How to Work With the 4 Most Common Types of Communication Styles





Future of Work


A team of unique individuals will mean various types of communication styles. Communication styles are how we express our thoughts and opinions which might manifest as both verbal and non-verbal communication.

Different communication patterns can generate conflict, which is why knowing how to spot and improve them is important to your organizational culture.The Economist Intelligence Unit and Lucidchart found that almost half of the causes for poor communication are due to different communication styles.

From a misinterpreted emoji, facial expression, or not speaking up, a mismatch in communication styles can take a hit on overall productivity and the well-being of your coworkers.

Managing 4 different types of communication styles at work

The 4 styles of communication in a workplace are passive, assertive, aggressive, and passive aggressive. They can appear in any kind of team, whether you're a small business, scale-up or large enterprise.

As a manager, understanding your employees' communication style is key. You can only implement step-solution plans that improve communication between team members when fully understanding each style.

However, self-reflection is just as vital. What is your communication style as a manager? You might be implementing the wrong leadership communication styles, leading to disengaged and unmotivated employees - or even sparking conflict.

Assertive: the most effective communication style

Out of all types of communication styles, assertive communication is the most effective way of communicating. Assertive communicators can express their needs, ideas, and thoughts candidly while considering the feelings of others.

These types of communicators speak in a calm tone without interrupting others nor showing aggressive facial expressions. Assertive communicators strive for win-win situations, rather than bringing others down for their benefit.

They tend to actively work on their listening skills and have empathy by seeking to understand the opinions of others. Assertive communication fosters an open environment, where all parties are given the respect to express their ideas, values, and thoughts in a two-way conversation.

Employees are encouraged to be transparent about their thoughts if done politely, without the fear of backlash. Communicating assertively allows team members to feel comfortable challenging certain ideas or strategies in a company, leading to possible improvements in a project or even the workplace culture.

Assertive communicators are also comfortable giving and receiving feedback, fostering the professional growth of all team members.

How to promote assertive communication styles

Assertive communication strategies include taking ownership of their feelings without blaming others. This can be done by using “I” statements such as “I feel stressed when the report is late”. Assertive communication also encourages direct requests.

Instead of “do you think you can make the meeting today?”, an assertive manager will say, “will you please make the meeting today”. Along with voicing their needs politely, assertive communicators are also not afraid to say “no” when necessary and establish healthy boundaries.

Body language cues are also impactful. Assertive communicators make direct eye contact and keep a physical stance open, uncrossing their arms and legs.

Passive: low involvement and communication

Passive communicators carry a quiet demeanor and rarely assert themselves. Think of that employee that tends to never speak up, despite other coworkers knowing they disagree with a certain idea.

People that mainly communicate in a passive way have an inability to say no and might be easily taking advantage when it comes to heavy workloads. When they need assistance with an important project, they might not possess the necessary communication strategies to ask for help.

A passive communicator is unlikely to express their feelings and needs, oftentimes even apologizing when doing so. This type of communicator avoids confrontation at all costs.

To spot a passive communicator, look out for employees that along with not standing up for themselves, display insecure nonverbal cues such as shrugging, speaking too softly, and not making eye contact.Such communication patterns can be detrimental to team relations.

When a passive communicator is unable to speak up time and time again, this can foster resentment and decreased productivity. Resentment from passive communicators is too often only expressed at an exit interview when an adjustment of a communication style is too late.

The passive communicator is also a possible target of both managers and employees who might take advantage of them. Due to their inability to say “no”, a passive communicator will take on too many projects, despite feeling overwhelmed.

While the assertive communicator provides win-win solutions for all parties involved, the passive communicator often loses, while others win on their behalf.

types of communication styles passive

How to make passive communicators more assertive

To overcome this communication style, managers must first discuss the issue with the passive communicator in a 1:1 environment. Avoid bringing the communication issue up in a group setting, as passive communicators will feel more comfortable during private interactions.

Check in questions for meetings can be a great way to get the conversation started.The key to solving most communication issues is addressing the root causes - why is the employee passive? The passive communicator might struggle with confidence issues or feel like they are not being supported by the manager.

Allow the passive communicator the time to think over their response and give them the space to express themselves without judgment. Make sure to explain the negative consequences of passive communication, without it feeling like an attack on their personality.

Rather, express how the communicator would benefit from a more assertive communication style. For example, by speaking up more regularly, they would be able to see their ideas materialize into innovative projects and increase their sense of self-worth and value to the team.

Managers should create a roadmap with the communicator to transition them towards an assertive communication style. “Transition” is key here - do not expect a passive communicator to change their communication strategies overnight.

Instead, advise them to try to implement assertive non-verbal and verbal cues such as maintaining eye contact and speaking out during meetings. The roadmap should also include the responsibility on your part, as a manager, to advocate for the communicator and encourage everyone to have a voice in group settings.

Aggressive: a type of communication to avoid at all costs

Aggressive communicators tend to dominate conversations, often speaking over others. They might only be concerned about their own needs, thoughts, and feelings, rather than display empathy for other employees.

Aggressive communicators often lose their temper, use bullying techniques, and criticize the ideas of others. They might speak in a loud and demanding voice while intimidating, attacking, and blaming other peers.

This creates a hostile environment as aggressive communication strategies are insensitive to others and push people away. Aggressive communicators might also have a hard time building relationships in the workplace due to intimidation.

Aggressive communication will ultimately lead to a toxic work culture within a team. They do not allow space for others to openly express their ideas and thoughts, particularly passive communicators, leading to a decrease in efficiency and innovation.

This type of communication can also leave employees feeling undervalued and with a low sense of self-worth. Managers with aggressive communication can lose the ability to openly communicate with their team. If as a manager you regularly utter phrases like “it’s all your fault”, chances are you are an aggressive communicator.

Even if this isn't the case, it is within your responsibility to make sure you call out such behavior. For example, if someone on your team is constantly getting cut off by an aggressive communicator, intervene to allow them to express themselves.

Set up a zero tolerance environment for aggressive communicators

To make sure aggressive communication does not negatively impact your team, you must step in as a manager. When talking to the aggressive communicator, do not feel intimidated - you are not in the wrong. However, do ask them why they act this way. Are they stressed in their personal or professional life? If it's the latter, can you help resolve the issue?

Provide them with examples of their aggressive conversation styles and how they impacted the rest of the team. Name some assertive communications strategies they could have used in those situations instead, such as stating their opinion calmly and asking for the feedback of others. Make it clear that if the aggressive behavior is to continue, set consequences will occur.

types of communication styles prevent aggressive

Passive Aggressive: lack of transparency

A passive aggressive communicator appears passive and uninterested but is actually feeling resentful. This translates into not confronting a coworker on an issue and instead, acting out in subtle ways. People exhibiting this communication style tend to communicate with body language or a lack of transparent communication.

For example, passive aggressive communicators might give someone the silent treatment or even talk negatively behind someone’s back. In a more extreme scenario, they might even try to sabotage the efforts of others. Passive aggressive communication in a work environment can lead to the communicator feeling alienated from other coworkers.

They will remain in a position of powerlessness, unable to voice their concerns. This leads passive aggressive communicators to never have the issues they need addressed and in turn, not progress in their professional life.

types of communication styles passive aggressive

How to deal with passive aggressive communication

Managers must strive for honest lines of communication that overcome the strategies of a passive aggressive communicator. The first step is to open up a conversation with the employee about their behavior in a safe environment.

It is helpful to recognize this behavior by providing the definition for passive aggressive communication and giving examples of such instances. Make sure this is a two-way conversation. Allow the passive aggressive communicator the time to express why they act in such a manner.

If the communication style is due to other coworkers with aggressive communication styles, for example, make sure to take steps to address this. Make a plan with the employee towards more assertive types of communication styles so that they learn to communicate honestly and effectively.

Similarly to aggressive communicators, set consequences to continued passive aggressive behavior.

Managing communications with Rock

Nurturing assertive communication within a team can be challenging, particularly in a remote setting. In an office, 1:1 interactions and team meetings can help managers spot and address different types of communication styles. Nevertheless, it can be trickier through a screen.

This is where remote work tools like Rock come in. All-in-one messaging app allows employees to develop their assertive communication strategies. Managers can set assignees to tasks, allowing employees to take charge of their work in an assertive manner.

It is also possible to set up onboarding with a 90 day plan to prevent unproductive communication styles to emerge with new team members.

Rock makes it easy to document information on projects and tasks, providing clarity and transparency to others on a team. This allows employees to find the information they need to work independently. At the same time it is possible to ask for help when necessary, promoting assertive communication strategies.

Written communication through Rock nurtures assertive communication. The ongoing status updates feature helps coworkers stay in the loop. This involves all team members while employees can take ownership of their work.

Rock’s asynchronous work features include task management and notes to messaging. Team members are given the tools to communicate assertively and efficiently. All without falling into ineffective types of communication styles.

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