The 5 Communication Styles –...

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The 5 Communication Styles – And How They Affect Relationships

February 05, 2021

Have you ever had a conversation with someone that made you feel like you were moving in circles? You tried and tried to explain your point of view, but you just weren’t connecting with the other person? It could be that your communication style is not as effective as you might imagine.

What is a communication style?

A communication style is the way you interact and exchange information with other people. A communication style is not just about the words we use but includes the facial expressions, body language, and the deeper meaning or intention behind our words, and it can have a huge impact on the quality of our relationships.

Most people will use all five communication styles from time to time, depending on the situation, but each person will fall back on one “primary” style as the way they communicate most of the time. As you work to improve the way you communicate with others, it’s important to not only identify your primary communication style, but also learn to identify the styles of the people around you.

Although your primary communication style is based on your childhood and cultural influences, it is possible, with the help of your therapist and lots of practice, to move from a less healthy communication style and become more assertive (the most ideal style).

The first step is self-awareness. Can you identify your primary communication style? Be honest with yourself – what positive and negative traits of each style are present in you?

The five communication styles:

1. Assertive

Often considered the “best” style, it’s also the least frequently used. The assertive communicator has a high self-esteem, is able to find a middle ground between being aggressive and submissive, and clearly communicates their needs without hurting others.


  • Socially aware
  • Empathic
  • Protective of own needs and wants, while remaining respectful of others’ needs and wants
  • Accept rejection easily
  • Take responsibility for their own choices
  • Direct way of speaking
  • Emotionally expressive
  • Speak in a medium pitch, speed, and volume.
  • Open posture, good eye contact
  • Communication builds trust
  • People know where they stand with this person

2. Aggressive

Focused on winning, aggressive communicators do not take other people’s feelings or needs into consideration and often achieve their goals at the expense of other people.


  • Out to win, no matter the expense
  • They believe their ideas, needs, and emotions are more valid than those of others
  • Bullying, intimidating
  • Abrasive, demanding
  • Emotionally explosive
  • React out of fear and insecurity
  • Threatening
  • Use name-calling
  • Invade the personal space of others during communication
  • Bigger than others in posture and gestures
  • People tend to feel defensive, resentful, or humiliated after speaking with this person
  • Other people may be afraid of this person because they are unpredictable

3. Passive

Always trying to avoid conflict, passive communicators believe that the needs and wants of other people come before their own. They highly value pleasing others and are often uncomfortable speaking up and adding their opinion to the conversation.


  • Avoid confrontation
  • Apologetic for their ideas and opinions
  • Value “keeping the peace”
  • Feel like a victim
  • Lack of confidence
  • Dishonest
  • Find it hard to take responsibility for decisions
  • Yield to others and dismiss their own wants and needs
  • May feel resentful when their unspoken needs are not met
  • Inexpressive
  • Have a “small” presence
  • Submissive behavior
  • Use a soft voice, no eye contact
  • People are often confused about what this person wants and may discount them 

4. Passive-Aggressive

Stemming from a feeling of powerlessness, passive-aggressive communicators seem passive externally but hide their true feelings and intentions.


  • Act indirectly, from a place of anger
  • Express their feelings by undermining the object of their resentment
  • Complain
  • Love to gossip
  • Devious, sabotaging
  • Patronizing
  • Sarcastic
  • Two-faced – pleasant to someone’s face but aggressive behind their back
  • Fake sweetness in their verbal expressions
  • Posture is often asymmetrical – hand on hip, one leg out, leaning, etc.
  • People may feel confused, hurt, or resentful after interacting with a passive-aggressive communicator

5. Manipulative

Skilled at controlling and influencing others to their own advantage, manipulative communicators are scheming and cunning, playing the victim to hide their underlying message.


  • Ask indirectly for what they want
  • Control others through deceitful actions and words
  • Make others feel sorry for them or obligated to help
  • Calculated, scheming
  • Use fake emotion to exploit others
  • Patronizing
  • Facial expressions may convey sadness, helplessness, or self-pity
  • People tend to react to help a manipulator out of guilt or obligation
  • Others may be constantly trying to figure out what is really going on, leading to frustration and irritation

How to improve

If you resonated with a more unhealthy communication style and are realizing you need to learn how to become more assertive, the great news is – you can! If you have several relationships where the communication between you needs work, remember the only person you can change is you. Chances are, if you begin to speak directly and with empathy, those around you will pick up on that and change their tone as well.

  1. Spend time listening to what the other person has to say. Being open to discussing dissenting opinions is hard work. Remember, listening to understand another person’s perspective doesn’t mean you are required to agree with them. It does, however, tell them that you care for them.
  2. Make empathy, authenticity, and transparency high priorities in your conversations. Be upfront about what you want and need, with care for how it affects the person you are speaking to.
  3. Be self- and socially-aware. Read between the lines (notice body language, tone, etc.) of what is happening during the conversation. If you sense the other person begin to get defensive, pull back and let them know you hear and validate their opinions and feelings, even if you disagree.
  4. Be straightforward and clear with your words and body language. Don’t leave the other person guessing what you truly want or what your intentions are. Work on creating eye contact and presenting an open body language.

We can help

This is hard work, no doubt. If you want help working through anything that is preventing you from being a more assertive communicator, working with a therapist can help. If you have spent your life silencing yourself, you may need help building self-confidence and finding your voice. If you tend to communicate more aggressively, working on anger management will help.

Our team can help you develop the skills you need to communicate clearly and confidently, reduce conflict, speak with empathy, and get what you want and need in your relationships without hurting the people around you.

Pinterest graphic linking to couple talking and needing to work on their communication with a Naperville relationship therapist.

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