Understanding Your Communication Style

There are four main styles of communication: passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive.

Passive Communication

  • Not expressing feelings or needs; ignoring your own personal rights and allowing others to do so
  • Deferring to others for decision making in order to avoid tension or conflict
  • Often leads to misunderstanding, built-up anger, or resentment
  • Can be a safer communication option when a conflict may escalate to violence

Examples include statements like “I’m okay with whatever you want to do”; body language includes failing to make eye contact or looking down.

Aggressive Communication

  • Expressing feelings, needs, and ideas at the expense of others; ignoring others’ rights in order to support your own
  • Defensive or hostile when confronted by others
  • Often alienates and hurts others
  • Can help meet your needs quickly

Examples include statements like “this is what we’re doing,” or “get over it”; body language includes crossing arms, eye rolling, or finger pointing.

Passive-Aggressive Communication

  • Appearing passive on the surface, but subtly acting out anger
  • Exerting control over others by using sarcasm and indirect communication, or avoiding the conversation
  • Limited consideration for the rights, needs, or feelings of others

Examples include passive statements and body language followed by giving the "silent treatment", spreading rumors, and sabotaging another person’s efforts.

Assertive Communication

  • Direct, honest communication of thoughts and feelings
  • Respecting the feelings, ideas, and needs of others while also asserting your own
  • May not be effective when interacting with individuals that threaten your personal safety
  • People often misinterpret assertive behavior as aggressive –  Americans and women are often mislabeled as a result

Examples include “I” statements like “I feel...when you…and I need for you to do…”; body language includes eye contact, straight posture, and relaxed gestures.

Keep in Mind

Most of us don’t use a single communication style in every interaction; they’re simply tools that you can use to communicate.

In general, assertive communication is most likely to lead to respectful and longer-term relationships, so that’s the style to strive for in most situations.

However, passive and aggressive communication might work better on some occasions. For example, if you are feeling fearful that you are about to be harmed, passive communication may help to defuse the situation and aggressive communication might prevent the problem from getting worse.

While the passive communication style can be helpful, when people pair it with subtle aggression, the passive-aggressive style is likely to interfere with or undermine healthy relationships.