It might seem artificial, but we make assumptions about people based on what they are currently wearing. If you saw someone in a freshly pressed suit you would assume they were headed to an important business meeting, and if you saw someone in a bathing suit and flip flops, you would point them in the direction of the nearest beach.
The same goes for the way we communicate. When we adopt a certain style of communication, it implies certain things about our personality, mood, and even the type of conversation you are having.
Each individual’s personal style can be completely unique, but they still typically fall into a certain category: grunge, chic, hipster, professional. This is also the case for our communication styles.
What are the types of communication styles?
It is important to note that while people usually speak with one of these communication styles, they don’t always stick to the same one. Depending on the speaker’s mood or desired effect, their communication style might change from time to time, dropping jaws and raising eyebrows.
4 types of communication styles
There are four types of communication styles used for both written and verbal communication. While they are all constantly being used, the assertive style is seen as the most effective because it is a combination of all the positive aspects of the other styles. Let’s take a closer look at each one to better understand how that works.
1. Passive communication
The passive communication style is often used by those who want to come off as indifferent about the topic at hand. They either keep their opinions to themselves or try to make it seem as if they support every piece of input in the discussion.
When speaking, passive communicators will display insecure nonverbal communication cues by not making eye contact, slouching their shoulders, or shrugging when people ask them for some input.
Why might someone use a passive communication style?
A big motivation for using passive communication is to keep the peace, especially when dealing with conflict. While that is a nice sentiment, it can lead to some problems, usually negatively affecting the passive communicator themselves. Because they don’t properly voice their own thoughts, they can start to feel anxious, depressed, or resentful towards the words and actions of the person they are speaking with.
Why is this communication style ineffective?
Passive communication is ineffective because although words may be spoken, the actual thoughts and ideas of the communicator are not expressed, limiting the information shared between the people involved.
Here are some common phrases used by people using the passive communication style, usually in an unenthused monotoned tone:
If you are having a conversation with someone and they continuously use these phrases, make an extra effort to get them to tell you how they really feel. If you are guilty of being a passive communicator, get your thoughts together before you need to present them. Remember that your opinion matters.
2. Aggressive communication
Aggressive communication is on the completely opposite end of the spectrum. Aggressive communicators openly express their opinions without hesitation, often in a loud and controlling voice.
When speaking aggressively, people may make intense eye contact, point fingers, and stand their ground.
While voicing feelings and opinions makes for effective communication, this is not the case for aggressive communication. This particular style includes expressing viewpoints and opinions in an abusive way that violates the rights of others.
Why might someone use an aggressive communication style?
People often use the aggressive communication style when they want to be in charge. Instead of listening to others, they give commands and demand that others comply with what they are saying. And even if they do, the aggressive communicator might still make them feel inferior or unimportant.
Why is this communication style ineffective?
Using an aggressive style of communication is not a good way to converse with someone. The goal of being aggressive is to intimidate, which defeats the purpose of a conversation, where ideas are meant to be shared and listened to.
Here are some phrases that you might hear an aggressive communicator say:
If you hear someone saying these things, stick up for yourself or the person the aggressive communicator is speaking to. It can be tough, but forcing them to listen to you will make for an effective two-sided conversation. If you tend to be aggressive when you communicate, try extra hard to show empathy and listen to the ideas of others.
3. Passive-aggressive communication
The passive-aggressive communication style brings both of those styles together for another form of ineffective communication. This style is used when people speak as if they don’t care about something (passive), but in a way that is indirectly angry (aggressive).
Passive-aggressive communicators will sometimes mutter comments to themselves while in the presence of other people as if they didn’t want others to hear it. A lot of passive-aggressive communicators will also refuse to confront others about something that is bothering them. When people are using this style, they might give someone the silent treatment or talk about the issue with someone who isn’t apart of it to avoid the situation altogether.
If they do say something to you directly, it might be one of these phrases:
Why might someone use a passive-aggressive communication style?
People usually passive-aggressively because although they have formed an opinion on the topic being discussed, they are worried about what others might think of it. They don’t want to openly disagree with someone, so they do it discretely instead.
Why is this communication style ineffective?
Passive-aggressive communication is ineffective because it beats around the bush. A key value when communicating is clarity, and it wastes everybody’s time when people don’t openly express their ideas.
If you are hearing people say things like this, push them to tell you how they actually feel, or decipher what they are saying on the aggressive end of the comment. If you are being passive aggressive when communicating, don’t be wishy-washy with your opinions, even if they differ from those of someone else.
Of all the communication styles, the assertive version is thought to be the most effective. Assertive communicators express their thoughts in a polite manner that is considerate of other people’s opinions. They respect all values, thoughts, and ideas, and speak in a calm voice while making non-threatening eye contact.
Why should you use an assertive communication style?
Assertive communication should be used because it values honesty and understanding. Assertive communicators own up to their ideas and listen to those of others as well.
One of the key signs of an assertive communicator is their use of “I” statements. Even if they disagree with someone else, they will remove the blame and put it on themselves.
Why is this communication style the most effective?
Assertive communication relies on two-way conversations. This is what makes assertive communication the most effective. Not only does it include politely expressing opinions, but it also consists of asking for feedback and listening to other people’s differing ideas, strengthening the conversation and information flow.
Here are some phrases that show an assertive communication style:
Of all the communication styles, being assertive is the most effective. It is straightforward, respectful, and there is no fear or guessing involved. Different inputs enrich a conversation. Assertive communication can get you there.
Tips for being assertive
Being an assertive communicator means you clearly express your thoughts without sacrificing politeness. An ideal style, yes, but it doesn’t come so easy for everyone.
Here are some tips for becoming a more assertive communicator:
Focus on honesty
To be an effective assertive communicator, you need to focus on honesty. Not only while sharing your own thoughts, but also while responding to others. It can be easy to beat around the bush when you don’t agree with someone, but it is best to resort to being kind while disagreeing as opposed to agreeing with something you don’t believe to be true.
Be a good listener
A big part of being assertive is doing your best to be empathetic and understand the other person’s point of view. The only way to do this is to listen. Keep those ears open and mouth closed when someone is speaking to you.
Agree to disagree
If you have done everything you can to fully understand someone else’s opinion but you still can’t side with their thoughts, it is perfectly okay to agree to disagree. As long as you do it respectfully.
There will be times where someone’s words will make you fired up, angry, or upset. This isn’t a bad thing - you are a human with emotions. However, to be a solid assertive communicator, you can’t let this anger show. Take deep breaths, relax your face, and keep your voice at a normal volume.
Commit to it
Just like a diet or training a puppy, you have to commit to assertive communication to see results. Practicing these tips daily will help your assertive communication skills. And while it won’t always be easy and your patience and will power will definitely be tested, it is worth it for the effective communicator you will become.
The different communication styles are always in use. Sometimes people feel shy, afraid, or both, causing them to ineffectively communicate their feelings. When it comes down to communicating, do your best to be assertive. It will send the right message about who you are.
Struggling with general communication in the workplace?
Mary Clare Novak is a Content Marketing Specialist at G2 based in Burlington, Vermont, where she is currently exploring topics related to sales and customer relationship management. In her free time, you can find her doing a crossword puzzle, listening to cover bands, or eating fish tacos. (she/her/hers)