Career Development

The Most Important Communication Styles at Work

Working and communicating with different people requires the ability to adjust your communication style to the situation. There are four main types of communication styles: passive, passive-aggressive, aggressive and assertive. Use these tips and examples to understand the different types of communication styles and how to navigate them in the workplace so you can be a better communicator.

What are communication styles at work?

Diversity in the workplace brings a variety of perspectives and ideas to organizations. Different perspectives and opinions about a problem and how to solve it allows a better understanding of the issue and leads to innovative solutions. However, diversity also means different communication styles at work. Communicating effectively with people who have different styles of communication requires an understanding of the different styles and the ability to choose an appropriate communication strategy in each situation.

Although some communication styles seem more positive than others, different styles have alternative applications in the workplace and may be more effective in various situations. Effective communicators have the ability to understand which style is best for a given situation and adjust their communication style accordingly.

Top communication styles

Below is a description and application for each of the common communication styles:

Passive

The passive communication style is characterized by accommodating the needs and opinions of others while suppressing your own. Passive communicators often qualify their statements with words and phrases like, ‘maybe,’ ‘in my opinion,’ or ‘it’s just an idea.’ They are less likely to interject in an active conversation and may seem content to listen.

Although the passive communication style may seem less confident, it has several applications in the workplace. For example, when working with a group, deferring to the ideas and opinions of others may encourage them to contribute and lead to a wider variety of ideas and perspectives. Additionally, the passive communication style may be effective when communicating with coworkers who don’t feel comfortable contributing their ideas or who easily take offense. It may also be effective as a new employee to an organization or when communicating with organizational leadership to defer to the experience of more seasoned employees.

When working with someone whose dominant communication style is passive, it’s important to ensure they feel heard while also understanding they may place a higher value on the team as a whole rather than their own ideas and opinions.

Here are some tips for a passive communication style:

  • Use when new to an organization or when communicating with experienced employees and leadership.
  • Use to preserve the feelings and reputation of other employees.
  • Encourage passive communicators to share their thoughts.
  • Dismiss qualifiers and validate the ideas of passive communicators.

Passive-aggressive

The passive-aggressive communication style appears passive on the surface but includes subtle aggression. It is often characterized by negative nonverbal behavior or utterances such as eye-rolling, grunting or sighing. Passive-aggressive communicators may also make a direct statement, then express another, contradictory opinion indirectly by muttering or talking to a third party. 

The other communication styles can have a positive effect in certain situations or when communicating with specific people. However, the passive-aggressive communication style may undermine others and damage relationships. Using the passive-aggressive communication style to share negative emotions with trusted colleagues may provide an opportunity to build relationships based on common frustrations. 

Coworkers can empathize with each other and provide perspective or possible solutions to managing the problems, which may lead to more efficient teamwork and increased productivity. Although passive-aggressive communication may help vent negative emotions in a healthier way than acting out, it is important to use this style sparingly.

When working with someone whose dominant communication style is passive-aggressive, it’s important to maintain a positive attitude and help them maintain perspective on the work.

Here are some tips for a passive-aggressive communication style:

  • Use sparingly with trusted colleagues to vent shared frustrations instead of acting out.
  • Respond with a positive attitude and re-frame perspective to focus on positive aspects of the topic.
  • Discourage passive-aggressive communication directed at colleagues and coworkers.

Aggressive

The aggressive communication style is often characterized by disrupting, interrupting and talking over others for the sake of your own opinions and ideas. Aggressive communicators may often interrupt and seem like they aren’t listening to or interested in anyone else’s ideas.

Although the aggressive communication style is often associated with conflict, it does have useful applications in the workplace. For example, in the event of an emergency or urgent situation when immediate action is necessary, it may be useful to ensure quick resolution and safety of others. Additionally, when facilitating meetings or other group events, the aggressive communication style may be necessary to disrupt side conversations and ensure discussions stay on topic.

When working with someone whose dominant communication style is aggressive, it’s important to avoid becoming defensive by realizing and remembering their communication style is not a personal attack against you.

Here are some tips for an aggressive communication style:

  • Use in situations that require immediate action.
  • Use to disrupt side conversations and redirect the focus to stay on task.
  • Be patient and avoid feeling personally attacked by interruptions and disruptions.
  • Encourage interrupted communicators to continue at the next natural break in the conversation.

Assertive

The assertive communication style is characterized by confidently expressing your own ideas and opinions while respecting the ideas and opinions of others. Assertive communicators speak with confidence and listen to others. They care about others’ ideas as much as their own.

In most situations, the assertive communication style allows everyone to effectively communicate their ideas. It is useful in the workplace for any situation that requires collaboration and situations such as group brainstorming sessions. Although some assertive communicators may seem aggressive, they will try to refrain from some aggressive tendencies such as interrupting and talking over others.

When working with someone whose dominant communication style is assertive, it’s important to understand that their ability to communicate their ideas is not intended as a reflection of yours and they are just as interested in hearing your thoughts and opinions.

Here are some tips for an assertive communication style:

  • Use with most interactions in the workplace.
  • Assert your thoughts and ideas respectfully.
  • Take a genuine interest in the thoughts and ideas of others.
  • Practice active listening.

While most people have a dominant communication style, it is possible to learn and develop skills to improve your communication. An effective communicator has the ability to switch between styles and select the best style for each situation. Understanding the different communication styles and how they apply to different situations in the workplace improves your ability to select the best style and build stronger working relationships.