As social beings, we are in constant communication with others. The way we communicate impacts how other people experience us and guides the trajectory of our conversations and interactions. There are four primary communication styles: Passive, Aggressive, Passive-Aggressive, and Assertive.
This blog post will outline each style of communication and the consequences of adopting each style. Identifying your primary style of communication can offer insight into the roles you take in your relationships and how you can approach your interactions more effectively.
The Passive Communication Style
Passiveness is a communication style rooted in fear. It involves a pattern of avoiding conflict at all costs. Passive communicators will often avoid expressing their opinions, feelings, and needs, in fear that this will attract disapproval or conflict. Passive communicators typically allow others to infringe on their rights and boundaries, either advertently or inadvertently. The impact of consistently adopting a passive style is that these individuals often feel disconnected from their own needs and wants, as they work to meet the needs and wants of others. Passive communicators often feel anxious and helpless, because it seems that their life, behaviours, and relationships are outside their control. Passiveness gets in the way of individual and relational growth and development, as real issues go unaddressed.
The Aggressive Communication Style
Aggressiveness is a communication style rooted in anger. It involves expression of one’s feelings and opinions and advocating for one’s needs at the expense of others’ rights and boundaries. Aggressiveness is the opposite of passiveness. Instead of submitting to others, the aggressive communicator tries to get others to submit to them. Aggressive communicators try to dominate and control others by blaming, criticizing, and humiliating others, often using an overbearing, loud, demanding, and rude tone. The impact of adopting an aggressive style is that these individuals often become alienated from others, as they generate fear, discomfort, and threat in others. Aggressiveness gets in the way of self growth, as these individuals are quick to blame others instead of owning and taking accountability for their actions and issues.
The Passive-Aggressive Communication Style
As you may have guessed, passive-aggressiveness is a communication style rooted in both anger and fear. Passive-aggressive communicators often mask their aggression by appearing passive on the surface, but will act out their anger in indirect or subtle ways. These communicators have a hard time acknowledging their anger, and will often deny that there is a problem, use sarcasm, demonstrate a mismatch between their feelings and expressions, speak “under their breath” instead of confronting the person or the issue, and try to “get even” with others in subtle ways. The passiveness in this communication style allows individuals to hide their aggression just enough so they can avoid taking responsibility for it. When confronted about their words or actions, passive-aggressive communicators typically deny any aggressive intent behind their behaviours. The impacts of adopting a passive-aggressive communication style is a feeling of powerlessness and resentment, as individuals are unable to deal with their problems or interpersonal issues head on. Passive-aggressive communicators often experience a build up of anxiety, as there is always the potential of others seeing through their passiveness and confronting them about their aggression.
The Assertive Communication Style
Assertiveness is a communication style rooted in openness and mutual respect. This style involves clear and firm expression of one’s opinions and feelings and a value for one’s own needs, wants, and rights, without violating the rights and boundaries of other people. Assertiveness is the most effective of the four communication styles, as these communicators are able to engage in open dialogue in their interactions, with a calm, clear, respectful, and regulated stance. Assertive communicators often use “I statements,” feel calm and in control, listen without interrupting, and are clear about their boundaries and limits. Assertive communicators are able to acknowledge their feelings and needs directly, without the expectation that others must give into their requests. These communicators recognize that they are only able to control themselves and their choices, and they respect that others are responsible for their own choices and have control over their own lives. Assertiveness benefits you and others, simultaneously. The impact of assertive communication is that these individuals feel more connected to others, feel in control of their own lives, and navigate their relationships with less conflict, anxiety, and resentment.
While assertiveness is the most effective form of communication, these skills can be difficult to adopt, as many of us did not learn how to engage assertively with others growing up. Our flight (passive) or fight (aggressive) reactions are often triggered more quickly, and involve less intentionality. Assertive communication requires mindful awareness and responsiveness.
By now, you may have identified the communication style that you, or, others you know, use most often. If assertive communication feels difficult for you, it can be helpful to work with a therapist to explore the underlying experiences and beliefs that invite you to adopt a passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive approach in your interactions with others.
To learn more about how we can support you with communication, contact Nikki Sedaghat at firstname.lastname@example.org for individual counselling for relationships or relationship counselling.
If you are looking to improve your assertiveness skills on your own, check out ‘The Assertiveness Workbook: How to Express Your Ideas and Stand Up for Yourself at Work and in Relationships’ by Randy J. Paterson