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  • Writer's pictureSarah Butler

4 Types of Communication: How to Identify and Communicate Effectively With Each One

It's important to understand the four major types of communication so that you can effectively communicate with people who have different communication styles than you.

The way we communicate with others is shaped by our personality and every person has a predominant communication style based on the level of dominance (I win) and sociability (you win) - aggressive, passive, assertive, and passive-aggressive communication styles have their own distinct characteristics. This article will help you to identify each and provide tips for you to communicate most effectively with the different types.

Assertive (I win, you win)

Assertive communicators are direct and honest about their thoughts and feelings. They ask questions and share opinions with clarity and confidence. An assertive communicator will make their needs and desires known and will work to build respectful and collaborative relationships with others.

Assertive is the most effective style of communication as it comes from a place of confidence. If used in the right way, it can help get the outcome you want.

Assertiveness is also the most beneficial and productive type of communication in the workplace, encompassing the ability to share views and ideas. Assertive communicators take on challenges but also know how to say 'no' They understand their own limits and protect their boundaries without acting aggressively or defensively. They are also able to make others feel comfortable and they’re the ones that people look for because they know they can easily have an effective discussion.

The key characteristics of assertive communication are:

  • Honesty

  • Directness

  • Responsibility

  • Respectfulness

Assertive behaviour is expressed by:

  • Stating needs, feelings, and opinions openly, clearly, respectfully and appropriately

  • Body language matching the message

  • Collaborative approach

  • Using 'I' statements

  • Friendly eye contact

  • Standing up for themselves politely and confidently

  • Listening actively without interruption

When you’re communicating with someone who is assertive, be direct and honest about your thoughts and feelings. Ask them questions and actively listen to their responses.

As the best communication style for almost all situations, you can learn to be more assertive by:

  • Sharing your needs and ideas confidently

  • Being a good listener

  • Being aware of your body language and tone to ensure they match the message

  • Encouraging others to share their ideas

  • Using emotional intelligence

  • Being open to feedback

  • Speaking with facts - don't judge or exaggerate

  • Delivering messages in a calm and controlled manner

  • Ensuring your message is clear and easily understood

  • Practising! This will improve your confidence, which is key

Passive (I lose, you win)

Passive communication is characterised by vagueness or inaction. When a person communicates passively, they are not likely to respond directly. A passive communicator may have difficulty expressing their thoughts and feelings and may be unwilling to challenge others. Passive communicators please others to avoid conflict. They ignore their own wants and needs and put someone else’s above their own. It is not usually a style seen in senior management positions.

The key characteristics of passive communication are:

  • Indirectness

  • Silence

  • Avoidance

  • Resignation

Signs of a passive communicator include:

  • Quiet and not looking for attention

  • Allowing others to step on their rights

  • Acting like they don't care

  • Don't often have a strong opinion

  • Not able to say no

  • Lack of eye contact, poor posture, and fidgeting

  • Soft voice

  • Apologetic demeanour

If you’re communicating with someone who is passive, be aware of your tone and don’t push them to engage in a conversation.

  • Have conversations in private - this is often more comfortable for a passive communicator than in group settings

  • Ask for their opinions and use open-ended questions

  • Allow plenty of time for them to think over their responses

  • Stay patient with long silences

Passive-aggressive (I lose, you lose)

Passive-aggressive communication can be difficult to identify initially. It can occur when someone is resentful, annoyed or angry, but they keep those feelings to themselves instead of dealing directly with the source of their frustration. Passive-aggressive communication is often demonstrated through sarcasm, duplicity or stubbornness. A passive-aggressive communicator might be reluctant to voice their opinions but not agree with yours either.

Passive-aggressive communicators will appear to be passive and compliant but are actually manipulative or belligerent when taking action. 'Two-faced' is a common term used to describe these communicators. Communication may seem to be smooth and easy but the outcome can differ from what is agreed upon or expected. These people can be unreliable and untrustworthy.

The key characteristics of passive-aggressive communication are:

  • Resentment

  • Avoidance

  • Lack of directness

  • Resistance

Signs of a passive-aggressive communicator include:

  • Quietly manipulating a situation into one that benefits them

  • Muttering rather than confronting the issue or person

  • Using sarcasm

  • Denial or defensiveness

  • Body language does not match their message

  • Giving the silent treatment

If you’re communicating with someone who is passive-aggressive, be mindful of your own feelings and don’t let the other person’s negativity get to you.

  • Make clear requests

  • Don't leave room for misunderstanding or confusion

  • Document conversations and outcomes

  • Confront negative behaviour

  • Consider looping in a manager if your conversation doesn’t make any difference

  • Directly ask them for their feedback or a solution to try to get honest communication

Aggressive (I win, you lose)

Aggressive communication is usually loud and hostile, but it can also take the form of silence and intimidating body language. An aggressive communicator may use words like “you should” or “you have to” when talking to others, which can be especially harmful to someone who is sensitive or a people-pleaser.

This communicator is focused on achieving their goal at all costs (even if the other person is disadvantaged) and is not interested in finding mutual agreement or collaboration. The person can become forceful and even bullying.

Aggression should never be used as a communication style but is important to identify it so you are able to understand where the other person is operating from and take the right approach in your communication.

Aggressive communicators often express their thoughts and feelings without a filter and usually dominate conversations, at the expense of others. They may also react before thinking, thereby negatively affecting relationships and decreasing productivity in the workplace.

While an aggressive communication style might get respect in certain leadership situations, it’s often intimidating and counter-productive in the end.

The key characteristics of aggressive communication are:

  • Hostility

  • Dominance

  • Impatience

  • Criticism

  • Urgency

Signs of an aggressive communicator include:

  • Speaking loudly and make demands

  • Trying to dominate and inspire fear

  • Interrupting and impulsive

  • Criticising, blaming or attacking others

  • Overbearing posture, using aggressive gestures and intense eye contact

  • Not listening well

  • Using humiliation and 'you' statements

When you’re communicating with someone who is aggressive, don’t give in to their demands or engage with their hostility. Don’t take their criticism personally.

  • Focus your conversation on facts

  • Be professional and courteous no matter the provocation

  • Remain calm and even-tempered

  • Direct the conversation away from personal issues or emotions

  • Walk away from the situation if the aggressive communicator becomes too demanding, intimidating or you’re no longer making positive progress

Tips for communicating effectively with different styles

Here are some tips to effectively communicate with people who have a different communication style than you:

  • Practice active listening: When someone is speaking, it’s important to listen and absorb what they’re saying - not what you plan on saying next. Be aware of their body language and tone.

  • Ask questions: Asking questions can help you better understand the other person’s point of view. This can also help you build a connection with the person, showing that you are interested in what they have to say.

  • Be open-minded and respectful: When you’re communicating with someone who has a different communication style, it’s important to be open-minded and try to understand why they are communicating the way they do.

  • Be patient: Take the time to listen to what the other person is saying and be patient with them.

  • Use nonverbal communication: Nonverbal communication such as facial expressions and body language can convey a lot of information and can be used to communicate effectively with different communication styles.

  • Use different methods of communication Try to use different ways of communicating with the other person, such as email, text, or face-to-face. This will help ensure that the other person is receiving the message correctly.

  • Summarise and confirm: After the other person has finished speaking, it is important to summarise what you heard in order to make sure that you both understand each other.

Wrapping up

Our communication styles are influenced by many factors, including our upbringing, our culture, and even our mood. It is possible to become more aware of your dominant communication style and actively develop it into an assertive style, which is the optimum form of business communication. Be aware of the communication styles of others and the techniques available to communicate effectively with them to build beneficial workplace relationships.

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