Have you had people tell you that you’re being “too aggressive” or do you feel like, at times, you tend to get taken advantage of? Or, maybe there have been times when people have stated you were being passive-aggressive but you didn’t quite know what that meant? Typically, there are four communication styles a person can utilize: Assertive, Aggressive, Passive, Passive-Aggressive. Each communication style has its advantages and disadvantages of why you might portray them. Think about the setting you are in: work, with your family, or with your friends, etc. Becoming more perceptive to which communication style you are employing, and why, can help you to be more successful in your personal, intimate, and business relationships.
Here are a few “go to” descriptions of each personality type to help you better identify which one you relate to best:
· You believe everyone’s needs matter in the situation
· You do not fear or avoid conflict
· You are level headed about things, and tend to not let your emotions get the best of you in high conflict situations
· You allow others to share their opinions without being overpowered by them
· You tend to use “I” statements
· You share your vulnerabilities
· You distinguish between fact and opinion
· You feel comfortable talking the lead in the conversation, whether that is speaking first or speaking for the majority of the time
· People look at you as a leader type
· You command respect from the people around you
· You always make sure that you have a voice and your points are heard
· You maintain superiority in most of your dynamic relationships
· You tend to not show your vulnerability in situations
· “You” statements feel more natural to you
· You have a strong voice
· You are not afraid to be heard over others
· You are thoughtful and always making sure other people’s needs are being met first
· You go with the flow
· You let other people lead
· You are easy to get along with, you rarely make waves
· People sometimes take advantage of you
· You tend to avoid conflicts
· You are aware of your needs, but at times struggle to voice them.
· At your core you want to advocate for yourself, but need help with learning how
· Your struggle to balance your own self-advocacy with others’ needs can be perceived as manipulative by others
· You fear conflict and therefore try to avoid it
· You tend to feel like the victim in situations
· Following through on agreements can be difficult for you
· “You” statements feel the most comfortable
In most situations, people strive for assertiveness. When you are assertive you tend to get your needs met, while also meeting the needs of others. You are able to listen to those around you effectively. You then take into consideration what you need and want out of the situation and work to come up with a compromise that everyone can be satisfied with. Assertive people earn their respect through trust and honesty. When you’re assertive, you tend to not step on any toes. And, at the same time, you don’t let others step on your own toes. People do not have to second-guess you when you’re assertive; you are direct and clear with your needs. People tend to feel comfortable around you. Assertiveness has the best balance for healthy self-advocacy and personal connection.
Though assertiveness tends to be the most strived for communication style, there are times when aggressiveness is more beneficial. Aggressive people voice their needs and are direct. Aggressive behaviors may come with consequences. They tend to gain their respect through fear. Often times, leadership positions stem from aggressiveness but also may not bring many confidants at the top as a leader. Being aggressive can be helpful in the workplace, as to not let others walk over you and get noticed before you.
Being passive also has its place. Passive people tend to go with the flow. They do not create conflict. They usually put the needs of others ahead of their own. When passive people do voice their opinion, or needs, they easily back down if someone else disagrees with them. Passive people tend to avoid conflict. Often times, passive people find aggressive people and create relationships. Giving the assertive person the space to be himself or herself in the relationship and maintain balance. They work well in groups, but do not lead the groups. Being passive can be helpful in the workplace to maintain your position, but not necessarily to get noticed and move up in your career.
Passive-Aggressive people struggle to strike a balance between getting their own needs met in a direct and clear manner, while also meeting the needs of others. They tend to get their needs met in extreme situations. They first take a passive role, putting the needs of others before their own in fear that their voice isn’t good enough or won’t be heard anyway, or conflict. While their end decision may look like they disregard the needs of others, their awareness and guilt for other’s needs weighs heavily on their mind and their heart. However, their actions will speak louder than their thoughts and feelings. Passive-aggressive people’s needs will become so extreme that they will act with little capacity for direct communication at the time. This is their primitive brain reacting to the stress that has been induced from taking the passive role. Conflict resolution often times is difficult for passive-aggressive people to work through.
A limited caveat to these communication styles is the understanding of who tends to portray certain personality types and why. U.S. culture grooms women to be more passive in nature, where as men are typically groomed to be more aggressive. Often times, people experience internal conflict as society says they should be one way, but they connect with another communication style. Different cultures allow for different personality types, as do religions. For example, within the Muslim religion passivity by women is respected, not looked at as weak. Having a deeper understanding of your own diverse background, as well as others, can help you to better connect with your own personality type.
Knowing what communication style you portray in different situations is important. For example, if you are with your boss and s/he is telling you to do something that you don’t agree with ask yourself if it is the time to compromise with your boss (be assertive with your thoughts and behaviors) or, do as you’re told and move on (being more passive with your thoughts and behaviors). At times, you will find that taking on a non-assertive role may benefit you more so than if you were to assert yourself.
Looking at your personal life, this same concept of choosing which communication style to use can be beneficial. If you’re partner has had a difficult day and does something that you may not approve of, you may choose to be passive and go with the flow that evening knowing they’ve had a difficult day. Other times, if you’re children are testing your patience by not following the rules, you may choose to be more aggressive toward them.
Paying attention to the situation you are in, and thinking about the different types of communication styles you have to choose from, can be helpful in your daily life. Being perceptive to your needs, as well as the needs of others, will help you to navigate better what is needed in the moment. Each communication style has its advantages and disadvantages. Weighing out the pros and cons will promote a better outcome. To gain a deeper understanding of each of the communication styles’ pros and cons, try role playing each style a week at a time. Assess what it’s like to go out of your comfort zone, take inventory of how others react to you, and then at the end of the week switch to the next style of your choice. Sit down with a good friend or closest confident, inform them of your recent experience, ask them for their own feedback on each style they experienced from you. This information and activity is about helping you take an honest reflection of your current style of communication and how it’s truly working for you at this time.