What's Your Communication Style?
Updated: Sep 3
Learning how to communicate is a crucial ingredient in developing healthy relationships built on honesty and respect. All too often, our communication style is set on auto-pilot. We mindlessly implement whatever communication methods we have been exposed to from our childhood, or have become accustomed to in later years. We (as individuals, and in the context of our relationships) will benefit greatly if we can take a step back, analyze our communication tendencies, and mindfully apply more assertive techniques.
Aggressive communication is excessively open and direct, to the point that it is rude and hostile. Communication of this type is overtly inconsiderate and disrespectful of others. In advocating for their own rights, they ignore and violate the rights of others. Aggressive communication sends the message, “Only I matter.”
Aggressive people may:
· Dominate and threaten.
· Humiliate and demean.
· Criticize, blame, and attack.
· Use a loud, demanding voice.
Passive-aggressive communication is indirectly hostile. It is subtly inconsiderate and disrespectful, so it’s a lot harder to spot or put a finger on. They often pretend to be passive, but have underlying resentments that leak out in their interactions. Passive-aggressive communication sends the message, “I’ll pretend you matter.”
Passive aggressive people may:
· Claim that they’re “fine” when they are obviously not okay.
· Shut down communication and refuse to address issues.
· Give you the silent treatment.
· Subtle insults and sarcasm.
· Avoid tasks and drag their feet, rather than just openly discussing why they don’t want to do it.
Passive people actively avoid expressing their opinions or sharing their feelings. They refuse to speak up for themselves or address issues. They are overly considerate of others, at the expense of themselves and their own needs. At some point, their bottled emotions and unmet needs will likely reach a breaking point that will result in some sort of outburst or eruption. Most likely, that eruption will cause shame and reinforce their beliefs that feelings should be bottled up, thus keeping them firmly locked in an unhealthy cycle. Passive communication sends the message, “Only you matter.”
Passive people may:
· Say that “keeping the peace” is more important than speaking up for themselves.
· Avoid confrontation at nearly any cost.
· Apologize for having feelings and sharing their perspective.
· Speak softly and avoid eye contact.
· Allow themselves to be walked all over and taken advantage of.
· Believe that saying “no” isn’t an option.
Assertiveness is the sweet spot of communication. It strikes a healthy balance between being open/honest, as well as respectful/considerate of others. It recognizes that there are two people with valid perspectives, feelings, and needs in every situation. Assertive communication builds trust in a relationship, as you know you can rely on them to be open and honest with you. Assertive communication sends the message, “We both matter.”
Assertive people will:
· Respectfully yet confidently share their thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs.
· Set healthy boundaries.
· Use active listening skills.
· Communicate respect in their words and actions.
· Use a calm, clear voice.
· Understand that it’s okay to say “no.”
It’s important to remember that we might not fall into one of these categories all the time; our communication styles may vary from situation to situation. For example, some individuals are more assertive in their communication at work, but more aggressive in their personal life.
The most important thing that we can do is take a sincere look at our current communication tendencies and mindfully decide to implement changes if we see room for growth. Your own mental health, and the quality of your relationships may greatly benefit from making adjustments. Need help figuring out your style, or making those changes? Reach out to our therapists who can provide individualized help!
Carrie Nicholes is a Maryland Board approved Licensed Certified Social Worker - Clinical (LCSW-C) and the founder of Cedar Counseling & Wellness. Recognized as one of the top therapists in Annapolis, she has a lifelong passion for teaching people tools to improve their lives.