What’s Your Communication Style?

T H E R A P E U T I C    T H U R S D A Y 

There are four basic styles of communication. How do you normally respond when you find yourself in these situations. There’s no wrong or right answers, maybe just better and best answers 🙂 Remember, we all grew up in different families and cultures and learned to communicate based on those early experiences. It’s never too late to tweak your style, though. Like everything else, it requires self-awareness.

Passive Communication  

— You’re in line at the grocery store or movie theater and somebody cuts in front of you. The passive person might look the other way, pretending not to notice. If they did notice, they certainly wouldn’t say anything. The passive communicator does not feel important enough to verbalize their needs.

— When this person’s food arrives undercooked, or the order is wrong, nothing gets said to the waiter. The passive communicator will make the best of things and stay silent rather than taking the risk of drawing undue attention to the situation. They might even make up an excuse for the mistake, “Oh well, they’re really busy tonight.” Or, “I think our waiter is just new, probably his first night.” A whole lifetime of putting your needs aside can lead to depression. Just saying… 

The mom in "Silver Linings Playbook" (Jackie Weaver)

The mom in “Silver Linings Playbook” (Jackie Weaver)

Aggressive Communication

–If someone cuts in front of this person, Wo be to them! (that’s Biblical for Watch Out!)  The aggressive communicator has no problem putting you in your place verbally, and if need be, physically. They have little regard for boundaries. They also feel that taking care of their needs is best accomplished with volume, intimidation, threats, sarcasm, put-downs, manipulation, etc. — whatever it takes to put you back in your place. This person will verbalize their needs at full throttle.

If the person cutting Mr. or Mrs. Aggressive’s hair gets it wrong, they’re gonna know about it. The Aggressive communicator won’t let it slide. They won’t be leaving the salon until everyone knows what a lousy job that person did, and they have free coupons for future services.Jerry Stiller 1

The Passive Aggressive Communicator

Somewhere along the line this person learned that verbalizing their feelings and needs makes other people uncomfortable. In fact, they’ve learned that any show of emotion is “bad”. Likely they grew up in a family where expressing needs meant getting ignored. These individuals adapted by learning to go underground with their needs. They find that being BOTH passive AND aggressive is actually quite satisfying. Should you cut in front of them, or slight them in any way, they’ll smile and seem pleasant — but later, maybe, they’ll key your car, or accidentally spill something on you or cause you to be late, etc. They will passively get their needs (I’m important) met by doing something sneaky and quietly aggressive.

Kristin Wiig in "Knocked Up"

Kristin Wiig in “Knocked Up”

The Assertive Communicator (The best option)

This person has healthy self-esteem and has no issue taking care of their needs verbally. If someone is making too much noise at the movie theater they will turn to them and say, “Excuse me but I need you to stop talking, I can’t enjoy the film.” They will ask the waiter very politely if there is any way to get their steak cooked a little more. They will suggest to the hairstylist, “Gee, I don’t love it to be honest – would it be possible to come back tomorrow so you could try to fix it?” “Next time I’ll try to find a picture to show you.”  If someone cuts in front of them they might say, “Excuse me, I was actually ahead of you.”

The healthiest communication occurs when we use “I feel” statements and “I need” statements, back to back. When you have healthy self-esteem it’s less likely that you’ll take things personally.