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Communication Styles: How to Talk to Your Team

Communication is the lifeblood of any organization. So whether you lead a team of 20 or 200 or somewhere in between, being a great communicator is one of the most important skills you can have. And spoiler alert: You can’t become a great leader until you’ve become a rock star communicator. Effective communication is the best way to connect emotionally with your team, to build trust and unity, and perhaps most importantly, to make them feel heard.

The first rule of communication? It’s a two-way street. A great communicator knows how to talk so people will listen and listen so people will talk. But there’s a bit more to it than that. Read on.

Are There Different Styles of Communication?

Your communication style is simply the way you talk to and interreact with others. And your style of communication—whether it’s written, verbal or body language—is unique to you because it’s influenced by things like your personality, degree of self-awareness and confidence level.

Generally speaking, there are four types of communication styles:

  • Passive
  • Aggressive
  • Passive-aggressive
  • Assertive

What Is Passive Communication?

Passive communication is used by those who want to appear like they don’t care or are super neutral about the topic or situation at hand. Passive communicators hate confrontation and are quick to defer to others if they find themselves in an uncomfortable situation. That’s why they don’t share their opinions or express their personal feelings or needs.

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What does passive communication sound like?
A passive communicator often speaks softly in a monotone, unenthusiastic or apologetic manner and may say things like:

  • “You choose—anything is fine.”
  • “It really doesn’t matter that much to me.”
  • “I don’t care what we do here.”

What does passive communication look like?

  • Little to no eye contact
  • Slouchy posture
  • Nervous fidgeting

Is passive communication effective?
Passive communication is a lose-lose for everyone involved. First of all, the communication is inauthentic—the person is not sharing his or her genuine thoughts, ideas or opinions—and doesn’t contribute anything beneficial to the overall conversation. It can leave the person on the receiving end feeling frustrated and resentful, which ironically, is often how the communicator ends up feeling too. Our verdict? Don’t bother.

Why would someone communicate this way?
Above all, passive communicators want to keep the peace. They want to please other people and avoid conflict.

What Is Aggressive Communication?

Aggressive communication is the complete opposite of passive communication and, as the name suggests, it’s marked by in-your-face demands, rudeness and a lack of consideration for other people’s feelings.

What does aggressive communication sound like?
An aggressive communicator speaks loudly in a confrontational, intimidating tone and may say things like:

  • “You make me sick.”
  • “It’s all your fault.”
  • “Everyone should think like me.”

What does aggressive communication look like?

  • Intense eye contact
  • Invading other people’s personal space
  • Big and reckless gestures

Is aggressive communication effective?
This is an easy one. No, aggressive communication doesn’t work—period. In fact, it’s the perfect example of a one-sided conversation, because the communicator isn’t at all interested in listening to others. And the fallout isn’t pretty. People quickly lose respect for anyone who communicates in this way and will be hard-pressed to trust them.

Why would someone communicate this way?
Aggressive communicators want to win—no matter the cost. And last time we checked, intimidation is a huge turnoff when it comes to building team morale.

Related: 8 Toxic Communication Traps to Avoid

What Is Passive-Aggressive Communication?

Think of passive-aggressive communication as a blend of the first two styles we’ve talked about.  People use it when they want to look like they don’t care about something (that’s the passive part), but they’re secretly angry or upset on the inside.

What does passive-aggressive communication sound like?
A passive-aggressive communicator is manipulative—they say one thing but really mean something else entirely. Passive-aggressive communicators are also prone to spreading gossip and rumors and, if all else fails, are experts at giving the silent treatment. They may say things like:

  • “That’s fine with me, but don’t be surprised if someone else gets upset.”
  • “I think you did a good job, but no one else thinks so.”
  • “Go ahead and do it. My ideas aren’t very good anyway.”

What does passive-aggressive communication look like?
This is a bit harder to pinpoint. Passive-aggressive communicators are true chameleons and use whatever body language they need to manipulate the situation. Our best advice? Be on the lookout for:

  • Little to no eye contact
  • Sulky or hands-on-hips posturing
  • Fidgeting

Is passive-aggressive communication effective?
Passive-aggressive communication is a waste of everyone’s time.  A hallmark of good communication is clarity, and there is none to be found here.

Why would someone communicate this way?
Passive-aggressive communicators are in touch with their thoughts and feelings, but they’re worried about what others will think of them. And the last thing they want to do is openly disagree with someone—so they do it discreetly in hopes of ultimately getting their way.

What Is Assertive Communication?

We saved the best for last! Assertive communication is the healthiest and most effective communication style—one that allows you to express your own needs, ideas and feelings while being considerate of others.

What does assertive communication sound like?
An assertive communicator speaks calmly and confidently in a medium tone, uses “I” statements frequently, and may say things like:

  • “I think we should go with this plan.”
  • “Let’s give everyone a chance to weigh in.”
  • “Even though we don’t agree, I respect your opinion.”

What does assertive communication look like?

  • Consistent eye contact
  • Open, relaxed posture
  • Even gestures

Is assertive communication effective?
Yes! Assertive communication is the gold standard. It’s built on two-way conversations (remember that whole talking and listening thing?) and includes room for plenty of opinions, healthy disagreement, and constructive feedback. Even better? No games or sneaky manipulation allowed!

Why would someone communicate this way?
If your end goal is to not only relay information but also to build trust with your team, you can’t go wrong with assertive communication—ever.

How Do I Become a Better Communicator?

The legendary management consultant Peter Drucker once said, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” We couldn’t agree more, but it takes time and a lot of intentionality to build that skill. And like many other leadership pursuits, good communication starts and ends with self-awareness.

Ask a few trusted colleagues for some honest feedback about your communication style. It’s a great way to identify any potential blind spots (trust us, we all have them) or areas that need improving. Also, be sure to check out our Team Communication Field Guide for some helpful tips on how to talk to your team. It’s never too late to start building a culture of communication where engagement, productivity and creativity skyrocket.

Ramsey Solutions

About the author

Ramsey Solutions

Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

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