Key learning outcomes:
- Understand that effective communication is a large part of business success.
- Learn about the five key communication styles so you can recognise them in everyday and business situations.
- Recognise that the style of communication used will vary depending on the situation.
- Adopt a system of self-review for when the outcome of a communication is not satisfactory.
Being able to communicate effectively is one of the keys to success in business and in life. For communication to be effective, you need to ensure you are using the right communication style for the right situation. There are five communication styles that can be used, and in this article we will take you through each one and give you some examples of the best ways to use them. Thus, you will be able to spot the styles in day-to-day situations which will allow you to respond appropriately.
The Five Communication Styles
The communication styles are:
We will now outline the behaviours, non-verbal cues and language used in each style of communication.[wlm_ismember]
The assertive style is the most effective form of communication. It is a win-win style of communication where you clearly and directly express your opinions, needs and desires in a way that is considerate of others. While this is the style of communication that we should strive to use most often, it is actually the one that people use the least.
- Shows mutual respect
- Mindful of others’ rights and feelings
- Takes responsibility for own choices and decisions
- Is direct about needs and desires
- Understands the possibility of rejection
- Accepts compliments
- Non-verbal cues
- Voice is kept to a medium pitch, speed and volume
- Relaxed and open posture
- No fidgeting or nervous behaviour
- Uses open gestures
- Maintains eye contact
- Respectful of others’ personal space
When you use an assertive style of communication the other person feels confident they can trust what you are saying. Because you are clear and direct with your communication, there is a high level of mutual understanding and no ambiguity in your message. Even in a situation where there may not be agreement, this style of communication is always win-win as there is a high level of mutual respect. You should aim to use an assertive style of communication as much as possible in your daily business and personal life.
An aggressive style is all about winning even if it may be at someone else’s expense. It tends to be a less effective form of communication as often the message can become lost in the manner in which it is delivered.
- Threatening, loud and hostile
- Strong desire to achieve goals
- Willing to win at the expense of others
- Non-verbal cues
- Use of a loud voice, sometimes yelling
- Standing tall with a desire to seem bigger
- Use of jerky gestures, for example pointing a finger or shaking a fist
- Glaring or frowning facial expressions
- Not afraid to step into someone else’s personal space
- Use of strong statements
When people are confronted with an aggressive style of communication they tend to either withdraw or fight back. Depending on the level of aggression, they may feel threatened and afraid. In some situations the person may feel that they have been personally hurt and feel humiliated by the experience. As a leader it is important to understand that if you use this form of communication with employees, they may become reluctant to approach you as they fear your reaction. If you ever feel your communication style has become aggressive, it is worthwhile taking a step back, calming down and then starting again with a more assertive frame of mind.
Passive-aggressive is a win-lose style of communication. The person using this style indirectly expresses their needs and opinions with little thought or consideration of the other person’s needs or feelings. They may appear passive on the surface but they are often acting out of anger or resentment.
- Indirectly aggressive
- Can appear overly friendly on the surface
- Unreliable and devious
- Can come across as sarcastic
- Will gossip and talk behind others’ backs
- Non-verbal cues
- Often uses a soft and sweet voice
- Stance can be aggressive such as a hand on hip or arms folded
- Will often use quick hand gestures
- Facial expressions may not match words, for example saying something nasty with a smile
- With often use affectionate gestures such as touching and whispering
- Not always clear
- Can have multiple meanings
The receiver of passive-aggressive communication is often left feeling confused and angry. The message is almost always delivered in such a way that the receiver can feel hurt and resentful. At times people can use a passive-aggressive style of communication when they feel that they have no power in a relationship, but are angry or upset about something. They use passive-aggressive communication in an effort to get their message across even if it may backfire on them in the longer run.
A passive style of communication is used when the communicator puts the other person’s needs ahead of their own. The passive communicator wants to please others and wants to avoid any conflict.
- Has difficulty taking responsibility for decisions
- Will always yield to another person’s preferences even at the expense of their own rights
- Has difficulty accepting compliments
- May blame others for events or mistakes
- Prefers not to speak up
- Non-verbal cues
- Uses a soft voice
- Tries to make themselves smaller than they are, for example stand hunched over or slumped down into a chair
- Has difficulty making and maintaining eye contact
- Will use a closed posture such as arms folded
- May fidget and shuffle nervously
When you use a passive style of communication it can leave the other person feeling frustrated and annoyed, particularly if they are seeking an opinion or decision. For example, when someone frequently asks another person, “What do you want to do today?” and the answer is always “I do not mind, you choose”, they can be left feeling irritated that they are always left to make the decisions. If used on an ongoing basis there is a danger that the other person may eventually give up on trying to help or ask for an opinion when the response is always passive. If you have someone in your team who tends towards passive communication, it is important to encourage them to speak up by responding positively when they do. Often a passive communicator lacks confidence, so positive reinforcement can help.
When using a manipulating style, the communicator is usually seeking to influence others to their own advantage. They put their own needs and desires above others, and if they are a skilled manipulator their words may have a hidden or underlying message.
- Underhanded and cunning
- Using false behaviour to get a reaction or result, for example pretending to cry
- Using indirect methods to get the desired result
- Non-verbal cues
- May use a patronising voice
- May use facial expressions that hide real feelings
- Will use body language to their advantage, for example being affectionate with someone who they do not like
- May not be obvious
- Can be misleading
- Backhanded compliments
Those on the receiving end of a manipulator can feel resentful and angry as they were forced into a decision or action. Over time, if someone continues to use manipulative communication, others become frustrated with always having to try and get to the bottom of the situation or trying to uncover the real message.
Although we are always in control of which communication style we use, most people tend to default to one style. By understanding each style better, it will become easier to recognise when you could be using a particular style of communication. Whenever a communication has not gone well, it is important to spend some time conducting a self-review and to think about how you would change your style if you were able hit the rewind button and have the conversation over again. Additionally, when you are preparing for an important discussion or meeting, spend some time considering the style of communication that would be appropriate and effective.
Ideally, you want to use an assertive style of communication when you are communicating with your team and in circumstances where gaining a mutual understanding and respect are important. However, there will be some circumstances where being more passive may suit your purposes. For example, if you are confronted by someone using a very aggressive style, you are best to adopt a more passive approach in the first instance to try and calm the situation down. Further, if you are trying to encourage members of your team to be more solution-driven, you may choose to be more passive to allow them to speak up and contribute in meetings and discussions.
Being a great communicator is one of the key traits of a successful leader. If you work on making your communication skills more effective, you will find that you are able to strengthen relationships and reduce potential stress and conflict in your life.[/wlm_ismember]
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