1.1 Communication: Types and Forms

Learning Objectives

  • Define communication.
  • Explain intrapersonal, interpersonal, and group communication.
  • Explain types and forms of communication.

Talking to or texting someone might come to mind first when you think of communication. However, while talking and texting are communication delivery methods, they do not represent a comprehensive definition of communication.

A more comprehensive understanding of communication refers to sharing information, ideas, and feelings, typically aimed at mutual understanding. In this way, you must consider the sender, the recipient, and the transaction. Simply put, the sender is the person sharing the message, the recipient is the person receiving and interpreting the message, and the transaction is how the message is delivered and the factors that influence the context and environment of the communication. As you can see, communication is a complex process. It involves more than just what you say, as reflected in Figure 1.1.1, where communication between mother and baby occurs via touch rather than words.


A mother is holding her baby's hand with her finger.
Figure 1.1.1 Communication between mother and child occurs by touch rather than words.

Client communication involves verbal, nonverbal and written communication (Ogbogu, et al., 2022).

Verbal communication

  • Verbal communication is oral communication through spoken words, sounds, vocal intonation, and pace. It can occur face-to-face, one-on-one or in groups, over the telephone, or via video conferencing (Ratna, 2019). As a health studies student, you might communicate verbally with clients, families, colleagues, and interprofessional teams.

Nonverbal communication

  • Nonverbal communication is a type of communication that occurs through facial expressions, eye contact, gestures, and body positions and movements (Ratna, 2019). As a health studies student, you will learn that nonverbal communication is important because it can reinforce or contradict what is said verbally. Additionally, nonverbal communication is used more often than verbal communication. Thus, you must become aware of your nonverbal communication.

Written communication

  • Written communication is a type of communication that occurs through written words, symbols, pictures, and diagrams. You are probably familiar with some informal, written types of communication, such as texting or emailing someone, posting a picture on Instagram, or using an emoji on Twitter. You may also have engaged in more scholarly forms of written communication, such as letters and papers. In health studies, written communication involves legal documentation and scholarly writing, such as essays, peer-reviewed publications, protocols, practice standards, and best practice guidelines.

Activity: Check Your Understanding

Forms of Communication

Forms of communication vary in terms of participants, channels used, and contexts. The five main forms of communication are intrapersonal, interpersonal, group, public, and mass communication. This resource introduces you to intrapersonal, interpersonal, and group communication. In the following sections, we will discuss the similarities and differences between each form of communication, including their definitions, level of intentionality, goals, and contexts.

Intrapersonal Communication

Young woman with coffee sitting outdoors in a contemplative pose.
Figure 1.1.2. Intrapersonal communication is communication with ourselves that takes place in our heads.

Intrapersonal communication is communication with oneself using internal vocalization or reflective thinking. Like other forms of communication, intrapersonal communication is triggered by internal or external stimuli. We may, for example, communicate with ourselves about what we want to eat due to the internal stimulus of hunger, or we may react intrapersonally to an event we witness. Unlike other forms of communication, intrapersonal communication occurs only inside our heads. The other forms of communication must be perceived by someone else as communication. So what is the point of intrapersonal communication if no one else even sees it?

Intrapersonal communication serves several social functions. Self-talk acts of imagination, visualization, and even recall and memory can help us achieve or maintain social adjustment (McLean, 2005). For example, a person may use self-talk to calm themselves down in a stressful situation, or a shy person may remind themselves to smile during a social event. Intrapersonal communication also helps build and maintain our self-concept. We understand who we are based on how other people communicate with us and how we process that communication intrapersonally. The shy person in the earlier example probably internalized shyness as a part of their self-concept because other people associated their communication behaviours with shyness and may have even been labelled as “shy” before they had a firm grasp on what that meant. We also use intrapersonal communication or “self-talk” to let off steam, process emotions, think through something, or rehearse what we plan to say or do. As with the other forms of communication, competent intrapersonal communication helps facilitate social interaction and enhance well-being.

Sometimes we intrapersonally communicate for the fun of it. I am sure we have all had the experience of laughing aloud because we thought of something funny. We also communicate intrapersonally to pass the time. There is a lot of intrapersonal communication in waiting rooms and meeting rooms worldwide right now. In these cases, intrapersonal communication is usually unplanned. We can, however, engage in more intentional intrapersonal communication. Deliberate self-reflection can help us become more competent communicators as we become more mindful of our behaviours. For example, an individual’s internal voice may praise or scold based on a feeling, thought or action.

Interpersonal Communication

Interpersonal communication is communication between people whose lives mutually influence one another. Interpersonal communication builds, maintains, and ends our relationships, and we spend more time engaged in interpersonal communication than in other communication forms. Interpersonal communication occurs in various contexts and is addressed through intercultural, organizational, health, and computer-mediated communication. After all, interpersonal relationships exist in all those contexts.


Two young women in conversation
Figure 1.1.3. Interpersonal communication is interactive. Two friends are looking at each other as they talk.

Interpersonal communication can be planned or unplanned, but since it is interactive, it is usually more structured and influenced by social expectations than intrapersonal communication. Interpersonal communication is also more goal-oriented than intrapersonal and fulfills instrumental and relational needs.

  • Instrumental needs are focused on the goal of achieving a specific outcome. For example, you may speak with your roommate about what to cook for dinner or speak with a professor about how to position yourself for success in a course.
  • Relational needs are focused on the goal of evolving a relationship or communicating the uniqueness of a specific relationship. This goal usually involves meeting a person’s needs and the parties’ shared needs. For example, two colleagues may have a conversation to resolve a conflict they have been having.

To be a competent interpersonal communicator, you should demonstrate effective conflict management skills and listening skills, among others, to maintain positive relationships.

Group Communication

Group communication is communication among three or more people to achieve a shared goal. You have likely worked in groups in high school or university; if you are like most students, you did not enjoy it. Even though it can be frustrating, group work in an academic setting provides useful experience and preparation for group work in professional settings. Organizations have been moving toward more team-based work models, and whether we like it or not, groups are an integral part of people’s personal and professional lives. Therefore the study of groups and group communication is valuable in many contexts.


A group of office workers sitting around a table listening to a speaker.
Figure 1.1.4. Since many businesses and organizations are embracing team models, learning about group communication can help these groups be more effective.

Group communication is more intentional and formal than interpersonal communication. Unlike interpersonal relationships, which are voluntary, individuals in a group are often assigned to their position within a group. Additionally, group communication is often task-focused, meaning that group members work together for an explicit purpose or goal that affects each group member.

From previous experience working in groups, you likely know that having more communicators usually leads to more complicated interactions. Some of the challenges of group communication relate to task-oriented interactions, such as deciding who will complete each part of a larger project. But many challenges stem from interpersonal conflict or misunderstandings among group members. Since group members also communicate with and relate to each other interpersonally and may have preexisting relationships or develop them during group interaction, elements of interpersonal communication occur within group communication too. As you enter the professional world, you will probably be on a work “team,” a specialized group. In other words, group communication is a part of life.

Key Takeaways

Communication generates meaning by sending and receiving symbolic cues influenced by multiple contexts. There are three types of communication: verbal, nonverbal, and written.
  • Three forms of communication are relevant to health studies: intrapersonal, interpersonal, and group communication.
    • Intrapersonal communication is communication with oneself and occurs only inside our heads.
    • Interpersonal communication is communication between people whose lives mutually influence one another and typically occurs in dyads, which means in pairs.
    • Group communication occurs when three or more people communicate to achieve a shared goal.


  1. Write down your definition of communication. How does your definition differ from the definition in this book? How does it differ from other peers in class?  Why did you choose to define communication the way you did?
  2. Over a day, keep track of the forms of communication that you use. Make a pie chart of how much time you spend on an average day engaging in each form of communication (intrapersonal, interpersonal, or group).


McLean, S. (2005). The basics of interpersonal communication (p. 10). Allyn & Bacon.

Ogbogu, P. U., Noroski, L. M., Arcoleo, K., Reese, B. D., & Apter, A. (2022). Methods for Cross-Cultural Communication in Clinic Encounters. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 10(4), 893-900. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaip.2022.01.010

Ratna, H. (2019). The importance of effective communication in healthcare practice. Harvard Public Health Review, 23, 1-6. https://doi.org/10.54111/0001/W4

Image Attributions

Figure 1.1.1 Holding Hands with Frankie by Kurt Voelker. Licensed under CC-BY-NC-2.0

Figure 1.1.2. Pondering by Sarah G. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Figure 11..3. The Moment by Trung Thanh. Licensed under Unsplash.

Figure 1.1.4. Team by RSNY. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Attribution Statement

Content adapted, with editorial changes, from:​

Lapum, J., St.-Amant, O., Hughes, M., & Garmaise-Yee, J. (2020). Introduction to communication in nursing. Toronto Metropolitan University Pressbooks. https://pressbooks.library.ryerson.ca/communicationnursing/

University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing. (2013). Communication in the real world [Adapted]. https://open.lib.umn.edu/communication/

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Professional Communication Skills for Health Studies Copyright © 2023 by Chute, A., Johnston, S., & Pawliuk, B. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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