Communication Styles – Four Patterns of Communication and their Impact

We all engage in patterns of communication that are influenced by how we think and feel, and that influence our behavior in the interaction we share with others. There are four often talked about styles of communication that are important to have an understanding of.

Passive Communication

Passive communication is a style in which individuals engage in a pattern of avoiding expressing their opinions and feelings, advocating for their rights, and identifying and meeting their needs. Engaging in this pattern of communication often results in individuals allowing grievances and annoyances to build, with those individuals being unaware of the buildup. Once these individuals have reached their max tolerance threshold for “annoying” behavior, they are prone to explosive outbursts which are usually not in proportion to the triggering incident. After the outburst, these individuals may feel shame, guilt and confusion so they return to being passive.

The impact of a pattern of passive communication is that these individuals often experience feelings of anxiety, depression, resentment (but unaware of it), and confusion because life seems out of their control, they feel stuck and hopeless, they ignore their own feelings (so needs are not being met), and they are often unable to mature because real issues are never addressed.

Passive communicators often say, believe or behave in ways that say: “I’m unable to stand up for my rights, I don’t know what my rights are, I get stepped on by everyone, I’m weak and unable to take care of myself, and people never consider my feelings.”

Aggressive Communication

Aggressive communication is a style in which individuals express their feelings and opinions and advocate for their needs in a way that imposes on and/or violates the rights and boundaries of others. Aggressive communicators may be verbally and/or physically abusive towards others as they will often try to dominate others, use humiliation to control others, have low frustration tolerance, not listen well, interrupt frequently, have an overbearing or intimidating posture, and be very impulsive.

Aggressive communicators are often impacted by this pattern of behavior by becoming alienated by others, alienating others, triggering fear and hatred in others, and are unable to mature because they blame others instead of owning their issues.

Aggressive communicators often say, believe or behave in ways that say: “I’m always right and you’re always wrong, I’ll get my way no matter what, It’s all your fault, I react instantly, I’m entitled, You owe me, I own you.”

Passive-Aggressive Communication

Passive-aggressive communication is a style in which individuals appear passive on the surface but are acting out anger in subtle, indirect or behind-the-scenes way. People who develop a pattern of passive-aggressive communication usually feel powerless, stuck and resentful, and they often feel incapable of addressing the source of their resentment directly. Instead, they express their resentment and anger by using sarcasm, using subtle sabotage to get even, use facial expressions/behavior that don’t match how they feel/how they say they feel ex. saying they are fine but slamming cabinet doors, and appearing cooperative while purposely doing things that annoy and disrupt.

The impact of a pattern of passive-aggressive communication is that these individuals become alienated from those around them, they remain stuck in positions of powerlessness, and they are limited in their ability to mature because their real issues are never addressed.

Passive-aggressive communicators often say, believe, or behave in ways that say: “I’m weak and resentful so I sabotage, frustrate and disrupt; I’m powerless to deal with you head on, I will appear cooperative but I’m not.”

Assertive Communication

Assertive communication is a style in which individuals clearly state their opinions and feelings, and they firmly advocate for their rights and needs without imposing on or violating the rights of others. These individuals value themselves, their time, and their emotional, spiritual and physical needs. They are strong advocates for themselves while being respectful of the limits and boundaries of others.

Assertive communicators often state their needs and wants clearly and appropriately, use “I” Statements, listen well without interrupting, feel in control of themselves, speak in a calm and clear tone of voice, feel connected to others, feel competent and in control, do not allow others to abuse or manipulate them, and reinforces their boundaries as often as needed. This pattern supports their ability to feel connected to others, to feel in control of their lives, to mature (because they address issues and problems as they arise), and they create comfortable and respectful environments for others to grow and mature.

Assertive communicators say, believe and behave in ways that say: “We are equally entitles to express ourselves respectfully to one another, I am confident about who I am, I realize I have choices in my life and I consider my options, I can’t control others but I can control myself, I am responsible for getting my needs met in a respectful manner, I am responsible for my own happiness.”

The assertive communication style is ideal as it supports our ability to take care of ourselves, and supports the maintenance of healthy, supportive and effective relationships. Working with a therapist to develop a more assertive pattern of communication often requires exploring, unpacking and reframing core beliefs; and practice of skills that reinforce the practice of behavior.

Having an understanding of these four styles of communication and the ways in which they can impact our relationships with others, can be essential to our ability to manage challenges and maintain desired interactions within the relationships that are important to us.

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