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The Ultimate Guide to Assertive Communication

04 May, 2021 | Assertiveness | Return|

The Ultimate Guide to Assertive Communication

There are four types of communication and one is the most effective.

The way we communicate says a lot about us. When we adopt a certain style of communication, it implies certain things about our personality, mood and type of conversation you are having. We make assumptions about people based on how they communicate.

Each individual’s communication style can be completely unique, but they still typically fall into a certain category.

So, what are the types of communication styles?

  1. Passive
  2. Aggressive
  3. Passive-aggressive
  4. Assertive

It is important to note that while people usually speak with one of these communication styles, they don’t always stick to the same one. Depending on the speaker’s mood or desired effect, their communication style might change from time to time.

4 Types of Communication Styles

There are four types of communication styles and they are used for both written and verbal communication. While we all constantly use all four, the assertive style is seen as the most effective because it is a combination of all the positive aspects of the other styles.

This is not something that is generally taught in schools, but lucky you, assertiveness is a learned action, not a personality trait some of us are born with and some of us aren’t. This guide will give you a closer look at each style of communication to better understand how they work and identify which communication style you sway towards.

  1. Passive Communication

The passive communication style is often used by those who want to come off as indifferent or uncaring about the topic at hand. They either keep their opinions to themselves or try to make it seem as if they support every piece of input in the discussion.

When speaking, passive communicators will display insecure non-verbal communication cues by not making eye contact, displaying poor posture, or shrugging when people ask them for their opinion.

Why might you use a passive communication style?

A big motivation for using passive communication is to keep the peace, especially when dealing with conflict. While it can be effective in some situations, it can lead to some problems, usually negatively affecting the passive communicator themselves.

Why is this communication style ineffective?

Passive communication is ineffective because although words may be spoken, the actual thoughts and ideas of the communicator are not expressed, limiting the information shared between the people involved. Because they don’t properly voice their own thoughts or feelings, this style of communication often leads to feelings of being anxious, depressed, or resentful towards the words and actions of the person they are speaking with.

Verbal Passive Communication

Here are some common phrases used by people using the passive communication style:

  • “I’m okay with whatever you want to do”
  • “I don’t care what we do”
  • “I don’t have an opinion on this”
  • “I don’t know”
  • “Whatever you think”
Non-Verbal Passive Communication
  • failing to make eye contact
  • looking down
  • slouched shoulders
  • poor overall body posture
  • speaks softly

If you are guilty of being a passive communicator, get your thoughts together before you need to present them. Remember that your opinion matters.

  1. Aggressive Communication

Aggressive communication is on the opposite end of the spectrum. Aggressive communicators openly express their feelings and opinions without hesitation, strongly and as they occur, often in a loud and controlling voice.

While voicing your feelings and opinions makes for effective communication, this is not the case for aggressive communication. This particular style includes expressing viewpoints and opinions in an abusive and hostile way that is intended to deliberately hurt and violate the rights of others.

Why might you use an aggressive communication style?

People often use the aggressive communication style when they want to be in charge. Instead of listening to others, they give commands and demand that others comply with what they are saying. And even if they do, the aggressive communicator might still make them feel inferior or unimportant.

Why is this communication style ineffective?

Using an aggressive style of communication is not a good way to converse with someone. People may act defensively and not listen to what you are saying, and even if they do initially listen or concede to what you want them to do, they may resent you later and explode. The goal of being aggressive is to intimidate, which defeats the purpose of a conversation, where ideas are meant to be shared and listened to.

Verbal Aggressive Communication
  • “Everyone should think like me”
  • “I’m right and you’re wrong”
  • “Your opinion doesn’t matter”
  • “I’ll get my way no matter what”
  • “It’s all your fault”
Non-Verbal Aggressive Communication
  • Frowning
  • critical glares
  • rigid posture
  • trying to stand over others
  • using a loud voice and fast speech

If you are guilty of being an aggressive communicator, try extra hard to show empathy and listen to the ideas of others.

  1. Passive-Aggressive Communication

The passive-aggressive communication style brings both of those styles together to form another style of ineffective communication. This style is used when people appear as if they don’t care about something – passive behavior, but within may feel powerless or building up resentment, acting in a way that is indirectly angry, or aggressive.

Passive-aggressive communicators will sometimes mutter to themselves rather than confront a person or issue. Passive-aggressive communicators have difficulty acknowledging their anger, use facial expressions that don’t correlate with how they feel and refuse to confront others about something that is bothering them. When people are using this style, they might give someone the silent treatment or talk about the issue with someone else, who isn’t a part of it to avoid the situation altogether.

Why might you use a passive-aggressive communication style?

Ultimately, passive-aggressive communicators are aware of their needs, but at times struggle to voice them. They have formed an opinion on the topic being discussed, but are worried about what others might think of it and in turn, them. They don’t want to openly disagree with someone, so they do it discretely instead.

Why is this communication style ineffective?

Passive-aggressive communication is ineffective because it beats around the bush, it’s dishonest to yourself and disrespectful to others. What’s important when communicating is clarity, and it wastes everybody’s time when people don’t openly express their ideas.

It’s important to realize that passive-aggression is not less aggressive simply because it’s passive. If you are being passive-aggressive when communicating, don’t be indecisive with your opinions, even if they differ from those of someone else. The more you believe that you have the right to express your wants and needs, the less likely you are to fear being swayed by others’ opinions or rejected for voicing what you want. And the less you fear those things, the more direct you’re likely to be.

Verbal Passive-Aggressive Communication
  • "I'm not mad”
  • "I think you did a good job, but they might not think so"
  • “We can do it how you want to, but I don’t believe in it”
  • "I was only joking"
  • "Why are you getting so upset?"
Non-Verbal Aggressive Communication
  • Eye-rolling
  • Glaring, or evil eye
  • Avoidance
  • Ignoring you
  • Frequently late or making you wait for them
  1. Assertive Communication

Of all the communication styles, the assertive version is thought to be the most effective. Assertive communicators have the ability to express positive and negative ideas and feelings in an open, honest and direct way. They recognize their rights whilst still respecting the rights of others. They allow themselves to take responsibility for their actions without judging or blaming other people.

They respect all values, thoughts, and ideas, and speak in a calm voice while making non-threatening eye contact.

Why should you use an assertive communication style?

Assertive communication should be used because being assertive can help boost your self-esteem and because it values honesty and understanding.

Because assertiveness is based on mutual respect, it's an effective and diplomatic communication style. Assertive communicators demonstrate that they respect themselves because they’re willing to stand up for their interests and express their thoughts and feelings. It also demonstrates that they’re aware of others' rights and willing to work on resolving conflicts.

One of the key signs of an assertive communicator is their use of “I” statements. Using "I" statements lets others know what they're thinking or feeling without sounding accusatory. Even if they disagree with someone else, they will remove the blame and put it on themselves.

Why is this communication style the most effective?

Assertive communication is what we should all aim for, it’s the best of both worlds - you meet your needs and the needs of the other person. Everybody is happy. Assertive communication relies on two-way conversations. It includes politely expressing opinions, but also consists of asking for feedback and listening to other people’s opposing ideas, strengthening the conversation and understanding each other better.

“I” Statements

Use “I” statements to focus the conversation on you and not blaming others.

  • "I disagree" rather than, "You're wrong"
  • "I would like you to help with this" rather than, "You need to do this"
  • “I feel ignored” rather than, “You don’t care”
  • “When you interrupt me, I feel annoyed” rather than, “You are so annoying when you interrupt me”
  • “I feel hurt” rather than, “You hurt me”

Tips for Being Assertive

Of all the communication styles, being assertive is the most effective. It is straightforward, respectful, and there is no fear or guessing involved. Some people seem to be naturally assertive. But if you're not one of them, you can learn to be more assertive.

Here are some tips for becoming a more assertive communicator:

Get Comfortable Saying “No”

To be an effective assertive communicator you’ll have to let go of the need to please everyone and do things according to their expectations. Assertive communication is being okay with saying exactly what you want, in a way that doesn’t hurt the other persons feelings.

Remain Calm and Check Tone

There will be times where someone’s words will make you fired up, angry, or upset. This isn’t a bad thing - you are a human with emotions. However, to be a solid assertive communicator, you can’t let this anger show. Assertive behavior also means not showing hesitation or harshness through your voice. Keep it friendly and calm. Speaking slowly and using a quieter voice is usually enough to bring balance back to the conversation.

Agree to Disagree

Be willing to discuss further until you find a solution. Being assertive means continuing - in a calm and respectful manner - until the issue is resolved. It might require asking more questions, listening more carefully, or getting creative and exploring more options. Whatever it is, it’s worth your time as in the end both parties feel good and no one ends up hurt.

If you have done everything you can to fully understand someone else’s opinion but you still can’t side with their thoughts, it is perfectly okay to agree to disagree, as long as you do it respectfully.

Work on Your Listening Skills

A big part of being assertive is doing your best to be empathetic and understand the other person’s point of view. The secret to effective communication and forming better relationships is to be mindful of what exactly the other person is trying to say. The only way to do this is to listen actively. Keep your ears open and mouth closed when someone is speaking to you.

Commit to It

Just like any other skill, you have to commit to assertive communication to see results. Practicing these tips daily will help your assertive communication skills. And while it won’t always be easy and your patience and will power will definitely be tested; it is worth it for the effective communicator you will become. 

Struggling with general communication in the workplace?

Sign up for Mastering the Art of Being Assertive – an online course to help you become more assertive.

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