What is the best way to use formal communication?

You would use formal communication when you need to communicate in an overly official and professional manner with a certain type of client, senior colleague or even a prominent member of society. In general, you would avoid using slang and being too familiar or casual in a formal communication with one of these types of people.

While formal communication might not be the most commonly used type of workplace communication, it is highly beneficial in these types of situations:

  • When you email someone for the first time, especially if that person is more senior than you, a customer or outside the company
  • When you need to share serious or procedural information with your team 
  • When you send a follow-up email after a meeting to confirm what was discussed and any next steps you agreed on

The main benefit of formal communication is clarity, strength and respect. However, if something like an exciting product or service announcement for example is written too formally, the audience, whether it be employees or clients, may not engage with your content in the way you hope. Formal communications can sometimes come across as cold and uninviting which is unlikely how you would want someone to perceive your business.

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How can you wield the power of verbal or oral communication?

Verbal or oral communication is when you communicate by speaking.

As a first touch point, speaking is often the best way to go. Other than it being quicker than writing, it also helps to grab people’s attention, build a relationship and gauge people’s reactions. Elements of speaking like, two-way conversation, the tone in someone’s voice or the look on someone’s face go a long way in building rapport.

Another benefit of verbal communication is how easy it is to make sure your message is received in the right way. If someone looks confused or a bit taken aback from something you’ve said, you have the opportunity to clear up any issues right away.

While it is great for avoiding miscommunication, the biggest drawback of verbal communication is not having a record of exactly what was said (unless of course you record a conversation). Written communication makes it easier to refer back to what has been discussed if questions arise at a later date.

Encourage verbal communication wherever and whenever possible. Especially when you need to resolve a problem or mend a client or colleague relationship that requires clear emotions and empathy to find a mutually beneficial solution.


How to take advantage of non-verbal communication

Non-verbal communication is everything other than words that people use when communicating. The saying, ‘It’s not what they said but how they said it’ is a classic for a reason. People pick up on more than just words in a conversation including things like:

  • Body language - when giving feedback
  • Tone of voice - when giving instructions
  • Facial expressions - when reacting to an idea someone might not agree with
  • Eye contact - when someone is listening 
  • Intonation - especially when talking on the phone
  • Interaction - remembering personal details
  • General disposition - when someone is working on a deadline or a tricky project

It’s almost impossible not to use non-verbal communication when you speak so try to concentrate on giving the right and respectful non-verbal cues that complement the message you’re trying to convey. Being the example of how you want your employees to communicate is also the best way to teach them.

When you use it well, non-verbal communication leads to clearer, more positive and effective communication overall.  It is essentially the best mate of verbal communication. The right body language stimulates a productive conversation. Alternatively, the wrong body language can get someone offside pretty quickly. So, the more your non-verbal cues align with your verbal message, the more successful communication in your business will be. 

The main drawback of encouraging non-verbal communication in your workplace is when your employees use it without much thought. An inadvertent yawn, slouching posture or un-engaging tone of voice can ruin a meeting or worse, turn a customer off. So, consider taking some time to give your employees some helpful pointers around using positive non-verbal cues across all types of workplace communication.


What are the benefits of written communication?

Written communication includes hand-writing or typing words (and numbers) to share information. Emails, company messenger platforms, text messages, letters, PowerPoint presentations and even short handwritten post-it notes all come under written communication.

Written communication offers five main benefits to your business, including:

  1. Organisation
    Putting information into written words is a great way to organise your message. Laying words out in a visually appealing way (using bullet points, tables and subheadings for example) can help you and other people digest that information quickly and comprehensively.
  2. Clarity
    Writing makes it easier to be clear and concise when communicating complex information. It also allows you to edit and get your message as close to perfect as possible before delivering it.
  3. Reference
    When there is confusion about when something was submitted or if someone asks you about what happened in a meeting from last month and you remembered to write notes, you can refer back to your notes or emails when your memory deserts you.
  4. Proof
    Written words leave a detailed trail, this gives you facts if you’re ever questioned about something down the line.
  5. Efficiency
    When you need to communicate with a group of people who’s calendars are chock-a-block, a quick email, presentation or collaborative document explaining the input you need from everyone can be a serious timesaver.

While written communication is essential in every business, in-person conversations are usually the best first touch point. No matter how great your email is, actually speaking to someone will always be a more effective way of building a working relationship with them. That said, a clear piece of written communication is extremely effective in these situations in the workplace: 

  • Following up on a voicemail
  • Following up on a discussion between a group of people
  • Explaining a process clearly, step by step 
  • Providing an update on a project

The main drawback of written communication is that it’s hard to convey tone. This makes it easier for someone to take your message the wrong way if they don’t vibe with some of the words or punctuation marks you chose to use. For example, a misplaced exclamation mark can be mistaken for yelling rather than excitement.

Staying across  and managing multiple types of workplace communication can be tricky. But, with the right systems in place, it’s much easier to find the right balance and know which to use in every type of situation.

Breathe’s award-winning comprehensive HR software for small businesses puts you in control of re-centering your people (and their communications) at the heart of your business. It’s the perfect solution for keeping on top of your day-to-day HR and communication tasks, centralising data, and maximising employee engagement.



Author: Breathe Australia

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