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Communication Styles: How to Talk to Your Team

Wouldn’t it be a dream to run a highly productive business where there’s little to no drama? Of course! That sounds freaking awesome. And freaking impossible, right? Wrong.

The key to a highly successful, low drama business is effective, intentional communication. You’ve got to make it a priority—and part of your company culture. Seriously. As the quality of your communication goes up, the amount of frustration your team feels goes down. They can focus on the right things, build greater trust in one another, create an amazing customer experience, and get more work done—aka all the ingredients for a successful (and profitable) business. And all of that starts with knowing your communication style.

But figuring out how to build trust through your communication style can feel like swimming through a sea of muck at first—slow, hard and maybe even a little stinky. But whether you lead a business of five team members or 500, it’s up to you to understand the four main types of communication styles. Then you can use the best style to set the stage for a culture of listening—one that makes your team feel heard and open to sharing.  

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What Are Communication Styles?
What Is the Passive Communication Style?
What Is the Aggressive Communication Style?
What Is the Passive Aggressive Communication Style?
What Is the Assertive Communication Style?

What Are Communication Styles?

A communication style is simply the way someone talks to and interacts with others. When it comes to your style, are you large and in charge, tight-lipped and soft-spoken, or somewhere in between? Both your business communication style (how you interact professionally) and your personal communication style (how you interact outside of work) show up in the way you write, speak and act. And these styles are influenced by your personality, degree of self-awareness, and confidence level.

Related article: What Are the 4 DISC Personality Types?

These are the four main types of communication styles we’ll unpack:

  • Passive
  • Aggressive
  • Passive aggressive
  • Assertive

All of us use one style the most, but we can see any of these styles rise to the surface—depending on the situation and what buttons are pushed. The goal is for you to build the habit of using assertive communication even in moments when you want to communicate in a different, less effective way.

What Is the Passive Communication Style?

On the surface, the passive communication style looks like a neutral attitude about a topic or situation—as if you don’t have a strong opinion or that you’re willing to let whatever happens happen. One more note about passive communicators--they don’t actively look for attention. Most dread confrontation—so they defer to others in uncomfortable situations and for decision-making. But here’s the thing: If you’re a leader, being passive isn’t an option. Leaders lead.

As much as they want to be low maintenance, passive communicators become high maintenance when getting them to share their opinions and express their needs feels like pulling teeth. Maybe they aren’t holding back their thoughts intentionally at all—they just need time to figure out what they think, and that’s okay. But, if you find yourself in these shoes, explain that you need a few minutes to process. And then, for the love of clarity and teamwork, speak up!

Related article: Decision-Making Skills

So, what does passive communication sound like? Passive communicators speak softly—sometimes even in a monotone, unenthusiastic or apologetic manner. They say things like:

  • “You choose—anything is fine.”
  • “I’m sorry.” (They say this even when it’s not their fault.)
  • “It really doesn’t matter 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 situation for everyone involved. Saying nothing (or not saying what you really think) leads to frustration and resentment—for you and the person you’re talking to. It confuses and hurts the team when you withhold thoughts, ideas or information, water them down, or choose not to contribute anything beneficial to the conversation. Remember, to be unclear is to be unkind.

Why would someone communicate this way?

Passive communicators want to keep the peace. Or if they’re around larger-than-life personalities, they may feel like getting a word in is too exhausting or pointless. People often choose a passive communication style to dance around conflict and try to please others.

How do I lead someone who’s a passive communicator?

  • Give them one-on-one opportunities to talk.
  • Address them specifically in meetings to help ensure they weigh in.
  • When they do speak up, dig for more.

What Is the Aggressive Communication Style?

Now, let’s do a 180 and look at the aggressive communication style. As you might guess, aggressive communication is forceful and hard-hitting. If this is your style of communication, chances are you love to share but often end up dominating conversations and interrupting others. At its worst, aggressive communication is downright rude and shows a lack of consideration for other people’s feelings.

What does aggressive communication sound like?

You might be an aggressive communicator if you speak loudly or in a confrontational, intimidating tone. This type of communicator may say things like:

  • “Everyone should think like me.”
  • “For the sake of time, I’ll go first.”
  • “I don’t care. Just do it!”
  • “Suck it up, buttercup.”

What does aggressive communication look like?

  • Intense eye contact
  • Invading other people’s personal space
  • Big, possibly wild gestures

Is aggressive communication effective?

This is an easy one. Heck no! You can bulldoze your way to some quick wins, but aggressive communication doesn’t work for long. It’s impossible for your team to feel heard in a one-sided conversation where you’re barking orders and silencing all other voices. Intimidation is a huge turnoff and tanks morale and trust . . . shocker.

Why would someone communicate this way?

Aggressive communicators want to win—sometimes at nearly any cost. Their core desire is to lead the team and get stuff done. But they don’t quite have the maturity and humility to motivate their team members to follow them. (First, you have to listen and earn their trust.)

How do I lead someone who’s an aggressive communicator?

  • Be calm but clear and professional in your responses and interactions.
  • Take emotion out of your voice and off the table. Stick to facts.
  • Challenge them to listen before they talk.

Related article: 8 Toxic Communication Traps to Avoid

What Is the Passive Aggressive Communication Style?

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

What does passive aggressive communication sound like?

Passive aggressive communication is all about double meanings and guilt trips. If you say one thing but really mean something else, that’s being passive aggressive. Or you might say something insulting as if you’re joking when you’re not. Passive aggressive communicators also spread gossip and rumors like wildfire, and they’re 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.”
  • “Did you really think that was a good idea?”

What does passive aggressive communication look like?

We’ll be the first to admit that this is a tricky communication style to spot. Passive aggressive communicators are chameleons. They use whatever body language they need to manipulate the situation. Our best advice? Be on the lookout for:

  • Little to no eye contact
  • Smiling with the mouth but not the eyes
  • Sulking or hands planted on their hips
  • Fidgeting

Is passive aggressive communication effective?

Three words: waste of time. Passive aggressive communication is confusing, unproductive and hurtful. If you want to be known as a good communicator, clarity and kindness are key (and neither are found in this communication style).

Why would someone communicate this way?

If you’re tempted to use the passive aggressive communication style, there’s a good chance you’re in touch with your thoughts and feelings but also worried about what others think of you. If you have a problem with a person or situation, deal with it directly instead of burying your thoughts in sarcastic (and unhelpful) comments.

How do I lead someone who’s a passive aggressive communicator?

  • If you sense what someone is saying doesn’t match what they’re feeling, call it out.
  • Take the high road by welcoming direct feedback and ideas.
  • Be clear and specific about what you think, need and expect so there’s less chance for it to get twisted.

What Is the Assertive Communication Style?

Ready for the best communication style to shoot for? It’s the assertive communication style! This is the healthiest and most effective style because it brings together the best of two worlds: being considerate of others and expressing your needs, ideas and feelings.

Related article: How to Communicate Effectively

What does assertive communication sound like?

As an assertive communicator, you’ll speak calmly and confidently, using “I” statements to convey ideas and opinions. You’ll also ask questions and insert “you” statements to keep the communication flowing two ways. You may say things like:

  • “I’m a fan of this plan.”
  • “Before I weigh in, what do you think?”
  • “Let’s give everyone a chance to share.”
  • “Even though we don’t agree, I respect your opinion.”

What does assertive communication look like?

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

Is assertive communication effective?

Yes! Assertive communication is the gold standard. It’s built on two-way conversations (talking and listening) and includes room for plenty of opinions, healthy disagreements and constructive feedback. And even better, when you use assertive communication, you say no to mind games and sneaky manipulation.

Why would someone communicate this way?

If your end goal is to relay information, hear from others, and build trust so you’re better at getting important stuff done, you can’t go wrong with assertive communication—ever.

How do I lead someone who’s an assertive communicator?

  • Praise them publicly and privately for their effort to be clear and open.
  • Encourage them to keep collaborating with others, sharing their ideas, and motivating team members.
  • Look for opportunities for them to lead and mentor others.

What’s Next: Help Your Team Communicate (So You Can Earn Their Trust)

Life and business are better when you spend resources and time making sure you and your team are connecting in ways that increase trust and decrease frustration. Regardless of the communication style you use (as you work toward the gold standard of becoming more assertive, of course) you’ll learn what’s really going on with your team less often through hallway chit chat and more often through simple, intentional weekly reports. If you want to try a proven weekly-report tool, check out EntreLeadership Elite. Its one-page report captures each team member’s morale, stress and workload. It’s a game changer for building trust!

Weekly Reports are just one of the many features included in EntreLeadership Elite to help you lead your team, grow your business, and create a world-class culture. And Elite is free for your first 30 days. Check out how to start your free trial

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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