By adulthood, most people have developed a personal style of communicating with others. How you speak with your friends is likely also how you interact with family members, coworkers, and even strangers. And how you developed your communication style depends on what you learned from others around you, usually your close family who you lived with growing up.
But can you change your communication style once it’s developed? The answer is, yes, of course you can. If you don’t like your communication style, or it’s not serving you well, then you can make a conscious choice to change how you speak and interact with others.
If you are seeing negative consequences to how you communicate in your relationships with others, such as people drawing away from you, friends stopping reaching out or responding to texts, or intense conflict in your partner/intimate relationships, then perhaps it’s time to more closely examine your style of communication.
Different Communication Styles
There are 4 primary types of communication styles that most people adhere to within relationships. And when I say “relationships” I’m including not only partner/intimate relationships but also friendships, connections with family members, and work relationships.
The first type of communication style is Passive. If you’re a passive communicator, you tend to be very indirect in your language, perhaps often apologizing for things that may not have been your fault. Passive communicators tend to hold back and not voice your true emotions and thoughts.
There may be many reasons why you are a passive communicator. Perhaps your self-esteem is low or you have a history of being hurt. Trauma can cause passive communication, as experiencing traumatic events rewires our brains to react differently to things, to be more wary than is usually indicated. Being an anxious person or having depression can also generate a passive communication style.
Passive Aggressive Communicators
You probably know someone who is passive aggressive in their communication style. A passive aggressive communicator will appear to be passive at first, not directly voicing his/her own opinions or seeming to go with the flow. Then later, you find out that person let loose about not having a say in a decision, or blaming you later for something that you thought was fine at the time.
Passive aggressive communicators hold in their emotions and then let them out later all at once, usually at the expense of others. People with this communication style often are seen as going behind others’ backs, gossiping, or getting angry with little provocation.
Aggressive communicators are uncomfortably direct, often at the expense of others. They may verbally attack you, blame you, or otherwise intimidate you. Aggressive communicators are often very controlling and it’s their way or the highway.
It can be seen as a positive to be an aggressive communicator, as often people with this communication style are successful professionally. However, if you look under the surface, aggressive communicators rarely have reciprocal partnerships with others that are mutually satisfying.
Assertive communicators are those that are able to appropriately communicate in a way that gets your needs met. You tend to be honest, direct but not in an off-putting way, and confident. Having good people skills and understanding how others may react to what you say and how you say it help you to develop positive, healthy relationships as an assertive communicator.
Assertive communicators are rarely left in the dust and do not use others for your own advantage. You are empathic to others’ emotions and how they prefer to be communicated with. Usually, with assertive communicators, both parties feel like they have won.
What Is Your Communication Style?
Which communication style best fits you? Perhaps you’re a blend of a few different styles, being more outgoing and assertive at work while more passive in your personal relationships. If that is the case, ask yourself, in which area are you most successful in a happy, meaningful way? Then check which communication style you use in that arena, and try to duplicate that style in the other areas of your life.
And finally, do you and your partner, or your best friend, or your family have similar communication styles? You don’t all have to have the same style, but it does help to realize not only your own communication style, but also others around you. Successful relationships are built on give and take, and communicating appropriately in your relationships will only enhance them.
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Shannon Heers is a psychotherapist, approved clinical supervisor, guest blogger, and the owner of a group psychotherapy practice in the Denver area. Shannon helps adults in professional careers manage anxiety, depression, work-life balance, and grief and loss. Follow Catalyss Counseling on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.