Something to Say? Choosing the Right Form of Communication

Published Tuesday, August 03, 2010 1:46 PM

To tweet or to e-mail? Phone or face-to-face? When a host of communication options are at your fingertips choosing the right one requires careful matching of audience and message.

The Basics

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let's take a minute for an overview. Communication can be broken down into two broad categories: verbal and written. Both are used extensively in the workplace and life.

Generally speaking, verbal communication is a more personal form of communication and is well suited for interactions that require extensive questioning or back-and-forth and for delivering emotionally-charged information such as compliments or reprimands.

Written communication is the most appropriate choice when delivering detailed information, when something needs to be documented, or when a person is too far away to easily speak with in person or by phone.

What to Pick?

 When proceeding, ask yourself how would you like to best receive information? In addition, I like to ask the people I interact with on a regular basis, what method of communication they prefer. Tap into your commonsense and do a gut-check.  When in doubt, consult with a colleague for a second opinion. I've also found a list from the book The Leaders' Communication Toolkit to be a helpful guide: 


  • Terminating employees
  • Cultivating relationships
  • Performance reviews
  • Resolving conflict
  • Sales presentations


  • Breaking news
  • Informal communications
  • Non-confidential communication
  • Scheduling
  • Working collaboratively with remote teams


  • Informal communications
  • Non-confidential communication
  • Sharing confidential communication
  • Scheduling
  • Working collaboratively with remote teams


  • Sharing information informally
  • Sharing information formally
  • When something needs to be documented


  • Teleconferencing through phone/video for meets with remote teams
  • Sales presentations when in-person attendance isn't realistic
  • Working collaboratively with remote teams


  • Showcasing departments/people


  • Breaking news
  • PR/marketing outreach
  • Building relationships with wide audiences

Keep in mind that choosing the right form of communication matters less than how well or effectively you communicate. When communicating verbally, master your emotions, avoiding sarcasm or angry tones. Be sure to be a good listener as well, verbal communication is a two-way street. For more tips on interpersonal relationships and communication in the workplace read our post Developing Emotional Intelligence: Putting on Your "Feeling" Cap. For tips on effective written communication, check out our post How to Write Persuasively and Why


What rules of thumb do you use in selecting the right form of communication? Share your thoughts here and on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Candie Harris


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