The 5 Types of Communication Style

Robert Lyons
Robert Lyon

7 min read

The 5 Types of Communication Style

The 5 Types of Communication Style

Everyone has a particular communication style. The way we interact with one another and share thoughts, ideas, and feelings can usually be categorized into one of the five main communication styles. The style that we gravitate towards stems primarily from how we view our own needs and rights, compared to those of others, and our willingness to openly, but politely, express those needs. 

Why is it important to understand communication styles?

While our natural communication tendencies are a result of factors such as our background, upbringing, self-esteem, and ego, knowing and understanding the different communication styles can help us to take control of our style and become more effective communicators.

Let’s take a look at the five main communication styles: assertive, aggressive, passive, passive-aggressive, and manipulative.

What are the 5 styles of communication?

1. Assertive

Assertive communication means expressing ideas, needs, and feelings confidently, openly, and positively. Assertive communication is a relational style that means speaking up without hesitation, but without being pushy, defensive, or overbearing. 

Assertive communicators readily take on challenges, but also are able to say “no” when they have to. They make choices and take responsibility for them, asking directly what needs are to be met. They express their thoughts with ‘I’ statements and accept that there’s a possibility of disagreement. It includes maintaining good eye contact, using even, rounded, and expansive body language, and using a medium vocal pitch, speed, and volume.

The assertive communication style helps to bolster healthy relationships, resolve interpersonal conflicts, and mitigate needs from being stifled or repressed. Folks on the receiving end are clear about expectations being set and, in turn, often feel empowered to speak up as well. When you use the assertive communication style, you feel good about yourself and leave others feeling heard.

  • “Thanks for thinking of me, but I'm going to say no this time” 

  • “Unfortunately, I can't take on any more tasks at the moment” 

  • “I respect your opinion, but let's agree to disagree”

2. Aggressive

One of the most difficult communication styles to work with, the aggressive communicator is focused on winning every conversation, even at someone else’s expense. They principally feel like their needs are more pressing than everyone else’s and that their rights supersede those of others, since their contributions are more significant. 

In its extreme, aggressive communication can escalate to a loud, demanding, and even hostile voice. It includes intense eye contact and large, sharp, and even wild gestures. The tone is aimed at intimidating, blaming, bullying, criticizing, or attacking others. 

But even with lower volumes and less threatening gestures, the undercurrent of aggressive communication is about confrontation, denigrating other perspectives, or winning an argument. Aggressive communicators often issue commands, ask questions rudely, and fail to listen. Sometimes they’re mistakenly placed in leadership positions because they appear to be decisive.

But it’s not an effective communication style. The listener will be more focused on how a message is delivered rather than the message itself. Initially, other team members might give in to avoid confrontation, which will lead to resentment and dysfunction down the road. Or the person on the receiving end will become uncooperative, defensive, humiliated, and will lose respect for the aggressive person. Ultimately it leads to unhealthy relationships and conflict. 

  • “I’m right and you’re wrong. It’s that simple”

  • “This is what’s going to happen”

  • “It’s all your fault, I don’t care what anyone says”

3. Passive 

Passive communicators strive to avoid conflict at any cost. They look to please others and submit to the will of the group, or the loudest person in the group, simply to avoid confrontation. They will also put the needs of others before their own, because they feel on some level that others' needs are more important than theirs. 

Passive communicators often act indifferently and display a lack of eye contact, poor body posture, and an inability to say “no.” Ultimately this means that they fail to express their own needs. They take on a relational posture that says “people never consider my feelings.” Subconsciously, they will feel like a victim, which leads to pent-up resentment. They also find it hard to take responsibility or make decisions.

Frequently, a passive communicator’s lack of outward communication can lead to misunderstandings. Those on the receiving end of passive communication will feel guilty and frustrated. Their mere actions will seem like they’re taking advantage of the other’s passiveness and again resentment can build. 

  • “It really doesn’t matter that much to me”

  • “I don’t care either way”

  • “I guess I’ll do it if no one else will”

4. Passive-Aggressive

Passive-aggressive communication is being passive on the surface but actually acting out aggression indirectly or secretly. It’s an indirect expression of negative feelings, instead of openly addressing them. With passive-aggressive communication, there's a disconnect between what that person says and what they are feeling or doing.

People drawn to this style feel powerless or stuck and are usually resentful. They look to express their feelings through the subtle undermining of the person they resent. Passive-aggressive communicators are aware of their needs, but struggle to voice them.

In its extreme, it can mean gossiping, spreading poisonous rumors, and even sabotage - all while being artificially pleasant on the surface. But in its more subtle form, passive-aggressive communication can mean sulking, complaining, muttering, giving back-handed compliments, the silent treatment, or appearing indifferent while barely concealing displeasure.

This communication form is unproductive in every setting, but in a business it can be especially frustrating. A common action of a passive-aggressive communicator is publicly agreeing with a plan of action, while body language or tone of voice make disagreement clear. This can make it impossible to effectively run a team. People on the receiving end of this behavior will feel hurt and frustrated. Eventually, they may be unwilling to work with the passive-aggressor. 

  • “That’s fine with me, but don’t be surprised if the boss hates it”

  • “I guess we can do things your way if we have to” 

  • “I don’t see why, but whatever you say - it’s not like my opinion matters anyway”

5. Manipulative

Manipulative communication is aimed at scheming, calculating, and influencing to gain a personal advantage in any given situation. Those who use this style are skilled at manipulating others for their own gains. There's usually an underlying motive when they speak. They don’t ask directly for what they need, rather they guilt others into supporting their agenda.

In its extreme, manipulators can even use fake tears or fake joy to make situations appear even more real. They use a voice that is ingratiating, sad, or patronizing. But its subtle form includes small expressions that elicit guilt or encourage others to take on tasks that they simply don’t wish to do themselves.

Manipulation might seem like an effective style to get your way, but it comes at a price. People who do this clearly don’t respect others and that lack of respect will eventually be obvious.

Those on the receiving end, who have been guilted into helping them, will develop resentment leading to a dysfunctional working relationship. It’s also hard to know where manipulative communicators truly stand, making it impossible to work with them.

  • “You misunderstood what I said”

  • “It wasn't my idea, it was yours”

  • “You’d do it if you value your career”

What’s the best communication style in the workplace?

Considered the most effective form of communication, the assertive communication style is ideal for the workplace. Assertive communicators aim for both sides to win, balancing their needs with the needs of others. 

Assertive communication reflects and promotes high self-esteem and creates healthy working relationships. It facilitates communicating needs and goals without manipulation or aggression. 

If your aim is to be a more effective communicator, work on developing assertive communication styles. Learn to share your ideas, thoughts, and needs clearly, openly, and respectfully. Employees who command an assertive communication style are often placed in leadership roles, as they are quickly recognized as assets to a team.

If you’re looking for more career advice on developing interpersonal and communication skills, check out our other blogs at ZipJob.

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Robert Lyons

Written by

Robert Lyons, Freelance Writer

As a freelance writer, Robert has covered technology, travel, arts, the entertainment industry, and career development. Originally from the Midwest, he has lived in L.A. and Berlin but now is based in New York.

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