Understanding Your Communication Style

Communication is the most important tool we can use to express ourselves and meet our needs.  However, the way we communicate our needs can greatly influence how other people experience us and thus, determines whether our needs may be met. 

There are 4 general styles of communication that we each tend to engage in and three of the styles are considered to be unhealthy and ineffective whereas one type of communication helps us clearly express ourselves so that we are able to meet our needs without being at the expense of other people.  Here are the four styles of communication:

Passive communication: This style of communication involves the avoidance of expression of one’s thoughts, feelings, or needs as a result of feeling like it is not worth it.  Individuals who possess low self-esteem or have a tendency to avoid conflict generally exhibit this style of communication and can be exhibited through poor eye contact and a closed body posture, quiet or soft speech, and a willingness to allow other people to infringe on his/her rights, whether it is deliberate or inadvertent.  Some of the negative consequences of engaging in this style of communication include anxiety, feelings of lack of control, hopelessness, depression, resentment, and lack of resolution of ongoing issues.

Aggressive communication: This style of communication is also used by individuals who often possess low self-esteem however it involves violating the rights of other people in order for individuals to get their needs met.  This style of communication can take the form of verbal or physical abuse in order to dominate, control, or intimidate other people. Individuals who use aggressive communication send the message that they believe they are superior to others and is exhibited through blaming, criticizing, and attacking; the use of a loud tone of voice; frequent interrupting and inability to listen well; impulsiveness; and a threatening body posture.  Some of the negative consequences of engaging in aggressive communication involve alienation from others, inability to resolve ongoing issues due to constant blaming, and the development of fear and hatred in other people.

Passive-Aggressive communication: This style of communication is a combination of the two previous styles and involves engaging in aggressive behavior in an indirect way.  Individuals who engage in this style of communication may appear to be passive however he/she is actually feeling angry, powerless, and resentful and he/she feels unable to directly address their concerns.  This style of communication is exhibited through sarcasm and incongruent body language (smiling when angry).  Some of the negative consequences of engaging in this style of communication involve persistent feelings of powerlessness, as well as alienation from others and lack of resolution of ongoing issues.

Assertive communication: This style of communication is the most effective and healthiest form of expression we can engage in because it leaves us feeling satisfied about our ability to get our needs met without alienating others.  Individuals who engage in this style of communication generally have high self-esteem and are able to clearly and directly state his/her thoughts, feelings, and needs in a respectful way so that other people are open to it.  This style of communication is exhibited by the use of “I” statements, effective listening, self-control, appropriate eye contact, an open body posture, and a calm and clear tone of voice.  Some of the outcomes individuals experience with this style of communication includes feelings of connection with other people, a sense of control over his/her life, and an ability to resolve issues.  Respect, confidence, and responsibility of self are the primary actions within assertiveness.  This style of communication allows us to advocate for ourselves, which is a crucial aspect of self-care.

Now that you have learned the different communication styles, take a minute to reflect on the patterns of communication you find yourself engaging in frequently.  If it is passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive communication, consider whether these styles are working for you or whether you feel your needs are not being met and your relationships are being negatively impacted.  If you feel you could benefit from making changes to your communication style and want to develop and practice assertiveness skills, contact one of our therapists today.

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT