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Styles of Communication


Every time we speak, we choose and use one of four basic communication styles: assertive, aggressive, passive and passive-aggressive.

Assertive Communication

The most effective and healthiest form of communication is the assertive style. It's how we naturally express ourselves when our self-esteem is intact, giving us the confidence to communicate without games and manipulation.

When we are being assertive, we work hard to create mutually satisfying solutions. We communicate our needs clearly and forthrightly. We care about the relationship and strive for a win/win situation. We know our limits and refuse to be pushed beyond them just because someone else wants or needs something from us. Surprisingly, assertive is the style most people use least.

Aggressive Communication

Aggressive communication always involves manipulation. We may attempt to make people do what we want by inducing guilt (hurt) or by using intimidation and control tactics (anger). Covert or overt, we simply want our needs met - and right now! Although there are a few arenas where aggressive behavior is called for (i.e., sports or war), it will never work in a relationship. Ironically, the more aggressive sports rely heavily on team members and rational coaching strategies. Even war might be avoided if we could learn to be more assertive and negotiate to solve our problems.

Passive Communication

Passive communication is based on compliance and hopes to avoid confrontation at all costs. In this mode we don't talk much, question even less, and actually do very little. We just don't want to rock the boat. Passives have learned that it is safer not to react and better to disappear than to stand up and be noticed.

Passive-Aggressive Communication

A combination of styles, passive-aggressive avoids direct confrontation (passive), but attempts to get even through manipulation (aggressive). If you've ever thought about making that certain someone who needs to be "taught a thing or two" suffer (even just a teeny bit), you've stepped pretty close to (if not on into) the devious and sneaky world of the passive-aggressive. This style of communication often leads to office politics and rumour-mongering.

So now what?

Clearly, for many reasons, the only healthy communication style is assertive communication. Surely you can identify many people in your own life that favor each of the four styles. Most of us use a combination of these four styles, depending on the person or situation. The styles we choose generally depend on what our past experiences have taught us will work best to get our needs met in each specific situation. If you take a really good look at yourself, you've probably used each throughout your lifetime.

Understanding the four basic types of communication will help you learn how to react most effectively when confronted with a difficult person. It will also help you recognize when you are using manipulative behavior to get your own needs met. Remember, you always have a choice as to which communication style you use. If you're serious about taking control of your life, practice being more assertive. It will help you diffuse anger, reduce guilt and build relationships - both personally and professionally.




Have a look at these situations and decide how...
...a passive person would react aggressive person would react
...a passive-aggressive person would react assertive person would react

  • 1 You are trying to concentrate on some important work. However, a few of your co-workers are laughing and horsing around. What do you do?
  • 2 You are a secretary in a small company. One day, your boss asks you to get some cigarettes for him from the store across the street. What do you do?
  • 3 You are the head of your department. A young lady who works for you has started coming to work late everyday and is extremely moody. What do you do?
  • 4 Your boss has borrowed your laptop to do some work. He has had it for several hours and it is now time to go home. You really want to take it home to do some personal work. What do you do?
  • 5 Your boss walks up behind you when you are using the company phone for a personal call. "How much longer do you plan to be?" he asks. What do you do?