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Two young women talking while sitting at table in loft office who have different communication styles

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Right now, you could probably write a list of people with whom you always have conflict. It might be mild or it might be severe, but you just can’t seem to get in a groove with these individuals. You don’t understand them and they don’t understand you. Whether it’s a family member, a coworker or a roommate, it’s common to have these tense and frustrating dynamics in our lives. You can either accept that things will always be rocky in those relationships, or you can get to the bottom of it, and what’s at the bottom of it is likely different communication styles.

Behavioral experts have identified four main communication styles: passive, passive-aggressive, aggressive and assertive. We’ll get into what each one means, but know this: when two assertive individuals interact, it’s usually smooth sailing. Any other combination is often a recipe for drama. Maybe you can’t change the way others behave, but if you can understand them, you can change how you respond to them. And then, you can start to enjoy a life with less conflict. Here’s a look at the four main communication styles, and how to interact with them better.


Passive Communication

Women talking while standing by window at studio

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A passive communicator is going to come off as timid, shy, insecure and/or weak. This communication style is characterized by:

  • Not expressing feelings, thoughts or needs
  • Denying/ignoring one’s own needs
  • Allowing others to deny one’s needs
  • Always putting others first, even when it directly interferes with one’s needs
  • Body language includes no eye contact and slouching posture

The problem with this communication style is that it can lead to resentment and pent-up anger. When a person ignores their feelings and needs, they don’t just go away. Usually, those feelings just get pushed down deep – but eventually rise to the surface. And they can come up in the form of yelling, aggressive behavior or a panic attack.

How to handle a passive communicator

Passive communicators tend to have low self-esteem or suffer from stress or anxiety. So, always bring a calm, loving and encouraging energy. Give them compliments and be supportive. That’s what they need, and only that energy can coax their true feelings and thoughts out. They need to feel safe to express themselves.

Perhaps nobody ever really asks them follow-up questions on what they’re thinking or feeling. So be the change – be the person who digs deeper. Additionally, if you see someone else walking over them or ignoring their needs, speak up for the passive communicator. You can model what the assertive behavior looks like for them.

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