4 communication styles & tips for communicating with each style

Strengths and weaknesses of the four styles of communication

April 27, 2022Yellow Squiggle

In a recent survey conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit, 42% of people reported different communication styles as the most significant cause of miscommunications at work.

Now, you may not be able to change other people's communication styles — unless you’re a manager. As a manager, you have a bit more power to encourage positive communication practices among individuals displaying aggression or toxicity. But even when you’re not able to change things for the better, you can still learn to improve your communication skills and deal with those who may be difficult to handle.

Below, we'll provide an overview of the four major communication styles, plus tips to handle them — in yourself and among team members.

1. Assertive communication style

Compared to all other communication styles listed here, this one is the most effective for several good reasons.

What is an assertive communication style? It’s when you are confident in what you have to say — and you say it in a way that isn’t overbearing, condescending, or otherwise belittling. There is no manipulation, you don’t push boundaries, and you work to reach a consensus using tools like active listening and precise methods of expression. Generally, assertive communication is characterized as direct, but thoughtful and positive.

What are some characteristics of assertive communicators?

  • They tend to have high self-esteem and plenty of confidence.
  • They’re disciplined and conscientious, avoiding aggression and passive aggression.
  • They often use “I” statements when speaking with team members. For example, “I think the task should be handled this way” rather than more passive variations like, “we should try it this way” or “you should do it this way.”

Tips for communicating with an assertive communicator

  • When asking for opinions from an assertive communicator, don’t be perturbed if they offer a critical response. Most of the time, people using this communication style have honest intentions. If you take constructive criticism poorly, they'll be less likely to offer opinions in the future, as they’ll see it as a waste of time.
  • Assertive communicators will also ask for your thoughts. These people are interested in results, so as long as the conversation stays respectful, they’re willing to hear out your ideas and solutions.
  • Because assertive communicators tend to seriously think about what they have to say before they say it, one of the best things you can do is give them the space they need to communicate effectively. Avoid jumping in with remarks during pauses, and provide them with time to complete their train of thought.
  • Assertive communicators speak in specifics — and it’s best if you are specific when speaking with them to avoid miscommunication. Rather than saying, “I did the thing you asked about yesterday,” try something specific: “I finished the graphics you asked about yesterday.”

How to become an assertive communicator

  • Watch your language! And by that, we don’t mean keeping it clean — although this is a good idea anyway. Rather, this tip has to do with using more “I” statements rather than “we” or “you.” It also means using strong language instead of weak language wherever you can. “I will help with your work” instead of “I should/could help with your work,” for example.
  • Be confident. Assertive people speak from a place of confidence. If you’re not naturally confident, remember that “fake it until you make it” really does work. Do your best to project an air of confidence, and your communication skills will get better and better over time.
  • Be solution-oriented. Do it in a positive way that accounts for others' points of view. Don’t let assertiveness warp into aggression where you steamroll right over your team's ideas.

2. Aggressive communication style

As you might expect, this communication style — whether you’re on the giving or the receiving end — can cause many problems. Aggressive communicators come with a variety of negative traits:

  • They can be hostile or threatening.
  • They dominate conversations.
  • They have a “win at all costs” attitude.
  • They behave as though their contributions are the most important.
  • When communicating with them, people often feel like they’re being steamrolled, insulted, intimidated, or belittled.
  • They’re often not self-aware enough to realize how off-putting their communication style is — instead, they think it comes across as bold and pioneering.

If you’ve encountered this type of communicator, you’ve probably found those encounters unpleasant. If you rely on aggressive communication tactics, prepare yourself for the silent treatment, as people will be less likely to open up to you.

Tips for communicating with an aggressive communicator

  • Be aware that this communication style is extraordinarily difficult to deal with. Arm yourself with patience and take a few deep breaths before engaging an aggressive communicator.
  • If you’re in a position of authority, then find constructive ways to advise them (kindly) to correct their behavior. Don’t throw down insults or harsh criticisms. Instead, introduce them to more positive communication styles and suggest changes they could make.
  • Keep conversations brief. Stay on topic, and if you find the topic veering, put it back on track so that you don’t end up somewhere unpleasant.
  • To save yourself some stress, limit verbal communications as much as is reasonable and communicate more via email or another asynchronous communication method. This will allow you to breathe and think through your follow-up responses, which is an excellent way to prevent yourself from reciprocating in kind.

How to avoid being an aggressive communicator

  • Rely on self-awareness and introspection. Assertive communicators and otherwise highly confident people can sometimes be aggressive without intending to. Keep a close eye on your interactions to gauge how they may come across.
  • Be empathetic. Lack of empathy is the biggest difference between assertive and aggressive communicators. Aggressors don’t care how other people involved in the conversation feel, but assertive communicators do.
  • Be aware of your body language. Are you making overly intense eye contact? If you’re tall, do you inadvertently loom over shorter people, leaving them to feel intimidated? What about facial expressions? Someone who is perpetually sneering or snarling will come across as aggressive in most cases.
  • Make it about something other than winning. Conversations are not verbal judo matches to win or lose. Effective communication should be a back and forth in which everyone feels like they have a chance to contribute.

3. Passive communication style

Of all the different communication styles, this one tends to be the most fluid. Depending on who you’re dealing with, you could go from an assertive type to a passive type — especially when dealing with authority figures or aggressors who come across as intimidating.

So, what does the passive communication style look like?

  • They’re often “people pleasers,” which might look great on the surface — but often ends up with the people pleaser taking on too much work in an attempt to please everyone else.
  • Passive styles are often self-effacing or lacking in confidence.
  • They tend to take a back seat when others are speaking — and for that reason, this is often referred to as the “submissive communication style,” even though passivism can take many forms.
  • Some passivists are the types of people viewed as mellow or easygoing. While they may project a happy façade, they’re actually just trying to avoid conflict.
  • Passive communicators often won’t express ideas, wants, or needs — and that can lead to resentment among the entire team when things like unfulfilled wants or needs lead to the passive communicator being unable to do their job effectively, thus holding up the rest of the team.

Tips for communicating with a passive communicator

  • Even though passive communicators come in various styles, most need help building up their confidence — just don’t help in a way that makes them feel less confident. Instead of saying, “You need to be more confident in the work you do,” which can come across as domineering and borderline insulting, say something like, “You do amazing work.” Statements like this help build confidence.
  • Avoid anger and aggressive behavior. Most passive people can't be functional communicators in the face of aggression. Instead, they’ll shut down entirely.
  • Be direct. Passive communicators are notorious for withholding opinions and ideas, so make sure you ask directly for those opinions and ideas. This can help build confidence since you’re expressing an interest and giving them the space they need to be heard.
  • Avoid dismissing ideas, even if those ideas won’t work. Rather than saying, “That will never work!” and leaving it at that, make sure to point out the idea's value in a positive way. Again, the big picture here is all about helping them build confidence.
  • Give your team tools that help them open up to each other. Often, passive communicators feel too shy to speak up. Give them space to mingle with their teammates — whether around the water cooler or on a remote online platform.

How to avoid being a passive communicator

  • Confidence, confidence, confidence! If it doesn’t come naturally to you, the “fake it till you make it” advice works as well here as it does for the assertive style above and will help you build good communication skills.
  • Learn when not to compromise. Passive communicators often compromise even when they shouldn’t because they don’t want to burden others. Just remember that you have rights, too.
  • Learn how to say no. On many teams, the passive communicators are the ones who end up with more work than they can handle. This is because they’re too focused on pleasing people or too shy to assert themselves. Don’t be afraid to let someone else handle the extra work. Ending up with too much can only end badly for everyone involved when you burn out or find yourself unable to finish the work in front of you.

4. Passive-aggressive communication style

As you might expect, this one combines two styles: The aggressive and passive styles. At face value, it appears passive, but beneath the surface, it's filled with aggression that manifests as hurtful gossip, starting rumors, patronizing behavior, and sarcasm.

While passive-aggressive communicators look different than aggressive communicators, they can do just as much damage in the workplace. It’s a style that breeds toxicity — and often comes across as a highly manipulative communication style.

Because it does so much damage, it’s the type of behavior that needs to be corrected before it can spread. Passive-aggressiveness breeds toxic resentment and discontent throughout the entire team.

Tips for communicating with a passive-aggressive communicator

  • Whatever you do, don’t respond in kind. As mentioned, of all the types of communication styles, this one has the potential to do the most damage. Responding in kind will only spread even more toxicity.
  • Instead of criticizing and belittling, build up the passive-aggressive team member. Be assertive and positive, offer solutions that everyone can benefit from, and highlight the value of their contributions.
  • Take their message and rephrase it using positive, assertive communication to demonstrate how the message could be better delivered.
  • Try to determine the motivation for their behavior. Is there something at work that is causing their anger and resentment? Or is something at home causing them to bring negativity to work? Their negative behavior may happen when they’re facing looming deadlines, so take note of any patterns you notice. Whatever the problem, if you can find its root, you may be able to offer solutions that will help them correct their preferred style.

How to avoid being a passive-aggressive communicator

  • Identify the source of your anger or resentment. Identify the motivations that make you communicate in a passive-aggressive way. Once you get to the root of these feelings, you can take steps to correct them, like speaking with a manager about a problematic teammate or stressful deadlines.
  • Approach problems with a new mentality. Instead of lashing out, make it your style to keep the focus on finding positive solutions.
  • Keep yourself above the negativity. If other people are the source of your anger or resentment, then keep this in mind: You can’t control how they behave, but you can control how you behave. Converse in a positive, pleasant way to reduce your stress.

Adjust your communication style to best suit your team

Now that you know all about the different communication styles, you can adjust your own to help your entire team communicate more effectively — and maybe even help others who are struggling to develop an effective communication style.

Communication styles are just as important for remote teams as they are for office teams. Platforms like Range that allow for asynchronous communication can help keep remote teams on the same page — including tools for more effective meetings, communications, and better team connections. Sign up today to try Range for free with your remote team (https://range.co/signup)!

Adjust your communication style to best suit your team

Now that you know all about the different communication styles, you can adjust your own to help your entire team communicate more effectively — and maybe even help others who are struggling to develop an effective communication style.

Communication styles are just as important for remote teams as they are for office teams. Platforms like Range that allow for asynchronous communication can help keep remote teams on the same page — including tools for more effective meetings, communications, and better team connections. Sign up today to try Range for free with your remote team!

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4 communication styles & tips for communicating with each style
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