Career Development

4 Communication Styles

November 16, 2020

There are four common communication styles that you’re likely to encounter in the workplace. When you can identify an individual’s communication style, you’re better equipped to collaborate with them in the workplace. In this article, we discuss four common workplace communication styles, how to identify them and tips for interacting with colleagues with these styles.

Why are communication styles important?

As you’ll read in this article, the four communication styles vary greatly from each other. When individuals have such different communication styles, conflict or misunderstandings can appear. When we are able to better understand the characteristics and tendencies of the different communication styles, and how to effectively interact with someone of a different communication style, efficiency, innovation and cohesiveness in the workplace can increase.

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Communication styles

Your communication style is the way you interact with others, and it determines how you speak, act and react in various situations. Here are the four primary approaches to communication:

1. Passive communication style

Passive communicators are typically very quiet, often blending into the background. They may act indifferent to debates and rarely take a strong stance or assert themselves. They don’t usually share their needs or opinions, which may make it difficult for coworkers to understand or help them. These communicators may not always express their feelings, so others aren’t always aware when and if there’s a problem. You can identify a passive communicator by their:

  • Inability to say no
  • Poor posture
  • Easy-going attitude
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Soft voice
  • Apologetic demeanor
  • Fidgeting

Misunderstandings may be common with passive communicators because they typically avoid sharing their thoughts and feelings. If you’re dealing with a passive communicator consider these methods to encourage a good working relationship:

  • Take a direct approach. Initiate one-on-one conversations, as private interactions are often more comfortable for a passive communicator than group settings.

  • Pointedly ask for ideas and opinions. Allow plenty of time for them to think over their responses.

  • Use broad language that encourages a more in-depth response. Avoid asking yes/no questions. Stay patient with long silences, as passive individuals often take their time thinking through a response.

If you’re a passive communicator, it’s important to work on your communication skills. Seek out opportunities where you feel you can comfortably speak up. If you’re uncomfortable in group settings, seek out personal meetings. If you prefer writing over talking, try communicating via email instead of in person. Over time, you’ll see that openly sharing your thoughts creates opportunities for positive interactions.

Related: Communication Skills: Definitions and Examples

2. Aggressive communication style

Aggressive communicators frequently express their thoughts and feelings and tend to dominate conversations, often at the expense of others. An aggressive communicator may also react before thinking, possibly affecting relationships and productivity in the long-term and impact the effectiveness of their interpersonal skills.

They have many of the makings of a good leader but should learn to maintain a calm, even-tempered approach. While an aggressive individual’s demanding nature can command respect from otherwise difficult employees, it’s often intimidating to those who respond better to more neutral approaches.

These are a few signs of an aggressive communicator:

  • Interrupting people while they’re speaking
  • Sneering or smirking
  • Invading others’ personal spaces
  • Presenting an overbearing posture
  • Using aggressive gestures
  • Maintaining intense eye contact

Consider these methods when working with an aggressive communicator:

  • Be calm and assertive. Try not to let the nature of an aggressive communicator be intimidating. Focus your conversation on an actionable approach to the issue.

  • Keep conversations professional. Direct the conversation away from personal issues or emotions.

  • Know when to walk away.Walk away from the situation if the aggressive communicator becomes too demanding or you’re no longer making positive progress.

If you have an aggressive communication style, you may find that you struggle to form strong positive relationships at work. Studying more positive communication techniques may help you overcome some of your aggressive tendencies. Reducing stress in your life can help as well. You can take a healthy approach to combat stressors by engaging in physical activity, practicing mindfulness or meditation.

Related: Conflict Resolution Skills: Definitions and Examples

3. Passive-aggressive communication style

Passive-aggressive communicators appear passive on the surface but often have more aggressive motivations driving their actions. While their words might sound agreeable, their actions don’t always align with what they say. Passive-aggressive communicators can be quietly manipulative to turn a situation into one that benefits them. Some passive-aggressive communicators use this approach because they feel powerless or used, though it isn’t necessarily the case.

Passive-aggressive communicators may use the following approaches:

  • Muttering
  • Using sarcasm
  • Exhibiting denial
  • Presenting a happy face when they’re clearly upset
  • Giving the silent treatment

If you’re dealing with a passive-aggressive communicator, you might find them giving you verbal agreement yet undermining your efforts. When working with a passive-aggressive communicator consider these methods:

  • Make clear requests. Try not to leave room for misinterpretation or confusion.

  • Confront negative behavior. If you notice a passive-aggressive coworker undermining your work or acting unprofessional, try taking them aside to talk about your observations. Consider looping in a manager if your conversation doesn’t produce change.

  • Ask for their feedback. Directly ask them for their feedback in 1:1 situations to try to elicit honest communication, ideas and feedback.

If you have passive-aggressive tendencies, look for opportunities to communicate your thoughts and needs openly. Find a way to pursue clear and honest lines of communication to ensure you feel heard and are taking active steps to directly address a situation.

Related: Interpersonal Skills: Definitions and Examples

4. Assertive communication style

The assertive style is typically the most respectful and productive type of communication in the workplace. Assertive communicators share their thoughts and ideas confidently, but they’re always respectful and polite. They readily take on challenges but know how to say no when they need to. These individuals understand their own limits and protect their boundaries without acting aggressively in the process.

When you’re with an assertive communicator, you’ll notice their ability to make others feel comfortable. They’re the ones that you seek out because you know they can easily facilitate a productive discussion. This attitude exhibits itself through:

  • Expansive gestures
  • Promotes collaboration and idea sharing
  • Expresses their ideas and feelings in a productive way
  • Good posture
  • A clear voice
  • Friendly eye contact

If you have assertive communicators on your team, encourage them to share their ideas, place them in positions of leadership and enlist their help dealing with passive, passive-aggressive and aggressive communication styles.

Communication Types
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Types of Communication
1. Verbal

  • Use a strong, confident speaking voice.
  • Use active listening.
  • Avoid filler words.
  • Avoid industry jargon when appropriate.
  1. Nonverbal
  • Notice how your emotions feel physically.
  • Be intentional about your nonverbal communications.
  • Mimic nonverbal communications you find effective.
  1. Visual
  • Ask others before including visuals.
  • Consider your audience.
  • Only use visuals if they add value.
  • Make them clear and easy to understand.
  1. Written
  • Strive for simplicity.
  • Don’t rely on tone.
  • Take time to review your written communications.
  • Keep a file of writing you find effective or enjoyable.

How to be a more assertive communicator

Communication skills can be developed and improved with practice and self-awareness. Assertive communication is commonly regarded as the most productive and desired communication style, especially in a working environment. To improve your assertive communication skills consider these suggestions:

  • Express your needs and ideas with confidence
  • Practice active listening
  • Encourage others to share their ideas
  • Exercise emotional intelligence
  • Be open to others feedback on your communication strengths and areas of improvement
  • Explore professional development courses
  • Seek opportunities to practice public speaking