Communication Styles - Counselling Newsletter

Published: 3 Jul 2018

The way you communicate has a big impact on your ability to get on with people and get the things that you want. Good communication skills can help you to avoid conflict and to solve problems. Open and honest communication is also important for making friends and having healthy relationships.

Basic Elements of Communication have two elements;

Verbal; the content, what is actually said

Nonverbal; including body language (e.g., eye contact, posture, facial expression), voice quality (e.g., tone and pitch, volume, rate, clarity), overt behaviours (what the speaker is doing while talking, e.g., sitting, pacing, gesticulating).

There are four commonly observed communication styles people may employ. Each is characterised by different verbal and nonverbal features and vary in typical outcomes for the speaker and listener.

1) Passive – people employing this communication style frequently find it hard to stand up for themselves and often aim to please others to avoid conflict. Characteristics include:

  • Nonverbal behaviour - lowered head, limited eye contact, hunched posture, standing too far away, a quiet, mumbling voice.
  • Verbal behaviour – overly apologetic, self-deprecating, needs not stated clearly.
  • Experience of speaker – needs and requests are often downplayed or ignored by others, experiences feelings of resentment when needs or requests are not met, may feel upset and hurt, responds by doing nothing or complaining without taking effective action on own behalf.
  • Experience of listener – may be unclear of needs of speaker, may experience irritation due to excessive apologies made by the speaker, may minimise, ignore or override the needs or requests of the speaker and pursue own interests without taking account of the speaker’s viewpoint.

2) Aggressive – people employing this communication style frequently disregard the needs and rights of others. They often achieve the result they seek in the short term. However, personal and work relationships are frequently damaged and others tend to avoid future contact with them. Typical characteristics include:

  • Nonverbal behaviour – excessive eye contact, staring, leaning over other person, standing very close, loud voice, sarcastic or angry tone, angry facial expression.
  • Verbal behaviour – demanding, blaming, accusatory, demeaning, provoking comments.
  • Experience of speaker – may experience a sense of power or angry, jealous feelings, demands are often met by others out of fear.
  • Experience of listener – feels intimidated, angry, may comply with demands out of fear or irritation but experiences a loss of respect for speaker.

3) Assertive – people using this communication style stand up for themselves in a way that is respectful to self and others, seek help when needed, feel comfortable saying ‘No’ when appropriate and express their thoughts and feelings when it is safe. Characteristics associated with assertiveness include:

  • Nonverbal behaviour – appropriate eye contact, upright posture with confident body language, a clear pleasant voice, appropriate speech volume.
  • Verbal behaviour – respectfully states the issue or request, accepts responsibility for own feelings (rather than blaming) with ‘I’ statements, ‘I need some help’, ‘I’m angry with you.’
  • Experience of speaker – feels calm and confident, maximises possibility of their request or need being met, facilitates development/maintenance of healthy, respectful relationships
  • Experience of listener – feels respected, likely to want to comply if reasonable/feasible, likely to be willing to re-engage with the speaker in the future, less likely to react in a defensive manner to the request.

4) Passive Aggressive—people who use a passive aggressive style communicate in a very indirect and confusing manner. This is because they indirectly express hostility via procrastination, stubbornness, sullenness or deliberate or repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible.

  • Nonverbal behaviour— could be similar to passive or assertive styles of communicating.
  • Verbal behaviour—usually quite agreeable and wanting to please although this is misleading.
  • Experience of speaker—feels angry and frustrated yet unable to express their true feelings as they want to please others.
  • Experience of listener: confused as to why the speaker’s behaviour does not match what they have said.

Which Style Do You Use?

People generally feel most comfortable using one style of communication, however they can change depending on the situation or people involved. You may feel safe to practice assertiveness with your friends but not your lecturers and therefore don’t ask for the help you need. Stay tuned for the next newsletter to learn how to be a more effective communicator by using assertiveness when it is appropriate. 

Extract from Reach Out:


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