For 22 years now, I have written, lectured, and counseled about a topic near and dear to my heart – communication. I have taught I-messages, activelistening, empathy, validation, and an assortment of other techniques in the hope that people can just learn to understand each other better. I fervently believe that if all people would understand the powerful impact that their words have to heal or to hurt they would be more motivated to learn to speak better. And further, that if all people had the skills to speak better, we would have far fewer conflicts in our personal lives and in our world! And no, I’m not exaggerating.
Many people erroneously believe that the way they speak is genetically determined. They assume they cannot change their manner of speaking any more than they could their eye color. Communication style, like language, though, is a learned behavior. And while there are many variables that influence our personal style, such as how our parents spoke to us and to each other, the responses we received when we expressed ourselves, our comfort level in a particular situation – we can all say anything better.
There are basically 4 styles of communication – 1) the passivestyle, 2) the aggressivestyle, 3) the passive-aggressivestyle, and
4) the assertivestyle. No one uses a specific style all the time; rather one style reflects our preferred method of communication. With a better understanding of each style, you can learn to identify your personal style of communication and understand the impact it has on your relationships.
The Passive Style
A person using a passive style of communication avoids conflict at all costs, even to the point of putting aside their own personal beliefs and needs. A passive communicator is eager to please and therefore won’t share true feelings or desires in order not to “rock the boat” or upset the other person. We might think that this is fine because we are not hurting anybody. But in time this style may build our resentment because our needs are not being met and we therefore feel neglected. This strains our relationships because we expect others to guess what we feel, want, and need.
The Aggressive Style
When we communicate aggressively, we put our rights first and disregard the rights of others. We will do almost anything to get what we want, even if it means controlling or manipulating others. Although we may get what we want, this leads to unhealthy relationships, and at times, guilt and shame.
The Passive-Aggressive Style
Passive-aggressive communicators try to avoid conflict but still want to control the situation by using a communication style that sends conflicting messages to the listener. Usually the tone of voice and body language do not match the words we are saying, or we make a sarcastic remark that confuses our listener. We roll our eyes and then deny that anything is wrong. When asked about our unhappy expression we say that everything is fine. When someone seems to be upset by our communication, we hide our true feelings by saying “You take things too seriously” or “I was only joking.”
Our feedback is dishonest and damages our relationships.
The Assertive Style
Communicating assertively is about being able to recognize what we need and then having the ability to ask for it easily and in a non-threatening manner. We act in our own best interests without trying to make others feel uncomfortable. We try to resolve conflicts when they occur with compromise and a balance between giving and taking. Benefits of assertive communication include: strong self-esteem, self-confidence, and having relationships built on mutual respect.
How to Say Anything Better
Do you recognize yourself in any of these communication styles? Perhaps you use all of them depending on the situation. The goal though is to speak assertively in every situation. Remember, being assertive is not the same as being aggressive, although when we begin using our new skills it often feels this way. We use assertive communication for our benefit, not to change others. We cannot control how others respond to what we have to say. But if we are talking respectfully, then we have every reason to feel positive about our communications.
As with any new skill we are trying to acquire, success is dependent on commitment and practice. My four-session course “How to Say Anything Better” will teach you the skills you need to say things better, and improve all your relationships. We explore the principles of having your message land in the way it was sent, and learn the assertiveness formula which gives you a framework for expressing your feelings and needs. Classes begin in February and are limited in size. Please contactme at: Mozelleforman@gmail.com
for more information.