Verbal communication is the process of transmitting information to other people using language. It is the exchange of concepts, emotions, and knowledge with the help of voice or spoken word.
It can take many forms, including face-to-face conversations, phone calls, video calls, public speeches, presentations, and interviews.
Verbal communication can be aimed at a person or a particular group (or even not have a specific addressee). Still, in any case, it has a dialogic character and represents constant communicative acts.
For example, a teacher and student exchange information in a classroom setting, or two friends discuss their day together.
In general, verbal communication is a vital component of human communication and is essential for building relationships, sharing information, and expressing emotions.
Verbal Communication Definition
Verbal communication is the transfer of information during any interaction using signs in the form of language communication. It may consist of words, tones, and non-verbal sounds.
Whether it’s over the phone, face-to-face, or via other media, comprehending and expressing thoughts, emotions, and messages is a powerful approach to making relationships work.
According to Taylor and colleagues (2022),
“…verbal communication depends on language or a prescribed way of using words so that people can share information effectively” (p. 115).
It involves the use of complex neural mechanisms that enable the production, reception, and processing of spoken language.
Marshall and Firth (2018) believe that
“…verbal communication is sending a message through a spoken language that is understood by both the sender and receiver” (p. 76).
Such communication includes facial expressions, intonation, and body language.
This type of communication is essential for maintaining relationships, discussing plans, and understanding each other’s emotions.
In simple terms, verbal communication is the exchange of ideas, thoughts, and emotions through phrases and word choice.
Verbal Communication Examples
- Face-to-face conversations: Face-to-face conversations are the most prevalent form of verbal communication, which can happen in any situation—from simply catching up with friends to having a heated debate. It occurs when two or more people directly interact with one another. Whether it be an informal discussion or formal business engagement, it plays an integral role in connecting and exchanging ideas between individuals.
- Phone calls: Phone conversations are an exceptionally effective way to communicate, regardless of whether they’re used for personal or professional matters. People can connect quickly with a few words or delve into deep discussions that span hours.
- Oral Presentations: Presentations are a form of verbal communication involving one person speaking to a group to inform, educate, or persuade them about a particular topic. For example, a business might have someone give a presentation to new employees about company policies and procedures.
- Interviews: Interviews are a useful way to acquire information through verbal exchange, with one party (the interviewer) posing questions and the other providing answers. Job interviews are an ideal example of this kind of discourse.
- Public speaking: From lectures to debates, public speaking is an art form that allows one person to reach a large group of people to inform, educate, or persuade them on various topics. It’s an effective way for a single individual to quickly and efficiently make their voice heard among a broad audience.
- Group discussions: Group conversations are a powerful way of connecting through words, as it involves multiple minds sharing their perspectives and ideas on a subject or topic. Group talks can be either planned out or spontaneous, and they may take place anywhere from workplaces to classrooms and beyond.
- Storytelling: Storytelling is an enthralling mode of communicating through which one individual conveys a narrative to another or a group in order to edutain, teach, or motivate. When it’s done right, storytelling can be immensely powerful and establish strong connections with the listeners on an emotional level.
- Debates: Debates are a form of verbal communication in which two or more people present opposing views on a particular topic. It can be used as an educational tool for students or as a way to discuss and resolve conflicts between different groups. So, for example, a debate between two political candidates can help citizens make an informed decision.
- Face-to-face negotiations: Negotiations are a prime example of verbal communication that involves two or more parties engaged in discussing and bargaining over any given issue. They can be used for various purposes, including business negotiations, labor negotiations, and diplomatic talks.
- Face-to-face Counseling: Counseling is verbal communication involving a trained professional communicating with a client to provide support, guidance, or therapy. Counseling can take various forms, such as individual, group, and family counseling.
List of Additional Examples
Additional key situations in which verbal communication is highly valuable include:
- Speaking up in a meeting
- Giving a speech to a group of people
- Teaching a class
- Ordering food at a restaurant
- Asking for directions
- Giving feedback on a project or assignment
- Apologizing for a mistake
- Expressing gratitude
- Offering condolences
- Explaining a concept to someone
- Giving directions
- Explaining rules or guidelines
- Asking for help
- Giving instructions
- Giving compliments
- Providing constructive criticism
- Telling a joke
- Consoling someone over a cup of tea
- Pillow talk between a couple
- Discussing a performance review
- A quick conversation in the hallway
- Sharing ideas or brainstorming with team members
- Giving a sales pitch
- Explaining company policies
- Giving a motivational speech
- Expressing love or affection
Effective Verbal Communication Skills
Some common strategies for effectively communicating orally, or what we might call ‘verbal communication skills’ include:
- Projecting your voice – Projecting your voice means ensuring your words are heard clearly by all intended listeners. It may also help to establish a sense that you are confident. Soft or mumbling voices are often associated with timidness and uncertainty.
- Volume modulation – While projecting your voice is positive, being too loud in the context of the communication environment can come across as aggressive or inappropriate. Modulate your voice so people can clearly hear it, but not so you’re talking over others or making others uncomfortable.
- Tone modulation – Tone refers to the manner in which you are speaking. An angry tone might be fast and abrupt while a loving tone might be soft and calm. Modulate your tone to help project your intended message.
- Controlling vocal fry – Vocal fry occurs when a person’s voice sounds like it is croaking or it goes up at the end of a sentence (such as when asking a question). By ensuring your voice maintains consistency you can attain an air of confidence and self-control.
- Active listening – Listening is a big part of communication. By listening actively (nodding, taking notes, asking strategic clarification questions), what you subsequently say will increase in quality, contribute better to the conversation, and be better received by your interlocutor.
- Appropriate humor – Telling jokes is highly contextually dependant and even culturally dependant. Ensure your humor will be taken well by only using it in situations where your audience is receptive. A well-placed joke, however, can calm a room, break the ice, and set the tone for the rest of your conversation.
- Strategic pauses – Pausing strategically at the end of a key point can ensure your message gets through and is emphasized. But too much pausing can lead your listeners to boredom.
- Encouraging dialogue – Often, people get confused and lost when we are speaking to them. To ensure they are keeping up with our explanations, points, and stories, we should encourage people to ask for clarification and engage in two-way discussion.
Verbal vs. Non-Verbal Communication
While verbal communication involves exchanging words, non-verbal communication is using body language and other visual cues to convey meaning without using words, and is often considered passive communication (Buck & VanLear, 2002).
Verbal communication refers to the use of language, whether written or spoken, to convey meaning between two or more individuals.
Instead of words, nonverbal communication allows people to express themselves in other ways, including facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, and gestures. It means people can communicate even without speaking a single word!
Verbal communication is typically encoded through the use of words, grammar, and syntax and is decoded by the listener through their understanding of the same.
Nonverbal communication is encoded and decoded through facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice, and body language (Taylor et al., 2002).
While verbal communication can vary significantly across different languages and cultures, it is generally more universal than nonverbal communication.
Nonverbal communication can differ greatly depending on cultural norms and can be misinterpreted if people from different cultural backgrounds are involved (Chang, 2015).
Thus, while verbal communication is conveyed through words, sentence structure, and other linguistic cues, nonverbal communication uses facial expressions, postures, and inflections in one’s voice.
Understanding and utilizing both verbal and nonverbal communication effectively can help individuals better convey their messages and build stronger relationships.
Types of Verbal Communication
Based on the audience, verbal communication can be divided into four main categories: intrapersonal communication, interpersonal communication, small group communication, and public communication (Flood & Avillo, 2017).
Each of them has its own distinctive features and can be used to serve a variety of purposes.
1. Intrapersonal Communication
This type of verbal communication is dialogue within an individual. It is a conversation that an individual has with themselves, either silently or – in the case of verbal communication – out loud.
2. Interpersonal Communication
Interpersonal communication refers to sharing ideas, thoughts, and understanding between two or more people. It can occur anywhere – be it a conversation between friends, a debate among coworkers, or even negotiations between business associates.
Interpersonal communication relies on verbal cues such as tone, words, and inflection, as well as nonverbal cues such as facial expressions and body language (Flood & Avillo, 2017).
3. Small Group Communication
Small group communication is an invaluable tool for not just brainstorming and problem-solving but also for making informed decisions that are based on varied perspectives and insights.
It may include a group of friends, colleagues, or classmates discussing topics related to their interests (Flood & Avillo, 2017).
4. Public Communication
Public speaking is widely known and practiced in today’s world. It involves one person addressing an expansive audience with speeches, rallies, presentations, or similar events.
This form of communication has been used to propel political campaigns, motivate soldiers during wartime and convey important messages for centuries (Flood & Avillo, 2017).
Public communication relies on the speaker’s ability to engage the audience through verbal cues such as tone, pace, and inflection, as well as nonverbal cues such as gestures and facial expressions.
Strengths of Verbal Communication
Verbal communication is a powerful tool that can be used to build relationships, resolve conflicts, and share ideas (Kimathi, 2014).
It allows for rich communication because people can usually It has the following advantages:
- Clarity: Verbal communication allows for clear and direct expression of ideas, thoughts, and feelings. It provides the opportunity to articulate specific messages precisely and accurately, making it easier for others to understand and respond to them.
- Feedback: With instant feedback, both the speaker and listener can ensure they have a shared understanding of the message.
- Emotion: Verbal communication has the potential to convey emotions effectively, such as enthusiasm and sincerity, through subtle yet meaningful changes in tone of voice, inflection points, and emphasis.
- Adaptability: Its versatility allows it to be customized for any audience, making it a useful communication vehicle whether one needs to persuade, instruct or negotiate with someone.
- Creativity: Expressing oneself verbally has the potential to be an enriching experience, allowing people access to a world of figurative language and literary devices that can craft messages in ways both creative and memorable.
Weaknesses of Verbal Communication
Like any other form of communication, verbal communication also has its share of drawbacks, such as common misunderstandings and misinterpretations (Kimathi, 2014).
It has the following disadvantages:
- Misinterpretation: Verbal communication is highly subjective and open to interpretation, which can lead to misunderstandings. It can be due to a lack of clarity in the message itself and misunderstandings or miscommunications in tone and body language.
- Memory: Verbal communication is temporary and can be difficult to remember accurately. It can be especially problematic when important details or instructions are being communicated.
- Distractions: Verbal exchange can often be disrupted by external interruptions, ambient noise, or distractions that vie for attention. Consequently, sustaining interest and engaging in a productive discussion can become difficult.
- Inefficiency: For large groups or when discussing intricate facts and figures, verbal communication can be difficult. It’s tiring, ineffective, and does not always provide the most accurate data representation.
Verbal communication is a fundamental part of human dialogue, allowing people to share their ideas, emotions, and knowledge with one another.
It can take on several forms ranging from direct conversations to phone calls or video chats to public speeches and interviews.
Verbal communication is crucial in building relationships, sharing information, and expressing emotions.
Verbal communication requires exchanging words, while nonverbal communication employs body language and additional visual cues to express meaning without speaking.
Both methods of interaction are pivotal for effective human contact, and recognizing the advantages and shortcomings of each can result in successful conversations.
Understanding the different types of verbal communication and how they are used can help individuals become more effective communicators and build stronger relationships in all areas of their lives.
Buck, R., & VanLear, C. A. (2002). Verbal and nonverbal communication: Distinguishing symbolic, spontaneous, and pseudo-spontaneous nonverbal behavior. Journal of Communication, 52(3), 522–541. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.2002.tb02560.x
Chang, Y. (2015). Cultural norms and nonverbal communication: An illustration. Communication Teacher, 29(4), 191–195. https://doi.org/10.1080/17404622.2015.1057749
Flood, E., & Avillo, A. (2017). Full-contact leadership. Pennwell, Fire Engineering Books & Video.
Kimathi, T. (2014). Advantages and disadvantages of oral/verbal communication and written communication. GRIN Verlag.
Marshall, M., & Firth, S. (2018). AQA GCSE (9-1) psychology. Hodder Education.
Taylor, C., Lillis, C., & Lynn, P. (2022). Skills checklist for fundamentals of nursing: The art and science of person-centered nursing care. Wolters Kluwer.