Could Your Communication Style Be Improved?

If you sometimes wonder why it’s so hard to get through to others, you’re not alone. Relationships are hard work, and so is communicating effectively. We can all find ways to improve our communication style, and doing so can be a lifelong process.

Here are some common themes in communicating less effectively. Do you recognize any of the following? 

  • Being aware of what you say, but not how you say it
  • Not being specific or direct enough, not saying what you really mean
  • Assuming a loved one should already know what you mean
  • Using harmful words or an aggressive tone that puts someone on the defensive
  • Crossing boundaries
  • Acting out of emotion
  • Shutting down and hoping the other person will just go away

If you recognize any of these patterns, it might be helpful to increase your awareness of your own communication style and learn how to communicate more effectively.. Doing so can help ensure that you are communicating clearly, with the highest likelihood of being heard. You might also get better at listening, problem solving, understanding others, and neutralizing conflicts, increasing your ability to get your needs met. As you can see, the benefits to being an effective communicator are enormous!

It’s helpful to become educated about the four major styles of verbal communication: assertive, aggressive, passive, and passive aggressive. Most people tend to use one of these styles frequently, though there can be crossover into other styles.


Aggressive communication is a style in which individuals violate the rights of others, in order to express their own feelings and opinions. Aggressive communicators often react quickly, have a lower tolerance for frustration, and struggle to negotiate or disagree without explicit (physical or verbal) conflict. They might

  • Use threatening body language or posture
  • Attempt to humiliate or alienate others as a means of control
  • Interrupt frequently
  • Act impulsively, without considering consequences
  • Use a loud, dominating, or demanding voice
  • Criticize, blame, or attack
  • Not listen well
  • Become immediately defensive


With passive communication, the person avoids overtly expressing feelings, needs, or opinions. They may struggle to get their needs met or protect their personal rights because they avoid disagreement and conflict. Over time, however, as their avoidance escalates, they can become  resentful and may have an emotional outburst, causing shame, guilt, confusion, and fear of expressing themselves in the future. People who use passive communication will often

  •   Avoid eye contact
  • Accept what is thrown at them, even if it’s hurtful
  • Speak softly and apologetically
  • Feel anxious and hopeless when communicating
  • Shut down emotionally
  • Attempt to leave the conversation prematurely
  • Fail to assert personal thoughts, needs, opinions, or feelings on a given topic
  • Have a high tolerance for the unacceptable behavior of others

Passive Aggressive

With passive aggressive communication, the person appears outwardly passive but acts out frustrations and anger in subtle, indirect ways. A passive aggressive communicator may feel stuck and powerless amidst conflict or incapable of directly addressing and dealing with the object of resentment. They often

  • Use facial expressions that don’t match how they feel (eg, smiling when angry)
  • Use sarcasm
  • Mutter to themselves rather than confront an issue or person
  • Deny the presence of a problem
  • Use subtle forms of control to make sure their needs get met
  • Struggle to identify sources of anger/frustration
  • Appear cooperative while purposely attempting to derail the situation
  • Hold grudges, in hopes of getting even


Assertive communicators clearly state their opinions and feelings, advocate for their personal needs, and do not violate or disrespect the rights of others. An assertive communicator values themselves and their personal opinions, thoughts and feelings, while remaining cognizant of the needs and rights of the other person. They often

  • Have relaxed body posture
  • Speak in a clear, calm tone of voice
  • Don’t allow others to abuse or manipulate them
  • Use “I-statements”
  • Feel connected to others
  • Maintain good eye contact
  • Listen actively, without interrupting
  • Experience a sense of being in control of their words and actions

So which style is yours? We all fall somewhere on a continuum ranging from passive aggressive, to passive, to assertive, to aggressive. Most of us have an inclination toward being a bit more passive or aggressive in our style, and it takes work to find the middle, healthy ground of assertive communication, in which we balance our own needs with respect for the needs of others. Counseling can be a great way to learn to identify your communication style and find ways to improve it, setting you on course to have better relationships and get your needs met effectively.

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