Differences in Communication Tools & Channels

By Sophie Johnson

A computer allows communicators to use electronic channels.
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Communication channels are the methods used to get a message across. Broadly speaking, the main channels are verbal and nonverbal communications. More specifically, channels are the means used to carry a message -- for example, emails and telephone calls. There can be no phone call without a phone, though, nor an email without email software. Companies use such communication tools to send a message through a chosen channel. Considering differences between channels and their accompanying tools can help a small business choose the most appropriate means of conveying a message.

Verbal vs. Nonverbal

Verbal channels rely on language and include oral and written communications. At a workplace, written communications include memos, letters, emails and newsletters. Software, printers, fax machines and computers are some of the tools used for written communications. Oral communications take place in person, over the phone or over the Internet. Face-to-face conversations allow for nonverbal communication, enhancing messages. Nonverbal communication also includes images. Product placements in movies or television shows, the music that accompanies an advertisement, the packaging of a product -- they, too, communicate.

Remote vs. in Person

Any communication that isn’t taking place in person is remote. Remote communication channels all require tools that reach across distances, while in-person communications don’t. Communications taking place in person always employ nonverbal communication. Cues such as tone of voice, the space between the receiver and speaker, and touch provide subtext, making face-to-face meetings the best choice for sensitive communications. The buffer created by remote channels and tools can also be useful. A socially awkward person may shine in email interactions or when communicating in written marketing materials. A shy client, meanwhile, may appreciate the distance that remote communication affords.

Mass vs. Interpersonal Communication

Interpersonal communication involves two people or small groups. It uses different channels than mass communication, which reaches large groups instead of particular individuals. The Internet is exceptional, because it hosts interpersonal experiences such as video chats while also enabling mass communication through pages built for a broad audience. Interpersonal communications include a built-in expectation of feedback. A business hoping to engage people through mass communication should consider a feedback component -- the ability to comment on a web page, for instance -- to give a chosen medium interpersonal characteristics.

Asynchronous vs. Synchronous

Channels and tools differ in whether they allow for real-time communication. Face-to-face, chat and telephone conversations happen to both the message sender and receiver simultaneously and so are synchronous. Email conversations involve a time delay between when the message is sent and when it is received and so are asynchronous. When a person needs to consider an issue, an email communication is probably a better choice than a telephone call. Emailed and mailed exchanges could become a long process, though, if clarifications and follow-up questions are needed.