System Of Communication: Types, Elements & Examples

Instructor: David White
Through this lesson, you will learn about the three types of communication that people use to express themselves; you will also explore some examples of how each of these types operate. When you are through with the lesson, you can test your new knowledge with a short quiz. Updated: 05/13/2022

How Do We Communicate?

Have you ever thought about what we mean when we use the word 'communicate'? Perhaps someone has told you that you are a good communicator - what do they mean by that? Although we tend to associate the term 'communicate' with verbal expression, it might surprise you to know that speaking is the least common way that people communicate with one another, or interpret the world around them.

Generally speaking, human beings have three systems of communication: verbal (talking), non-verbal (body language or tone), and visual (writing or symbols). Rather than choosing one of these ways to communicate, we tend to use a combination to express ourselves or interpret others at any given time.

Traffic lights are a good example of how these three things work together to communicate. If you were stopped at a red light and it suddenly turned green, how do you know that it means that you're supposed to drive? The person in the car with you might tell you that it is your turn to go (verbal), people behind you could be honking their horns (non-verbal), and, obviously, the light is green, which you understand to be a symbol that it is safe to proceed (visual).

Verbal Communication

The most recognizable form of communication is verbal communication, which are the actual words that come out of your mouth while you are speaking. In the context of communication, verbal communication is the least effective because it is dependent on the extent of a person's vocabulary, their ability to use words correctly, and put together sentences in a coherent and accessible manner.

Verbal communication is only effective if your vocabulary is understood

If you were to ask me for directions to a particular place, whether or not I could get you there using only verbal communication would depend entirely on my vocabulary and your ability to understand that vocabulary. For example, say that the directions that I am giving you requires you to go around a rotary or traffic circle. If I didn't know what those were called, I wouldn't be able to explain it and you would likely get lost because my directions did not indicate such a feature.

Non-verbal Communication

In terms of communicating, it is non-verbal communication, like body language or tone of voice, that gives meaning to much of our verbal communication. For example, if you've ever been in an argument with a significant other, how do you know that they're upset with you? In some cases, they might actually tell you precisely why, but more often than not, it is their non-verbal communication that is effectively expressing their emotions.

Sticking with the example of giving directions, my non-verbal communication would probably be more meaningful than simply relying on the words that are coming out of my mouth. I could point to indicate which direction that you are supposed to go in, through my tone of voice you might be able to pick up on which directions are most important, and when it came to something that I didn't know the correct word for, like a rotary, I could motion with my hand to indicate that you'd be going around a big circle.

Although the statistics tend to vary from study to study, most researchers agree that we tend to rely most on non-verbal communication when we are attempting to convey something to another person. In the case of me giving directions, it is the non-verbal communication that is likely to get you where you want to go.

Visual Communication

The third type of communication is visual communication, which, in addition to writing, includes a vast collection of signs and symbols that are often specific to a particular culture or region. Right now, for example, I am engaged in visual communication because I am writing this lesson to convey information to you, the reader.

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