Out of all the interpersonal skills, communication seems like the one that should come most naturally. After all, humans have been making sense of one another for our entire existence.

However, communicating effectively – meaning, accurately exchanging information with other people – isn’t always quite second nature. In fact, doing it well requires quite a bit of effort and understanding. 

5 types of communication

Most of us equate “communication” with “talking.” In reality, though, communication is multifaceted. You don’t just communicate in a singular way (nobody does). You use a combination of these different types of communication when engaging with others: 

  • Verbal communication: Talking with other people, whether that happens digitally or in-person.
  • Nonverbal communication: Your unspoken communication cues, including your gestures, eye contact, posture, and facial expressions. As strange as it seems, there are also vocal nonverbal cues. These are things like your speaking rate, volume, and pitch.
  • Written communication: Using written words to interact with other people, whether it’s through emails, instant messages, reports, or social media posts.
  • Visual communication: Interacting with other people through images, including photos, GIFs, emojis, and other visual assets.
  • Listening: Communication is about exchanging information with other people, not just broadcasting your point of view. Listening – particularly active listening, which is the most engaged form of listening – is crucial to confirm understanding, build trust, and have a productive interaction.

4 principles of communication

Whether you realize it or not, you’re communicating all the time. Your one-on-one with your direct report, a quick text sent to a friend, your seemingly inconspicuous eye roll during your company all-hands – it’s all communication. And it’s all important.

The four principles of communication help to drive home just how complex and meaningful communication is. These principles state that communication is:

  • Inescapable: “You cannot not communicate” is a common saying among communication scholars. It’s impossible to avoid communicating. Even silence says something.
  • Irreversible: Once a message is out there, it’s out there. There’s no taking it back.
  • Complicated: There are a lot of factors and variables that make communication complex, including our perceptions of each other and ourselves.
  • Contextual: Communication is impacted by other outside factors like timing, who you’re interacting with, and the environment you’re communicating in. 

These principles are a solid reminder that communication isn’t always as obvious as it seems and that you need to be mindful – even when you’re saying nothing at all. 

3 ways to improve communication skills

9 immediate ways to improve communication in the workplace

Becoming a better communicator can have a major impact on your relationships, your happiness, and your performance at work. Here are three ways to make it happen. 

1. Listen (really listen)

When it comes to communicating effectively, your ability to listen carries the most importance. But it’s becoming increasingly challenging to give other people your full focus, particularly with prevalent distractions in the form of endless pings and notifications. A few tips to practice more active listening include: 

  • Turning off devices and other potential disruptions to give someone your full attention
  • Maintaining eye contact when someone is speaking to you (three seconds before briefly looking away is ideal)
  • Summarizing what someone shared with you to confirm your understanding
  • Avoiding interrupting (sit with your fingers over your mouth if you’re prone to jumping in—it demonstrates attentiveness and also serves as a gentle self-reminder)

You can also boost your listening skills by developing your emotional intelligence, which is your ability to recognize and respond to your own emotions as well as the emotions of other people. That’s important context to have when communicating, regardless of the method. 

2. Pause and think

Remember that communication is irretrievable—once something is out there, you can’t take it back. That level of permanence should be alarming, yet most of us still communicate with knee jerk reactions and off the cuff remarks.

It’s amazing what a simple step back can do. Whether you briefly pause during a live conversation or take an hour or two before responding to an email, giving yourself a little breathing room can help you be more clear, concise, and respectful.

In-person discussions don’t always offer as much space and time as written methods of communication. So, if you’re feeling pressured, ask for some time to think and revisit the topic later. It’s far better than the alternative of saying something you might regret.

3. Prepare accordingly

So much of communication hinges on adequate preparation—showing up equipped and ready with the details, resources, or answers you might need. 

Whether it’s your performance review with your manager or an important presentation to the leadership team, invest the time and energy into getting ready for those interactions. That’ll pay dividends when it comes time to actually share your point of view.

Of course, other situations – like an unexpected request or a random interaction with a colleague—aren’t necessarily things you can prepare for. If something does catch you off guard, revisit the above advice and ask for some time to think before responding. 

3 ways to improve your communication skills at work