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Understanding your Communication Style

January 2, 2016

 

Have you ever found yourself struggling to be understood? Maybe feeling frustrated you never get your point across, or you nod and smile when you really disagree? Have you been described as aggressive or not a good listener? 

Good communication is key to delivering your message, being understood, and building healthy relationships. Communicating effectively is not as simple as we may all expect. Our experiences and interactions shape our ability to communicate, and as such some people may have built a pattern of behaviour over time that is difficult to change. 

In this edition we wanted to explore and explain the four different basic styles of communication – how these can impact on those around you and how you can change your style to improve your relationships and experiences.  

The four basic styles of communication are: Passive, Aggressive, Passive-Aggressive and Assertive. There are loads of great online resources about the communication styles, but we have captured a snapshot here. Let’s take a closer look -

Passive Communication
Passive communication is a form of communication where the sender is unable to convey his or her thoughts or views out of fear of confrontation by others. They normally consider themselves not eligible to provide opinions or views. It is a very ineffective and maladaptive type of communication.  This style of communication can lead to feelings of anxiety, anger, depression and helplessness. Passive communication can be a result of low self-esteem. As a result, passive individuals do not respond overtly to hurtful situations – they may allow grievances to build up and boil over and make them feel shame, guilt or confusion. Passive communication usually involves vague requests for help, such as, "I wish the house were tidier for our guests this evening," or a failure to assert an opinion.

Signs of Passive Communication

  • Fail to assert for themselves 

  • Allow others to deliberately or inadvertently infringe on their rights 

  • Fail to express their feelings, needs, or opinions 

  • Tend to speak softly or apologetically 

  • Exhibit poor eye contact and slumped body posture


Some sayings & behaviours 

  • Long rambling sentences, beat‐around‐the‐bush 

  • Hesitant, filled with pauses, frequent throat clearing 

  • Apologise inappropriately in a soft unsteady voice 

  • Using phrases such as “if it wouldn’t be too much trouble…” 

  • Fill in words, e.g., “maybe” , “er”, “um”, “sort of” 

  • Voice often dull and monotonous 

  • Tone may be sing‐song or whining 

  • Over‐soft or over‐warm 

  • Quiet often dropping away 

  • Frequent justifications, e.g., “I wouldn’t normally say anything” 

  • Apologies, e.g., “I’m sorry to bother you..” 


How can it make you feel?

  • Loss of self esteem

  • Prone to a build-up of stress and anger

  • Stuck in relationships or situations that aren't healthy and difficult to change

  • Anxious because life seems out of your control 

  • Depressed because you feel stuck and hopeless 

  • Confused because you ignore your own feelings 


Aggressive Communication
Aggressive communication is a method of expressing needs and desires that do not take in to account the welfare of others. Those who communicate in an aggressive manner are generally perceived as selfish and unwilling to compromise. An aggressive communication style is usually linked to a desire to hurt others or exact revenge, or may reflect poor emotional development.

Signs of Aggressive Communication

  • Use “you” statements
    Try to dominate others 

  • Use humiliation to control others 

  • Criticise, blame, or attack others 

  • Speak in a loud, demanding, and overbearing voice 

  • Act threateningly and rudely 

  • Not listen well 

  • Interrupt frequently 

  • Have an overbearing posture


Some sayings and behaviours

  • “I’m right and you’re wrong.” 

  • “I’m loud, bossy and pushy.” 

  • “I can dominate and intimidate you.” 

  • "I need to get my way.” 

  • “You’re not worth anything.”  

  • “It’s your fault.” 


How can it make you (or others) feel?

  • Sense of paranoia and fear- difficult to relax when you are controlling others

  • Become alienated from others 

  • Alienate others 

  • Generate fear and resentment in others 

  • Always blame others instead of owning their issues

  • Feelings of guilt and shame

  • Decreasing self-confidence and self-esteem


Passive-Aggressive Communication
Passive-aggressive behaviour takes many forms but can generally be described as a non-verbal aggression that manifests in negative behavior. Passive-aggressive behaviour is recognisable by the disconnect between what is being said and what is being done. It is where you are angry with someone but do not or cannot tell them. Instead of communicating honestly when you feel upset, annoyed, irritated or disappointed you may instead bottle the feelings up, shut off verbally, give angry looks, make obvious changes in behaviour, be obstructive, sulky or put up a stone wall. It may also involve indirectly resisting requests from others by evading or creating confusion around the issue. Not going along with things. It can either be covert (concealed and hidden) or overt (blatant and obvious). A passive aggressive communicator might not always show that they are angry or resentful. They might appear in agreement, polite, friendly, down-to-earth, kind and well-meaning. However, underneath there may be manipulation going on - hence the term "Passive-Aggressive".

Signs of Passive-Aggressive Communication

  • Vent privately rather than confront the person or issue 

  • Have difficulty acknowledging their anger 

  • Use facial expressions that don't match how they feel - i.e., smiling when angry 

  • Use sarcasm 

  • Deny there is a problem 

  • Appear cooperative while purposely doing things to annoy and disrupt 


Some behaviours

  • Rather than say ‘No’, passive aggressive people sometimes find it easier to deliberately perform poorly at a task.

  • Deliberate procrastination - The passive aggressive person will delay completing the request until the very last moment, or later, instead of raising concerns at the start

  • Disguising criticism with compliments and having the last word – a subtle jibe or masked dig

  • The silent treatment

  • Everything is viewed as an attack on them. When something doesn't go their way, it is seen as unfair or an injustice. 


How can this make you feel?

  • Become alienated from those around you

  • Remain stuck in a position of powerlessness 

  • Real issues are never addressed so a sense of frustration and bottled up resentment

  • Pervading sense of negativity and victim-mentality.


Assertive Communication
Assertive communication is the straightforward and open expression of your needs, desires, thoughts and feelings. Assertive communication involves advocating for your own needs while still considering and respecting the needs of others.  An example of assertive communication is: “That’s a good idea, and how about if we did this too…” or “I can see that, but I’d really like...”

Individuals who communicate in an assertive style are strong advocates for themselves while being very respectful of the rights of others.

Signs of Assertive communication

  • Use “I” statements 
    State needs and wants clearly, appropriately, and respectfully 

  • Express feelings clearly, appropriately, and respectfully 

  • Communicate respect for others 

  • Listen well without interrupting 

  • Feel in control of self 

  • Have good eye contact and a relaxed body posture

  • Speak in a calm and clear tone of voice 

  • Feel connected to others 

  • Feel competent and in control 

  • Not allow others to abuse or manipulate them 

  • Stand up for their rights


Some sayings and behaviours

  • Firm, relaxed voice 

  • Fluent, few hesitations 

  • Steady even pace 

  • Tone is middle range, rich and warm 

  • Sincere and clear 

  • Not over‐loud or quiet 

  • Voice appropriately loud for the situation 

  • “I” statements (“I like”, “I want”, “I don’t like”) that are brief and to the point 

  • Co‐operative phrases, e.g., “What are your thoughts on this” 

  • Emphatic statements of interest, e.g., “I would like to” 

  • Distinction between fact and opinion, e.g., “My experience is different” 

  • Suggestions without “shoulds” or “oughts” e.g., “How about…” or “Would you like consider ...'

  • Constructive criticism without blame, e.g., “I feel irritated when you interrupt” 

  • Seeking others opinions, e.g., “How does this fit in with your ideas” 

  •  Willingness to explore other solutions, e.g., “How can we get around this problem"


How can this make you feel?

  • The more you stand up for yourself and act in a manner you respect, the higher your self esteem 

  • Your chances of getting what you want out of life improve greatly 

  • Expressing yourself directly at the time means that resentment doesn’t build up

  • Feel connected to others 

  • Feel in control of your life

  • Are able to mature because you address issues and problems as they arise 

  • Create a respectful environment for others to grow and mature



Our wrap

Clearly, assertive communication is the most productive and rewarding form of communication. When you communicate assertively, you communicate honestly but appropriately.

Have a think about your communication style? If some of these resonate with you, it’s worth considering the impact it may have on those you live with, work with and care for.

Is there a better way of getting your message across?

In our next blog we are going to provide some practical tips on how to communicate assertively in the workplace. It might just get you those results and changes are you after!

If you would like support to improve your communication style and change your relationships for the better, give us a call and make an appointment (07) 3161 1950 or email us info@incorporatepsychology.com.au

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