Most people have heard of the various types of communication: aggressive, passive, passive-aggressive and assertive. Everyone has a dominant communication style. Are you aware of your style?
Today we will start with a quick review of the differing communication types and appropriate times to use them.
Aggressive communication takes an “I count/You don’t” approach. Yelling, demanding, making threats, using intimidation, and shutting the other person off are common tactics of this style. Often aggressive communication is concerned with obtaining a specific outcome. Moreover, this style takes an authoritative “my way or the highway” attitude with others. Such a dominant approach causes the person to appear a bully who regularly encroaches on the boundaries of others.
Because aggressive communication is often direct, some people confuse aggressive and assertive communication. But, as you will see, they are distinctly different from each other.
However, there are appropriate times to be aggressive. Commanding an emergent situation may involve rapidly barking out directions or taking actions to defend oneself.
Passivity, on the other hand, communicates “You count/ I don’t count”. This person says “yes”, often to the point of overextending oneself. “No” is too seldom a response. Communication tends to be indirect and conveys little or no confidence. Passive people are frequently described as pushovers as they tend to display confusing or inconsistent boundaries. They may rely on flirting or sexual innuendos to get what they want or need, while lacking a sense of personal power.
People relying on passive communication often avoid confrontation and most other risks. They may also be pleasers. Some focus on making other people happy, even at the constant expense of their own joy or health. Many find it difficult to ask for help in fear that they will be seen as burdensome or fear rejection.
Passive communication can be helpful in specific situations. Walking away is useful when one or both parties are too angry to constructively address the issue at hand. Also, responding passively in situations that are physically or emotionally threatening could save your life.
Passive-aggressive communication is aggressive, but through passive behavior. This style communicates “You don’t count/I don’t count”. For instance, instead of saying “no”, the person may agree to be somewhere knowing he will not show up. Sarcasm is often a passive way of saying what one fears saying directly. Spreading rumors, telling lies or plotting to get even are other passive ways of hurting another person.
Like passive communication, passive aggressive communication displays a lack of self-confidence. Passive-aggressive behavior is sometimes associated with being pushed beyond “one’s pressure point” after passively suppressing their anger or resentment for too long.
To be honest, I’ve never been able to think of situation in which this response was helpful.
Assertive communication says “You count/I count”. This style is characterized by direct, but tactful, communication. The assertive person listens to understand. Others learn to trust this person because they say what they mean and mean what they say. The first goal is mutual understanding. Assertive people directly communicate their boundaries while simultaneously expressing respect for the boundaries of others.
When aggressive, passive or passive-aggressive communication is primary, vulnerability is generally avoided. Resentments of both parties are frequently fueled. Assertive communication, however, encourages honestly sharing one’s thoughts, feelings and desires. The goal is to get on the same page before decisions are made. Risks are inherent and are taken to build trust. Taking such risks involves courageous vulnerability.
Like many readers, I was not taught assertiveness while growing up. In fact, I was brought up to do as I was told without questions. I learned voicing my wants and needs caused unwanted problems and threats of abandonment.
For example, one morning my mother was preparing breakfast. She was serving the individual boxes of cereal. I saw several boxes over to the side and spontaneously blurted out that I wanted “this one”. Instead of saying, “I’m sorry, but that one has already been chosen,” she yelled, “How do you know somebody else doesn’t want that cereal? You think you are the only one here?”
What was communicated to me was that I asked for too much. Nobody wanted my opinion, even if they asked for it. I was to be seen and not heard. I was to take whatever was given without complaint.
As a result of this incident and many similar ones, I developed a passive style of communication that sometimes erupted in passive-aggressive communication when my anger built up. I remember once slamming the vacuum cleaner into the wall while vacuuming. My action caused the ceramic clock to crash to the floor – not exactly an accident.
Recognizing these patterns was the start of learning to identify and claim my personal power. Pleasing people exaggerated my natural tendency to nurture others. Taking risks of any kind was agonizing. Through practice, however, assertiveness became my preferred communication style.
Were you able to recognize your pattern of communication? Is it serving you well? Are there situations that still quiet your assertive voice?
Check back tomorrow to see how assertive communication empowers you to address challenging situations more effectively, thereby reinforcing your personal power.