Communication Styles At Work

Understanding The 4 Communication Styles at Work

6 min read
Lynsey May Sutherland
Lynsey Sutherland

To fully harness the power of your team, you must first know how to effectively communicate with them. Communication inefficiencies can take up 13% of a worker’s day, according to research from Mitel. This waste of time does no one any favours and a great way to go around improving the situation is learning how to recognise, and work with, the four most common communication styles.

Why are communication styles important?

Understanding communication styles is very important for any leader because the ability to communicate effectively is a key requisite for a successful team. Poor communication is at the heart of many conflicts, errors and wasted time. It can also affect overall mood and wellbeing, with 61% of workers feeling that a communication divide lowers morale. 

Communication styles at work

The 4 types of communication styles in the workplace

There are four main communication styles, and most people fall largely into one of these categories. There is obviously some variation, and you may find that some employees seem to straddle two or more, but it’s likely that you’ll be able to pick out the main thrust of their style quite easily. 

Likewise, you may find it tricky to work out which style you most closely align your own communication style with at first, but the more attention you pay the clearer it will become. The four main styles are:

  • Passive communicators
  • Aggressive communicators
  • Passive-aggressive communicators
  • Assertive communicators

Once you’re able to identify what kind of communicator you’re dealing with and what kind of communicator you are, you’re in a much better position to start being heard. 

So, what do these styles look like in practice? And how do you handle them? 

Passive communication style

When someone has a passive communication style, it’s recognisable by the fact that they tend to stay quiet and rarely raises issues or points. They may physically retreat from confrontation and be softly spoken. 

The pros and cons of being a passive communicator

Passive communicators are unlikely to cause trouble in the workplace and they are generally keen to avoid confrontation. This can be seen as a positive, especially in a volatile working environment. 

That said, the fact that passive communicators often keep opinions to themselves can lead to misunderstandings or unnecessary resentment, which can be a massive con. 

How to work with a passive communicators

The best way to work with a passive communicator is to try and be straightforward without letting any hostility or anger creep in. 

Put the focus on solving the problem rather than apportioning blame and be aware that they may not want to reveal their true opinions. Combat this by being as empathetic as possible, practicing active listening and building trust. Leave plenty of space for their replies and opinions and try and have important conversations one-on-one. 

Aggressive communication style

An aggressive and manipulative communication style is very noticeable. A harsh tone, blunt words, arrogance and sarcasm are all tell-tale signs. It may be visible through body language too, with crossed arms and a disregard of personal space being some of the worst.

The pros and cons of being an aggressive communicator

Aggressive communicators can sometimes be good for getting a job done or persuading people round to their point of view. 

However, they can also ruffle a lot of feathers and leave teammates feeling frustrated or aggrieved. Perhaps the biggest con of an aggressive communicator is the way they can alienate the people around them.

How to work with aggressive communicators

Effective communication with an aggressive communicator means keeping the conversation as neutral as possible. This means trying to avoid referencing feelings and emotions while remaining as calm as possible. Politeness can also be a useful tool, as it can disarm even aggressive communicators. 

Make sure that all feedback is constructive and avoid being drawn in to matching their tone. If someone is being aggressive to the point of bullying or in a way that makes other people feel worried or fearful, it’s essential that you involve HR.

Passive-aggressive communication style

Easy to spot in the mismatch between words and body language or facial expressions, passive-aggressive communicators say one thing and mean another. They may also use sarcasm or voice discontent behind your back. 

The pros and cons of being a passive-aggressive communicator

There are few pros to a passive aggressive style of communication. It can leave people confused and unsure of what is really being said. Although, it is sometimes easier to work out the true meaning than it is with passive communicators.

When people are very passive aggressive in communication, they can easily rile or upset the people they’re talking too, who feel frustrated by the lack of clarity.

How to work with passive-aggressive communicators

It’s possible that gentle humour may disarm a passive aggressive communicator, giving them an opportunity to acknowledge the way that their words and actions fail to match.

Asking them to be direct and honest, and creating a space to do it in, is the best way to offer an opportunity for change. A workplace that prioritises psychological safety is more likely to foster open communicators. 

Assertive communication style

Assertive communicators are clear about what they want and need, yet are able to deliver it in a balanced and open way. They tend to also be active listeners and their body language is unthreatening and receptive. 

The pros and cons of being an assertive communicator

Generally, it’s easy to know what an assertive communicator wants and thinks. This makes them some of the easiest people to work with and reduces the chances of misunderstandings and miscommunications. Being assertive can even reduce stress, according to the Mayo Clinic. 

Some other communicators may find their honesty or directness difficult to deal with. 

How to work with assertive communicators

To make the most of an assertive communicator, empower them to continue sharing their thoughts and needs freely. Show them that their input is respected and that you value the fact that they are able to communicate ideas and solutions clearly. 

Communication Styles At Work

How your communication type can affect your message

The way that you communicate can influence the message your audience takes away – and sometimes it might be the opposite of the one you want. Being able to identify your own style and make any needed adjustments will boost your success rate and make you a clearer communicator.  

Identifying the cause of a team member’s communication style

Sometimes, people start communicating in a particular style because they are unhappy about something specific. For example, employees who feel as though they are rarely listened to may retreat into passive-aggressive behaviour. 

When an employee is communicating in a way that is detrimental to their team and is effecting the overall culture of your workplace, the first port of call should be a one-on-one meeting to see if there are any concerns that can be dealt with. An empathetic approach can sometimes lay the ground for improvement without the need for escalation. 

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