Different Communication Styles


Whether communicating through speech or some other method, your communication style has a lot to do with how much of what you "say" will truly be understood and accepted. It is very important to understand your own communication style, so you can recognize both its strengths and weaknesses. This also means it is helpful to understand the communication styles of others. By recognizing where your styles mesh and where they don't, you have the opportunity to be a much more effective communicator.


This article will help recognize four of the major communication styles. Each style serves a different purpose, and you will be able to identify those and understand which is the most effective.

ü  What defines communication in today's world?

ü  What are the different types of communication and what are their characterizations?

ü  What do I need to know about passive communication, aggressive communication, passive-aggressive communication, and assertive communication?

ü  Which communication style is the most effective?

What is Communication?

Communication is more than just the act of talking. For true communication to happen, ideas have to be shared and understood among people. While talking is certainly one of the most obvious methods we use to relate thoughts and ideas to one another, it is not the only form of communication we use regularly. Have you ever had an entire conversation without even speaking a word? A glance here. A head nod there. Maybe a couple of gestures. Without even opening your mouth, you can communicate entire thoughts to other people.

There are a number of ways to define communication styles. It seems that every self-help or public speaking book has yet another way to categorize the ways people prefer to communicate. The labels placed on the various communication styles are much less important than taking the time to simply consider what your own style might be. The more you know about the various styles of communication, the more effective you can be, not just in making your own points, but also in understanding what others are trying to communicate to you.

One common method for determining communication styles is to break them down into the following categories: Passive, Aggressive, Passive-Aggressive, and Assertive.

Passive Communication

Those who use a passive style of communication often keep their own feelings hidden from others. The goal with this type of communication is to avoid conflict. Rather than risk causing some sort of upset, the Passive Communicator will avoid expressing his or her own opinions and will accept those of others instead.

If the Passive Communicator does choose to express an opinion, it will usually be done very quietly, and he or she is unlikely to defend it very strongly. In addition to a quiet tone of voice, passive communication can be recognized by the way in which the individual avoids eye contact. Because the Passive Communicator is so concerned about avoiding conflict, he or she is constantly holding back personal opinions in favor of those of others. This is the person who doesn't want to "rock the boat."

The Passive Communicator will often say things like:

  • I don't know.
  • You decide.
  • It doesn't matter to me.
  • Whatever you think.

This inability to stand up for oneself has some major disadvantages, though. Unfortunately, someone who always engages in passive communication may eventually "blow up" from the pressure of always deferring to other people's ideas and opinions.

The Passive Communicator tends to get very little accomplished. He or she doesn't offer ideas on how to do things better or more efficiently, for example. In an effort not to be singled out, he or she is unlikely to do an exceptional job in the workplace.

Aggressive Communication

Aggressive communication has a lot to do with trying to protect one's own ideas and opinions. The Aggressive Communicator is so concerned with having his or her ideas accepted that they often do so at the expense of others. This person tends to look at every situation as if it is a battle, and he or she wants to win.

This type of communication generally includes the use of a loud voice. In fact, Aggressive Communicators may often appear to be quite angry. This is because they know that others are less likely to question them out of fear of being attacked. Eye contact is often used in a way that makes it intimidating. The words used may also be quite intimidating, and an Aggressive Communicator can go so far as to verbally abuse others.

The Aggressive Communicator will often say things like:

  • We do it my way, or we don't do it at all.
  • Your idea is stupid.
  • Feelings don't matter.
  • I know what's best.

The Aggressive Communicator will use manipulation to get his or her way. This might include attempting to make others feel guilty, or trying to control their actions. These people will often go so far as to use covert tactics to be sure that things are done their way. While these methods may work on the surface, they do little to foster any real relationships. While the Aggressive Communicator may be getting a point across, he or she is likely not hearing and accepting the ideas of others. This leads to a lack of respect and trust from friends, family, co-workers, and customers.

Passive-Aggressive Communication

While passive communication and aggressive communication are very different from one another, they can actually be combined to create a third communication style. Passive-Aggressive Communicators tend to avoid obvious conflict, but there is still a need to manipulate the situation. In many cases, there is some sort of "payback" given in return for having their opinions overlooked. The individual appears to go along with decisions but does so in order to get revenge later.

Some of the common tactics of the Passive-Aggressive Communicator are to agree with others to their faces and then belittle them behind their backs. Sarcasm is one of the biggest tools for this type of interaction. Passive-Aggressive Communicators may enjoy watching others fail because things were not done their way in the first place. Back-handed compliments are another tactic employed.

The Passive-Aggressive Communicator will often say things like:

  • That's fine with me, but don't be surprised if someone else gets mad.
  • You did a great job. No one will probably notice that mistake.
  • Sure we can do things your way. (Then mutters to self that "your way" is stupid.)

Passive-aggressive communication has a lot to do with sabotage. The individual may feel powerless and therefore finds ways to subtly manipulate the situation. Passive-Aggressive Communicators don't feel like they can directly confront the cause of their frustration, so they do their best to "get back at" it. This can extend to gossiping and finding ways to disrupt others.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Effective Communication Skills course?

Assertive Communication

The most effective communication style is assertive communication. This includes really sharing opinions, as well as advocating for one's own rights. Unlike the Aggressive Communicator, though, this person will not trample on the rights and opinions of others. Assertive Communicators are able to balance a respect for themselves, with a respect for others.

Many of the tactics employed by Assertive Communicators include things like using a calm, clear tone of voice, actually interacting with others, not interrupting, avoiding manipulation (either manipulating others or being manipulated), using good eye contact, and remaining in control of one's self. This leads to communication that is a two-way street, and the Assertive Communicator is likely to garner respect from those around him or her. This also allows for growth, as everyone involved is allowed to hear different opinions and share their own thoughts and ideas.

The Assertive Communicator will often say things like:

  • I hear what you're saying.
  • I would appreciate it if you would . . .
  • How can we work this out?

Assertive communication is also the best choice, because it avoids a lot of the emotional outbursts that are prevalent with the other types of communication. It is easier to solve problems when they do arise. It can be difficult to stay on track, however, especially when dealing with different types of communicators. It is important to avoid getting defensive, and to try to remain as objective as possible. It is possible that someone else's idea really is better than yours. On the other hand, it's possible that you have the best idea in the room, and the Assertive Communicator will advocate for it.

If communication is just getting shut down, the Assertive Communicator may have to stop the conversation and pick it up another time when tempers aren't flaring. It's best to validate the other people's experiences and feelings by saying things like, "I can see why you feel that way." This means that the Assertive Communicator must also be willing to hear what others have to say, and it's possible that others will have good points. This type of communication is effective, because both parties are willing to look at themselves and change or compromise when the situation calls for it.

Verbal Communication


Of the various types of communication, most people focus on verbal communication when they discuss techniques, challenges, and tools. The reason is simple: As humans, we are primarily social creatures, and language is the basis of socialization.


This article will break down verbal communication into various subcategories. It will help to find key areas for improvement when misunderstandings arise.

ü  What are the various parts of verbal communication?

ü  What can I do to communicate more effectively through words and language?

ü  How does this knowledge relate to real-world applications?

What Makes Up Verbal Communication?

The primary tool of verbal communication is your voice. However, verbal communication is not as simple as using your voice to relay meaning. Language, word choice, inflection, tone, cues, and volume all play a role in helping you say what you mean to say (or, more disastrously, what you don't mean to say).


Many people believe the human ability to communicate through language is the most important faculty that sets us apart from other animals. With over 3,000 languages worldwide, not to mention the huge differences within single languages, (which can take the form of either slang or dialects), there is incredible diversity when it comes to what people say, and how they say it. In this way, verbal communication is more limited than nonverbal communication; if language barriers exist and there is no translator nearby, using verbal communication will not be an effective way to relay meaning.

Word Choice

The words you choose when you are speaking do much to convey your meaning and tell who you are as a person. When used effectively, word choice can increase your ability to communicate; used ineffectively, you may actually do more damage than good with your communication.

For example, if you use thousand dollar words (words that are typically longer and more complicated than those used by most people) in a speech, you can either set yourself up as an expert in the field, or give the impression you are trying to appear superior to everyone else. It all depends on your audience. If you're at a professional seminar with your peers, more complex word choices might be appropriate and increase your esteem. If you're giving a speech at your best friend's wedding, it might be better to stick to word choices that everyone can relate to and understand.


Inflection is defined as the patterns of stress in oral speech. It is unique to verbal communication and can be very effective in conveying meaning by inserting additional meaning above and beyond the definition of the word. For example, consider the following sentence.

John is going to be an hour late again.

Depending on how you stress certain syllables and words in the sentence, you could convey several different meanings.

John is going to be an hour late again.

The stress on "again" implies that John is often late, and this time is going to be no exception. The speaker is most likely irritated by the lack of punctuality.

John is going to be an hour late again.

The stress on "hour" implies that John is often late – and often to an extreme. This speaker is more put off by the length of the delay rather than John's tendency to tardiness.

It can be interesting to play with inflection in all types of sentences. Read the following sentences aloud and determine how you can change the meaning of each, depending on where the stress lies.

I want to go to the car wash.

My new job is ridiculous and boring.

Her new baby was healthy, at least.


The tone with which you communicate is used primarily to convey emotion. Although some emotions are evident through the use of specific words and even inflection, tone is the most volatile component of verbal communication.

For example, if you are angry or upset, your tone is most likely to be harsh or sharp. If you are happy, your tone is more likely to be quick and light. However, everything about tone is not cut-and-dry, and you can't rely solely on tone to convey meaning accurately. Imagine someone who is incredibly passionate about the subject being discussed. Depending on the individual, this passion might be relayed by increasing force with which he or she speaks (which can easily be confused with anger) or by growing breathless (which can easily be confused with happiness). However, since passion does not necessarily fall within either of these restrictive bounds, tone can be misleading in this instance.

Your choice of tone can be incredibly important when communicating though verbal means. Although emotion certainly has its time and place within everyday speech, business communication is often expected to include restraint and an overall lack of personal feelings. If you're in a place where your communication is creating problems either in the workplace or in a social setting, your tone will often arise as the most obvious problem. Fortunately, it is also the easiest component of verbal communication to control.


Also known as verbal cues, these are non-words that convey meaning through sound. They are most often expressions of emotion, such as laughing, crying, or sighing.

Many cues occur on a subconscious level, or involuntarily. Sighing during times of stress might be your body's way of increasing oxygen levels, since it typically requires you to take a deep breath. Crying out during an emotional confrontation might be outside of your immediate control (in fact, your seeming lack of control might actually be something you dread about confrontation in the first place).

Because you may not always control your verbal cues, you might not even be aware you are making them. However, they can have a big impact on how your communication is received. As with tone, your verbal cues are one of the first places you should look when trying to control how you communicate on a verbal level.


Many people overlook the importance of volume when communicating. As with tone and cues, volume isn't always voluntary. You may increase your volume when you are angry, or even when you are nervous.

Different people interpret volume in different ways. Someone who was on the receiving end of anger as a child might interpret increased volume as a sign of contention. However, some people increase volume as a way of displaying joy or happiness.

How to Use Verbal Communication Effectively

Verbal communication – like most types of communication – depends heavily on the individuals taking part in the conversation. We all know what we mean to convey within our own minds; however, our attempts to translate thoughts and emotions into words are often fraught with misunderstandings.

The most important thing to remember is that a miscommunication is not any single person's fault. Because each person brings his or her own personal experiences, beliefs, and perceptions into any communication arena – whether it is interpersonal communication or a public speaking venue – there is no way that verbal communication can ever be a streamlined, consistent process. The sooner you accept this idea, the sooner you can begin to increase your ability to accurately convey meaning.

The next time a misunderstanding arises (or, indeed, before you attempt to have an important conversation), write out each of these components of oral speech. Consider how you did (or plan to) use each of these components. Where are the potentials for difficulties? What is your own personal weakness? How can you better use each component to your own advantage?

Verbal Communication: Case Study

Rhonda Jones was recently promoted to a supervisory position in the doctor's office where she works. Her promotion was based largely on her years of experience with the company, as well as her strong work ethic.

In her previous role with the company, Rhonda was largely responsible for answering phones, talking with patients, and making schedules. She communicated with patients and their families on a regular basis, and always prided herself on her ability to put people at ease. In her new position, she transitioned to a larger role coordinating other employees (and less of a role with patients).

From the beginning, Rhonda had difficulty getting the other office workers to treat her with authority. When she would ask them to complete a task, they would often agree to her face and then fail to follow through. Rhonda felt as though they all waited until she left the room to talk about how awful she was in her new position.

Rhonda, upset with her new job, considered going to her boss to see if the promotion could be reversed. However, before she set an appointment to talk with him, she realized that he always held quite a bit of authority in the office, even though he, too, had been promoted from within. She decided to listen to him for a few days to determine what, if anything, he did differently.

Right away, Rhonda noticed that her boss used a much different tone of voice than the one she herself used. He was authoritative without being stern, and he was always direct in his requests. His word choices were a little bit more complex than hers, even though Rhonda felt sure that their vocabularies were on equal terms.

Rhonda then noted her own communication patterns. Accustomed to talking to distressed patients, frantic families, and irate bill recipients, Rhonda had since adopted a tendency to speak in soothing, calm tones. She explained things in detail using the simplest terms possible. When confronted with someone reacting inappropriately, Rhonda was somewhat condescending in her inflection.

Rhonda realized that her new subordinates were reacting against the way she spoke. They felt that she underestimated their intelligence and their ability to work independently. By changing her verbal communication patterns to reflect that of a competent supervisor speaking to equally competent co-workers, Rhonda was able to overcome much of the animosity the others felt toward her.