Communication Styles in the Workplace

Workplace Communication: Identifying and Deciphering all Four Styles

4 communication styles in the workplace

For a business to run efficiently and effectively, communication is key. Effective communication can be challenging because even though we mostly speak the same language, not everyone communicates in the same way.

That’s not necessarily a problem if managers recognize, understand, and accommodate employees’ different communication styles.

There are at least four communication styles: passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive.

If you can learn how to recognize and best respond to the different communication styles in the workplace, it will benefit the team members and the business.

The Importance of Effective Communication

To an extent, we all speak our own language. The increased dependence on virtual meetings, text, and video due to the pandemic shutdown has only made matters worse.

Understanding and responding to different communication styles in the workplace demonstrates emotional intelligence -- an intangible of a strong manager. Great communication also helps to create a positive work culture where employees feel heard and valued and are more likely to be engaged in work projects.

Communication styles aren't limited to conversation; they’re examples of how everybody interprets the world around them and expresses that interpretation along with their thoughts, wants, and priorities.

Without a clear understanding of communication styles, it can be easy to misunderstand even simple messages, like emails. This can make it difficult for managers and employees to give and receive honest feedback, which can hinder decision-making. Misunderstandings can also lead to employees not understanding instructions.

What Are the Different Communication Styles?

Communication is a spectrum. The exact style might change depending on the situation and with whom they are speaking with, but they can be broken down into four types:

  • Passive;
  • Aggressive;
  • Passive-aggressive; and
  • Assertive.

There are shadings in these styles. Some observers consider submissive a separate category, while others use it and passive interchangeably. Some rank manipulative as a form of aggressive, while others feel it has elements of passive-aggressive. A good manager will recognize these shadings and respond accordingly.

Passive Communication Style

Passive communication is an example of indirect communication. People who use passive communication seem indifferent or overly agreeable. They acquiesce to whatever the group or the leader says and keep their opinions to themselves.

Passive Communication Style

Passive communicators:

  • May not have a strong opinion or ideas on a topic;
  • May be afraid to express themselves because they don’t want to say something wrong or be blamed for a bad decision;
  • May feel bullied by a more aggressive member of the team;
  • May have social anxiety and not want to speak in front of the group; and
  • May not care.

This seeming neutrality may make them good at conflict resolution, but it leaves them open to being taken advantage of by others. They may harbor resentments. Also, the business is not benefiting from their ideas and viewpoints.

A submissive communication style is similar to a passive one. The chief difference is the submissive don’t think their opinions are worth sharing.

How to Identify Passive Communication Style in the Workplace

People with passive communication:

  • Avoid eye contact;
  • Don’t express their opinions or take part in debates;
  • Don’t ask for help;
  • Slouch;
  • Speak very quietly;
  • Constantly apologize when it’s not appropriate;
  • Always agree, can’t say no, or simply shrug; and
  • Can’t sit still.

Dealing With a Passive Communicator

It can be frustrating to deal with a passive communicator. To get the most out of a passive communicator:

  • Don’t get angry; be optimistic;
  • Speak with them individually, not in groups;
  • Ask them questions that can’t be answered yes or no; and
  • Be patient. They may take a long time to answer with long silences.

Your patience may be rewarded. Excessively passive communication is not good for individuals or businesses, but passive communicators can be valuable additions to the workforce

Aggressive Communication Style

The opposite of passive is aggressive. Aggressive communication is direct communication, but that’s not always a positive thing.

Aggressive communicators can be confident, direct, and honest, which are usually good things, but they may also can be arrogant, controlling, demanding, abusive, ungrateful, bullying, mean-spirited, and hostile. They can act without thinking first and then blame others for the consequences.

Aggressive Communication Styl

Aggressive communicators:

  • Don’t listen;
  • Interrupt others while they are speaking;
  • Speak more loudly than is necessary; and
  • Try to dominate the discussion.

This type of behavior can stifle honest debate and be manipulative.

How to Identify Aggressive Communication Styles in the Workplace

People with an aggressive communication style:

  • Make intimidating eye contact;
  • Cross their arms;
  • Loudly voice their opinions;
  • Ignore the rights and feelings of others, including personal space; and
  • Disrespect others with insulting, condescending, and sarcastic remarks.

Dealing With An Aggressive Communicator

The way to manage an aggressive communicator is by meeting that aggression with calm:

  • Be polite, even if they are rude;
  • Don’t respond with aggression or emotion;
  • Speak unemotionally about the problem at hand; and
  • Stay professional.

If an aggressive employee's communication becomes harassing or bullying, walk away and contact the HR department.

Passive-Aggressive Communication Style

As the name suggests, passive-aggressive communication contains aspects of both passive and aggressive communication styles. Like passive, it’s an indirect communication style.

Passive-aggressive communication style is when individuals may appear passive, submissive, cooperative, or agreeable on the outside but within are hostile and full of anger.

People with passive-aggressive communication styles may agree to some task they don’t want to do, then fail to do them, sabotage the team’s or business’s goals, and shift the blame.

Passive-Aggressive Communication Style

How to Identify Passive-Aggressive Communication Styles in the Workplace

Passive aggression can also manifest in subtle or not-so-subtle ways, such as:

  • Body language;
  • Muttering under their breath;
  • Forced smiles or laughter;
  • Ignoring someone like they are not there;
  • Spreading rumors;
  • Sarcasm; and
  • A denial

People with passive-aggressive communication styles tend to have internal aggressive but feel they can’t act out on their feelings. Instead, they manipulate people secretly. It’s like guerilla warfare.

Dealing with a Passive-Aggressive Communicator

To deal with a passive-aggressive communicator:

  • Be assertive;
  • Be so specific that they can not claim they misinterpreted you;
  • Point out their behavior privately and how it affects you, the team, and the business without apology and hostility;
  • Let them tell their side, but don’t buy into their narrative that you’re at fault;
  • Show empathy. They may not be aware of what they are doing; and
  • Take it to a higher-up or HR if necessary.

Above all, don’t respond in kind. Some sources suggest using humor to defuse passive-aggression, but humor is also a passive-aggressive tactic.

Assertive Communication Style

The assertive communication style is generally regarded as the best style because it combines the best elements of the other styles and tends to be the most honest and effective.

Assertive communication is direct communication, but it's not the same as aggressive. Assertive communication is based on mutual respect.

As one psychologist expressed the difference among communication styles: “To be passive is to let others decide for you. To be aggressive is to decide for others. To be assertive is to decide for yourself.”

Assertive Communication Style

People with assertive communication styles:

  • Are confident but not arrogant;
  • Are honest and try to persuade but are not manipulative;
  • Take responsibility and stand up for their rights; and
  • Welcome collaboration and attempt consensus without being disrespectful of honest opposing opinions.

Assertive communication styles can be learned and managers should strive to teach these philosophies.

How to Identify Assertive Communication Styles in the Workplace

Some of the signs of an assertive communication style include:

  • Speaking calmly, neither too loud nor quiet;
  • Making friendly eye contact with open body language;
  • Asking “what do you think?” after sharing ideas;
  • Giving others their full attention when they speak, including body language;
  • Not interrupting others;
  • Asking for and welcoming constructive criticism; and
  • Being able to say no.

Dealing with an Assertive Communicator

Unlike these other communication styles, there don’t seem to be any drawbacks to assertive communication. Instead, it’s the style to which everyone should aspire, from managers to new hires.

Not only are assertive communicators more effective, which is good for the business, but they have less stress and greater job satisfaction, which is good for the individual workers.

When managers or employers find people with an assertive communication style, they should be given the space to share their ideas and considered for leadership positions on projects, teams, and businesses.

How to Improve Communication in the Workplace

Two ways awareness of communication styles can improve communication in the workplace are:

  • Becoming aware of them. Teach all employees about the different communication styles. When managers and coworkers know someone has a passive or aggressive communication style, they can learn how to respond positively.
  • Using this awareness to change them. Most people don’t know that they have a communication style or what it means to interoffice communication.

According to this model, the passive, aggressive, and passive-aggressive approaches are considered negative communication styles. Only assertive ensures an honest, free exchange of ideas, respects all members of the team, and makes everyone a winner. (An alternative model breaks the four types of communication styles down further, into analytical, intuitive, functional, and personal. While none are considered inherently better than the other, understanding these workplace communication styles also improves understanding).

While it would be ideal if everyone in the business was an assertive communicator, that’s probably not likely. Not everybody is a naturally assertive communicator. It depends on personality and upbringing.

You probably can’t completely change your or someone else's style, but if you're aware of your preferred communication style, you can get closer to an assertive communication style with the will to change and practice.

Becoming an Assertive Communicator

To become a more assertive communicator, first, practice the traits of the assertive communication style above. Remember, it’s as much about respecting your thoughts and feelings as those of others.

Here are some more tips for becoming more assertive:

  • Pay attention to your feelings and preferences. Don’t say, “I don’t care,” even about unimportant matters;
  • Make “I” statements;
  • Give your opinion;
  • Tell yourself that your ideas are as valid as anyone else’s;
  • Find an assertive role model;
  • Practice taking criticism without getting emotional or passive;
  • Learn to say "no;"
  • Maintain friendly eye contact and body language;
  • Be sensitive to the feelings of others; and
  • Accept responsibility for your mistakes.

While you practice becoming more assertive, be careful not to drift into aggressive, passive, or passive-aggressive behavior or communication.

Be patient. You likely can’t change yourself or your workforce overnight, but the change is worth the effort.

Improve Communication, Connectivity, and Productivity

OnTheClock offers a user-friendly messaging feature designed to enhance communication and collaboration among employees, managers, and business owners.

With OnTheClock, you can ensure everyone stays on the same page and communicates effectively, regardless of a manager or employee's location or time. So, take the first step to improve your workplace communication and try OnTheClock today!

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