In this episode, Naomi will help you identify your primary communication style. Is it passive, passive aggressive, aggressive, or assertive? And which other styles do you sometimes use too? How can you practice communicating in a more healthy way knowing this? She also provides personal examples of where she has used the four communication styles and what she has done to try and change some of these behaviours.
Before listening to this episode, you might like to complete her free Communication Style quiz.
After you’ve listened to the episode, please let us know in the comments at the bottom of this page what the one thing is that you’re going to do when it comes to practising more healthy communication this week.
Listen to this episode
What you will learn:
- About four communication styles – passive, passive aggressive, aggressive and assertive;
- How to identify your primary communication styles and which other styles you might use sometimes too; and
- What you can do to practice enhancing your communication depending on your dominant styles.
Featured / Referenced:
Prefer to read? Download the full episode transcript:
Read the full episode transcript:
You are listening to the Dream For Others® podcast with Naomi Arnold, Episode 2.
Dream For Me, Dream For You, Dream For Others®. And now your host, award-winning life and business coach, Naomi Arnold…
Yeah, Yeah, Yeah…
Okay, I think it’s safe to say that I cannot sing like Dawn.
By the way, if you enjoy my intro, a gifted voice over artist named Dawn created it for me, as well as the advertisement about my coaching that you will sometimes hear during the podcast. I’ll pop a link to Dawn’s Fiverr page in the show notes in case you’re a podcaster and you’d like to engage her brilliance too.
Now before we launch into this episode, I wanted to begin by saying a big thank you for coming back and listening to the first official episode of the podcast in this new format.
I really appreciate you taking time out of your precious day to be here and to give the podcast a chance.
Today we will be talking about communication styles.
One of my personal goals this year is to more consciously focus on healthy communication – in not just professional settings but in my personal relationships too.
Communication is a big topic though. What is it? What is it not? How can one communicate more effectively? What role does socialisation, childhood, parenting styles, trauma, culture, personality, emotional intelligence and other factors play here? Which communication theories can be useful and in what contexts? Which can be harmful if we don’t explore them critically?
We obviously cannot comprehensively cover everything in one episode.
However, since I recently launched a free Communication Styles quiz – I thought we could focus on the four communication styles referenced in that specific quiz today.
It is important to note upfront though, that even when it comes to ‘communication styles’ there are a number of theories that we could examine, learn a lot from and apply to our personal contexts. So this quiz and this podcast episode will focus on just one of many communication style theories.
The four communication styles that we are going to focus on today are called:
2) Passive Aggressive;
3) Aggressive; and
We are going to identify which of these four communication styles might be your dominant or primary or habitual style, which others you might also occasionally use, and what you might like to try to communicate in a more effective or healthy way once you are aware of this.
Before we get started, if you haven’t already done so, and if it is safe to do so now, you might like to press pause and head to naomiarnold.com/communication-styles-quiz to determine your primary communication style.
This way, you’ll be able to keep your personal context in mind as you listen to the remainder of this episode. Also, if you subscribe at the end of the quiz, you’ll get a Communication Styles Cheat Sheet with a summary of the four communication styles, some tips for each of them, and essentially the cliff notes of this episode delivered to your inbox for easy reference.
BUT, if you are not able or it is not safe to do that quiz now, that is fine. You’ll likely be able to identify which communication style is your dominant approach simply by listening to me talk through the different types now.
I think it’s also really important to acknowledge upfront that most of us use all four of the communication styles at different points in our lives and relationships. Just because we identify with one of the styles, does not mean we communicate that way in every instance. It simply means this is our dominant or primary communication style, the one we habitually return to generally.
Let’s use me as an example. My primary or dominant communication style is ‘assertive’ – which I’ll talk more about shortly. However, depending on the context or often the person I’m talking to, I’ve also been known to communicate passively or passive aggressively.
There have also been moments in my life, especially as a young adult, where I have communicated aggressively too. I will try to give some personal examples as we go through the different communication styles.
I would also like to argue upfront that depending on the context, assertive communication, despite being labelled the healthiest and most effective communication style, may not always be the wisest option either.
So although it is useful to know our dominant communication style, it is also important to note that like many things in life, these things often have multiple layers and complexities and can be highly contextual.
I guess this is a long way of saying that no matter what the quiz or this podcast episode might reveal is your primary or dominant or habitual communication style – in reality, you will sometimes move and transition between different styles in healthy and helpful AND in unhealthy and unhelpful ways.
This means there will always be areas that you can focus on when it comes to enhancing the way you communicate. None of us are perfect.
Now let’s dive in, by beginning with the…
Passive Communication Style.
Passive communicators generally have a more ‘submissive’ approach to communication – they often avoid conflict and lean toward NOT communicating.
They tend to be “people pleasers”, can have trouble saying “no”, and might avoid expressing their right, opinions and feelings.
If your primary communication style is passive, you might realise that you often put the rights, needs and desires of others ahead of your own. You might ‘suffer’ in silence a lot.
Although my primary communication style is assertive, I believe as a young person I was historically a passive communicator. I often wouldn’t speak up and share my views, unless I was directly asked and even then I would often try to deflect or be incredibly diplomatic. When I was stressed or needed help, I wouldn’t directly ask for it. I would secretly hope that loved ones would notice and offer to help me or would show initiative, rather than me reach out and directly ask for help when I needed it. As an extremely shy introvert, I think passive communication felt like a way for me to hide, to feel safe.
I’ve consciously worked on this a lot these past years. And have finally learned the hard way that I can be gentle, shy and introverted – AND still communicate assertively. I can be gentle, shy and introverted – AND still ask for help, be direct and express how I feel and what I need.
There are times where I still do passively communicate. In group contexts, unless I feel morally obliged, I often don’t share my point of view, even if I think it could be useful, unless directly asked.
There are also still moments where I look back and think, “hmmm I let that slide” when I probably should have said something, or “maybe I should have more directly said what I wanted or needed there.”
And then there are times where I am happy to be passive, because that honestly and genuinely still feels safer and healthier to me in that specific context.
I wonder if you resonate with any of this?
Overall, if you’re primary or dominant communication style is passive, this isn’t always healthy or sustainable – and that’s why I’ve made a conscious effort over the years to work on this. I can’t expect people to read my mind.
If you mostly communicate passively in everyday life, you will often feel like your feelings and needs are not being heard or met. You might sometimes feel a pressure building within you as frustrations accumulate, eventually releasing these through an ‘outburst’ or a ‘gush’ of emotion and words, and then sometimes experiencing shame or guilt afterwards for handling it that way.
Plus, you might find that some folk learn they can take advantage of you – because you don’t say anything when they do. In fact, sometimes you tell them it’s okay or you say “sorry” when they’ve actually hurt you!
So if you primarily communicate in a passive way, you might like to practice being more assertive, speaking up, being more direct and sharing your feelings, concerns, needs and desires.
You might also want to practice saying “no”. Or, if you have trouble saying “no” in the moment, you might want to think of a way where you can buy yourself some time to possibly say “no” later. This is something that I used to really struggle with, I’d immediately feel overwhelmed and say “yes”, only later to wish I’d said “no.” So I started to practice saying “I’ll get back to you” or “I’ve got a bit on, so just let me check my calendar later, and I’ll get back to you” or something else that would buy me the time to feel into whether it was a “yes”, “no”, or something in between.
I know some of this can be easier said than done though. So some passive communicators might find it helpful to reflect or journal on examples in their life or work where they have passively communicated and where they wish they’d been more assertive. They can then use these examples as case studies to imagine how they might handle them differently when a similar situation occurs in the future. Some people find it useful to think of little scripts or lines that they can use in these circumstances to help them feel more prepared next time too.
Another strategy that can also be useful is to consider ways that you can calm yourself when you feel anxious or concerned about speaking up and honestly sharing your feelings. What can you do in that moment to breath, to ground yourself, and to feel as much in your power as possible when you make the decision to speak up in that moment?
It might also be helpful to work through how you can take care of yourself before, during and after an instance where you might need to be assertive so you can feel more prepared, supported and confident when these instances occur.
And finally, don’t be afraid to share with those you trust that this is an area you’re working on and let them know how they can support you in this area too. I know having friends who’d gently nudge me and ask “are you sure” or say “I don’t mind if you say no” really helped me in practising to be more assertive.
Now let’s talk about the…
Passive Aggressive Communication Style.
Passive aggressive communicators often use sarcasm, ‘jabs’, subtle comments, ‘hints’, backhanded jokes, their wit and indirect ways of communicating.
They struggle to assertively express their true feelings or directly address challenging conversations, often responding indirectly from a place of frustration, hurt or anger.
They also often use body language or facial expressions that don’t align with their words – for example, saying “Yes!” loudly with tone while angrily shaking their head.
When others directly respond to their comments or express confusion concerning their response, a passive aggressive communicator might then say they were just joking, or accuse the person of being too sensitive, or deny there was a problem in the first place.
Again, although my primary communication style is assertive, I can definitely think of instances in my life where I am passive aggressive. In fact, there is one person who I think hears my so-called witty, sarcastic comments more so than anyone else in my life.
He is also known to be passive aggressive, I think, so I often catch myself doing the same in return. He makes a smart-alec remark, and I make one back.
But I instigate them too sometimes – for example, he takes a natural supplement called ‘genko’ to help with his memory as he can be really forgetful and easily distracted sometimes. So if there is a day where he does something that frustrates me, or I’ve had to repeatedly tell him something multiple times, and I’m at my wits end, I’ve hear myself say “You obviously forgot your genko today.”
Umm… not very nice, or productive, or funny really.
So this is something that I’m working on, since I know that this is a context where this communication style has been known to rear its head in my life. And not always as fun banter, but in conflict situations and in unhelpful ways.
Unfortunately, passive aggressive communication is rarely productive and can be damaging to personal and professional relationships.
People will often be confused or unsure about what you’re implying, feel afraid to ask you to clarify what you mean or to talk openly about an issue, feel hurt or frustrated by your approach, or they might focus on the snarky comment you’ve made and the way you’ve communicated rather than on the issue at hand that needs to be resolved.
It’s often really not helpful, and you too will likely continue to feel unheard, disrespected and dissatisfied as a result.
If you frequently communicate in a passive aggressive way, you might like to focus on becoming more aware of when you do so. Is it your automatic response in all contexts? Or like me, are there specific people or feelings or environments or scenarios that tend to predictably trigger that response?
Once you become more aware, you will be more likely to be able to catch yourself, think before you speak, and practice communicating in a different way.
Like those who primarily communicate passively, you might also like to reflect on any patterns when it comes to common triggers, people or issues that bring out your passive aggressive side.
How can you respond differently in these scenarios? What can you do to calm yourself or buy yourself some time to respond more assertively? How can you show up in a way that is direct, clear and respectful? How can you be more in integrity with the way you speak to others?
What can you do if you catch yourself having been passive aggressive to apologise and/or move forward in perhaps a more healthy and productive way? I know that I’ve had to say many times before “I’m sorry, that wasn’t helpful or funny was it? What I should have said was I’m feeling frustrated because… and could we try….”
And again, is there anyone you trust who you can share that this is an area you’re working on and would like some support in doing so?
Let’s move on to the…
Aggressive Communication Style.
Aggressive communicators are often overly direct, insensitive to the needs and feelings of others, and can get fixated on ‘winning’ or being ‘in control’ of a conversation. They strongly express their feelings, opinions, rights and needs but often in a way that disregards or violates the rights, dignity or needs of others.
They sometimes boast that they’re a “no BS” person and that they like to “tell it like it is” and they “don’t care what others’ think.”
If you tend to communicate aggressively, you might notice that it sometimes works in the short term. People don’t need to question what you want as it’s always very clear. However, over the long term it rarely works out.
In work contexts, you might experience high staff turnover, lose customers or clients, and have employees who do not feel safe approaching you to discuss issues or errors. In your personal relationships, you might lose friendships, harm loved ones, experience a lot of conflict, and feel deeply dissatisfied and sometimes lonely.
I remember being hot headed in my early adulthood – particularly when I witnessed others being harmed. If I thought someone said something or did something that hurt a loved one of mine, back then, you’d better watch out. This quiet, shy, introvert could suddenly be aggressive and in your face. I learned that this wasn’t who I wanted to be and it was rarely effective either – for them, for me, or for my loved ones. So I thankfully, no longer communicate that way.
If you are someone who primarily responds aggressively though, you might want to practice being more assertive. This doesn’t mean being dishonest. It doesn’t necessarily mean changing your values – for example, loyalty is still a core value of mine, but so is respect and compassion and integrity.
You can be honest and direct, AND communicate in a respectful, healthy and compassionate way.
Again, like the other communication styles, the first step is to become more aware of when you communicate this way.
Is it pretty much all the time? Or does it tend to be in specific contexts – like how it was for me if I witnessed harm to a loved one or an injustice of some sort?
Ist it with specific people who anger you? Is it about specific topics? Is when you’re feeling a specific way?
The more aware you become, the more likely you will be able to begin practising responding in a different way. And if there are patterns here – you might like to take a moment to explore them.
How could you handle those scenarios differently when they re-occur in the future? How could you still be direct and honest, but respectful and sensitive to the rights and needs of others? Again, how can you calm or centre yourself in these moments, so you can more consciously respond? How can you buy yourself some time if needed? What support can you get as you practice doing this? And what might you do in instances where you didn’t catch yourself in time and you did respond aggressively to take responsibility for this? How could you show up with integrity in those cases with those people?
People who primarily respond aggressively also tend to interrupt and speak over the top of others. So you might like to be mindful of this and focus on not interrupting or speaking over others too. And you might also like to practice non-defensive and active listening, something that we can explore in another episode if you like – but essentially focusing on listening really hard, listening to understand as opposed to listening to respond. In the meantime, you can find an old blog on my website about this, which I’ll link to in the show notes.
The final communication style is the…
Assertive Communication Style.
Assertive Communicators are able to balance confidently expressing their opinions and feelings with care, interest and empathy for others.
They are able to show up from a place of integrity – advocating for their rights and needs, without disregarding or violating the rights, dignity or needs of others.
They tend to have good communication skills and are generally able to respond to stress, conflict and challenging conversations in a healthy and productive way.
They embody as sense of openness, honesty, respect for self and others, and genuineness. This enables good interpersonal interaction, a place for mutual understanding to occur, and enhances the likelihood of long-lasting and rewarding relationships.
Assertive communication is generally the most effective communication style. You’re more likely to actually get what you want – because unlike passive communicators, you have actually articulated what you want, and unlike aggressive communicators you’ve done so in a way that considers others and does not hurt or insult or involve bullying them.
If your primary communication style is assertive, this is great news! It is how many of us aspire to communicate.
As I mentioned at the beginning though, arguably nobody communicates assertively 100% of the time. We might frequently fall back on a secondary communication style in some contexts. For example, perhaps we generally communicate assertively at work but often communicate passive aggressively at home. Or maybe we generally communicate assertively overall, but find we become aggressive when we’re stressed or tired or have experienced a particular trigger.
I am someone who I feel primarily communicates assertively, but I’ve given some examples of where I use or have used the other three communication styles at times in my life too. I don’t communicate assertively 100% of the time, and there are many areas that I can work on improving my communication. I’m far from a perfect communicator.
If you feel you also primarily use an assertive style, you might like to reflect and become more aware of when, where and with whom you do and do not tend to use an assertive style with. This way, you can work on enhancing your communication in those contexts too.
Having said this, I think that sometimes assertive communication is not wise.
For example, I remember a time in Melbourne when I was with friends heading home from having dinner out. We had just got off the train and were about to head to the car to drive the rest of the way home. As we got off the train a young man approached us with a baseball bat, yelling and threatening to harm us. A friend of his was trying to pull him away, and my husband and friends were trying to quickly get to the car safely. But me, I was moving more slowly, communicating directly with him and trying to understand why he was so angry with us. In this instance, me communicating assertively probably wasn’t wise.
Like my friends, I should have perhaps been more passive and focussed on getting quickly and safely out of harm’s way.
There is a time and place for different styles of communication, and sometimes it’s easier said than done when it comes to effectively using these styles. I know it’s something that I’ve worked hard on and will need to continue to work hard on.
However, I hope this episode has been useful to you and that it helps you feel more in your power and in integrity as you communicate with people in your life.
If you have found this episode useful, I would appreciate if you’d please share it and the Communication Style quiz with your networks. The more people who are trying to communicate in a healthier way the better I say!
Communication skills don’t always come naturally and often need time, practice and patience to develop. To get the ball rolling though, if you have a moment, I would love if you would pause and identify one thing that you are going to focus on this week when it comes to practising more healthy communication. Just one thing that you can do or be mindful of this week.
If you’re willing to share that one thing with me, you can do so via the comments on the show notes page of my website or on social media by tagging me @NaomiLArnold or #DreamForOthers.
I’d love to see what you’re focusing on and perhaps even check-in with you later in the week to see how you went with it.
Plus, you might inspire those who read your response to take a similar action too. And a world full of people trying to communicate better, is a better world in my opinion. It’s a simple but brilliant way to dream for ourselves and to dream for others too.
This ended up being a longer episode than I expected, so I’ll stop here for today. I look forward to tackling another topic you were interested in learning about next week. Have a lovely day.
Are you finding this content useful? Imagine having Naomi in your corner all year for monthly 1-on-1 coaching sessions, unlimited email support and bonus resources. Visit www.naomiarnold.com/coaching for details.