In recent blogs, we’ve been exploring communication. In this blog we will simply identify the four basic styles of communication. Take a look and see which you identify with and which you’d like to practice more.
The passive communicator is avoidant and indirect, possibly wishing to avoid conflict at any cost. He negates himself and abandons his role as self-spokesman. This communication style is often paired with other “doormat” behavior. Essentially, the passive communicator has moved out of the frame to make room for the other party (often the aggressor) to run the show. Typically this is learned survival behavior by those who have recognized that speaking for themselves can result in uncomfortable to abusive situations.
The aggressive communicator is argumentative, belligerent, attacking and volatile. He may be described as “a loose cannon.” Physically, he may enter into the other’s personal space and have a bullying or threatening demeanor. He may be unrelenting and unilateral. The aggressive communicator may yell and use abusive language, diminishing the other party in order to demand his way. He leaves the other feeling disrespected, possibly violated, and overpowered. In this style of communication the aggressor has not made room for two people in the discourse; the aggressor’s voice (and behavior) strangle the other’s expression.
The passive aggressive communicator is the most frustrating and perhaps fascinating. Perhaps having developed this style from an environment where it is unsafe to express anger and unmet needs, this communicator will express hostility in covert ways. He may use sarcasm, side comments and snide remarks. Verbal techniques may include interrupting, talking over, and changing the subject. There are non-verbal demonstrations of disapproval such as eye rolling, grunting, and ignoring. Guilting and manipulating are common. Other passive strategies include demonstrating disinterest or failing to listen to the other party, or the classic passive aggressive behavior, the silent treatment. By refusing to speak, the passive communicator shifts the burden to the recipient – forcing the other to do all of the active work – to inquire, “what’s wrong?” or to acquiesce and co-inhabit the tense, inauthentic environment.
An assertive communicator is the least common and the most effective. It is what we are striving for. Communicating assertively incorporates reasoning and an awareness of boundaries. It is direct, clear, honest, and concise. The assertive communicator is confident but not confrontational, displaying self control, and encouraging the opportunity for collaboration. It’s both respectful of one’s own needs, and the needs of the others, with the focus on getting the needs of both parties met. In this kind of communication, “I” statements are utilized. There is also no accusatory speech such as “You did this!” or blaming. Again, the focus is on the problem, not the individual. It isn’t making the other person wrong .It’s saying, “Here is what is going on that isn’t working for me. How do we address this together?”
It is likely that we each use these different communication styles at different times, with varying degrees of success. The more we practice assertive communication, the more respect and space we can encourage in our interactions.
Are there ever times when the assertive approach would be ineffective? Are there certain times when passivity or aggression are called for?