Verbal communication – the key to mutual understanding

Communication is the basis for interpersonal understanding. We rely on verbal and nonverbal cues to connect with and size up other people. Nonverbal signals play a much bigger role than words in forming our first impression of someone. But once a conversation begins, verbal communication is what confirms or corrects this initial impression.

What is verbal communication?

We begin communicating as soon as we meet another person. At the most fundamental level, we send cues that the other person interprets and responds to in a certain way. These signals are not always spoken words. Nonverbal cues actually form a major part of interpersonal communication. But in everyday interactions, verbal communication is what decides how well people get along (both professionally and personally).

Most importantly, we have to express what we mean as clearly as possible in order to avoid misunderstandings. We also need to listen respectfully and have a certain degree of empathy in order to correctly interpret the other person’s verbal signals. These two aspects – clear messages and attentive listening – are the cornerstones of verbal communication. The definition shows that this principle is not limited to spoken language:


Verbal communication refers to all forms of speech-based communication between two or more people. This includes spoken words, written messages and sign language, as well as all coded information that refers to a particular language system.

Verbal vs nonverbal communication

The word “verbal” comes from the Latin verbum, which means “word” in English. It’s immediately clear that the main difference between the two forms of communication is the use of words to convey meaning.

Verbal communication is based on speech (in all its manifestations). In contrast, nonverbal communication is all about all the visible signals that a person sends consciously or unconsciously. This includes body language such as gestures, facial expressions, posture and movement, as well as physical appearance, such as the clothing, hairstyle, or makeup we choose to wear. In the broadest sense, the definition even includes material possessions such as cars, home furnishings, etc., which others can use to draw conclusions about our personality.

Verbal communication Nonverbal communication
Speech Body language (gestures, facial expressions, etc.)
Writing Paraverbal communication (pitch and speed of speech)
Gesticulation Outward appearance
Codes Life circumstances

In everyday communication, verbal and nonverbal communication are closely linked. Even if we can’t see the other person (for example when we’re on the phone), we can form an impression of them based on their voice or how fast they’re talking. It’s a well-known fact that we decide whether someone is likable or not within the first few seconds of meeting them. Nevertheless, verbal communication skills are especially important in the workplace, where the goal is to collaborate effectively and efficiently with colleagues and customers.

Verbal communication at work

Everyday life at work would be simply unimaginable without verbal communication. You need it to make arrangements, give instructions, document processes, and much more. The aim of communication at work is to build good relationships with superiors, coworkers, and customers, to work together as efficiently as possible as a team, and to make the best use of your professional skills.

The type of communication you choose depends on a number of factors. It depends on the reason for the conversation and on your professional relationship with the other person. A conversation between you and your boss follows different rules than talking shop with an equal coworker or a crisis management meeting with your team. The ability to correctly assess the needs of a situation and communicate in a clear and targeted manner is a soft skill that is essential for successful teamwork.

In addition, there are always occasions that require special communicative skills. These situations include job interviews, presentations, performance reviews or conducting meetings. Read our tutorials for tips on how to behave in these situations.

Effective verbal communication: Examples in the workplace

As explained above, the communication strategy you choose largely depends on the professional context. Managers are tasked with motivating and guiding their teams, coworkers are supposed to share information and support each other, and customer service representatives act as intermediaries between companies and customers. All these roles require different approaches to conversations. The secret to effective verbal communication is to respect the other person’s point of view, even if it differs from your own.

When talking to others, it’s important to remain professional and diplomatic, avoid sending emotional messages, listen attentively, and empathize with the other person’s situation. We all share this innate ability to varying degrees, but it’s also something we can learn or improve upon. To get you started, we’ll explain the most important aspects of strong verbal communication with examples for different roles.

Verbal communication in leadership positions

Managing employees and promoting a constructive team environment is no easy task. That’s why people in leadership positions need to have good communication skills from the outset. Their core task is to motivate the team to do the best possible work, to avoid conflicts, and to solve problems. This includes:

  • Delegating tasks to employees that match their strengths and enhance their skills
  • Showing assertiveness at crucial moments without affronting anyone
  • Providing constructive feedback without personally offending the employee
  • Praising and recognizing the work of individual employees
  • Paying equal attention to all team members, taking targeted steps to better integrate less outgoing colleagues into the team
  • Identifying potential problems and developing solutions
  • Sympathetically listening to employee concerns and problems
  • Empathizing with employee situations
  • Openly communicating your position so that certain decisions (including unpopular ones) are easier to understand

Verbal communication in teams

Teams and task forces bring together people with a wide variety of personalities. This can lead to conflicts in day-to-day work. Once again, it’s important not to get emotional and to try to put yourself in your colleague’s position before addressing the problem. The following will help make teamwork as smooth as possible:

  • State questions, requests and tasks clearly to minimize the risk of misunderstandings
  • Address problems without becoming emotional or personal
  • Ask for a face-to-face conversation before discussing conflicts directly in front of the whole team and the boss
  • Accept criticism from colleagues and consider other opinions
  • Work on solutions together instead of single-handedly pushing through your idea
  • Ask colleagues for help if your workload becomes too much or you can’t complete a task on your own

Verbal communication in customer service

Customer service is one of the most responsible jobs you can have. It requires excellent communication skills. You have to build a trusting relationship with customers as the basis for solution-oriented communication when problems arise. You have to be sensitive, understand the customers perspective, and have a knack for mediating. When speaking directly to others, you should:

  • Convey that you value the person as a customer
  • Openly address any problems and always show sympathy for the customer’s situation
  • Always ask for the customer’s opinion and perspective and try to take it into consideration
  • Find mutual solutions or compromises
  • De-escalate if necessary (signal that you’re willing to make concessions or provide additional services)
  • Notify the customer in advance of bottlenecks or problems as they emerge
  • Build a relationship of mutual trust and understanding

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