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Pro tips for handling 5 of the most-common communication styles in the workplace

Posted by Kanika Sinha

July 28, 2021    |     3-minute read (892 words)

We all have our own style of communicating, which often makes it challenging to explain ourselves to others and to understand a colleague or customer. Too often, these differences lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings at the workplace.  That’s why it is important to have a good understanding of some of the most common communication styles. Armed with this new knowledge, you will have a toolbox of the most-effective ways of working with different types of people. Ultimately, this will help enhance workplace productivity and create better business outcomes.  

Read on to learn about the five commonly used communication styles and how you can interact with each one most effectively.

  1. Assertive communication style
  This is considered the most effective communication style in a work setting. Assertive communicators are confident yet not dismissive of others’ opinions. They can get their message across without hurting anybody’s feelings. This style of communicator excels at verbal and nonverbal communication, speaking with clarity while making direct eye contact with listeners.   Keep in the mind that an assertive communicator is also a good listener. They tend to seek feedback from listeners in a subtle way, such as, “I’d like to understand your thoughts around the client presentation as I don’t think I got it right” or “I felt your edits made the write-up more generic.”  

Tips for engaging with an assertive communicator
  • Be an active listener.
  • Give them space to think.
  • Come up with solutions and share them confidently.
  • Be specific.
  • Explain your points clearly. 
  1. Passive communication style
  Unlike assertive communicators, passive communicators prefer to stay under the radar to avoid conflict. They don’t mind taking a step back to keep the peace and allow others to lead the way. But in doing so, they may avoid sharing their real opinions and ultimately fail to stand up for themselves.   Their body language is the opposite of confident individuals. They may hold their head down, slouch their shoulders and avoid eye contact. Because they may come across as indifferent, this style is not a recommended one, especially for leaders and managers.   However, this style is useful for someone looking to win small battles. A passive communicator may successfully placate difficult customers who are only interested in pursuing their own ideas.  

Tips for engaging with a passive communicator
  • Hold one-on-one interactions with them.
  • Give them space to articulate their ideas and needs.
  • Avoid dismissing their thoughts.
  • Be patient, and don’t look for immediate responses.
  • Engage them with open-ended questions.
  1. Aggressive communication style
  Characterized by a need for control and even a sense of hostility, aggressive communicators don’t believe in staying on the sidelines. They are mostly concerned with their own opinions and have little regard for the ideas and feelings of others. Aggressive communicators won’t hesitate to resort to a loud, angry tone of voice to be sure they get their point across. It’s not unusual for individuals with this communication style to boss others around or demean them by outright rejecting their input. Aggressive communicators favor curt, dismissive responses such as, “It’s a terrible idea” and “I’m right and you’re wrong.” If not handled properly, an aggressive person can easily create a hostile work environment.

Tips for engaging with an aggressive communicator
  • Never return their aggression.
  • Set clear standards and explain to them their behavior is not acceptable.
  • Make them understand they must pay attention to others’ opinions.
  • Advise them how to tone down their aggression.
  • Approach HR if the situation gets too difficult to handle.
  1. Manipulative communication style
  Manipulative communicators are shrewd in their interactions. Think of someone working an angle to get what they want. They accomplish their goals by exerting influence over others. For example, if they are aiming for the same job as a co-worker, they might say something disarming to their rival, like “This organization couldn’t pay me enough to do that job.”    This communication style is perceived as patronizing and aggressive by colleagues, which often leads to them to become resentful. Though their behavior is not ideal, their ability to control other people makes them useful in dealing with difficult customer interactions.

Tips for engaging with a manipulative communicator
  • Be cautious and alert while dealing with them.
  • Try not to let them sway your opinions.
  • Make sure to stand your ground.
  • Be firm but polite while interacting with them.
  • Do not overshare and always stick to the topic at hand.
  1. Passive-aggressive communication style
Passive-aggressive communicators appear to be easy-going on the surface. But in reality, underneath the placid exterior they are dissatisfied and vexed. Their true feelings of aggression may get expressed through sarcasm, sly remarks or even the silent treatment. Individuals with this communication style may behave like aggressive communicators when they can’t get their way by becoming cynical and sullen. They may look for opportunities to undermine others with caustic statements like “I’ll figure it out myself like I always do” or “Let’s work on this if it makes you happy.”

Tips to handle a passive-aggressive communicator
  • Hold in-person conversations to better understand them.
  • Try to discern what drives their behavior.
  • Don’t react in a similar manner.
  • Set clear boundaries.
  • Don’t lose your calm.
  • Engage them so they don’t feel underappreciated.

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