June 22, 2021
Communication Styles and How They Affect Our Relationships

Communication is an essential part of any relationship. Effective communication can allow for satisfying exchanges with others and a better ability to manage conflict which is inevitable between people. Healthy communication allows for diversity of opinions. Communication is a learned skill for most of us. Learning what our style is, who we best communicate with and what our triggers for conflict are can set you on an effective path for dealing with others.

Communication is an essential part of any relationship. Effective communication can allow for satisfying exchanges with others and a better ability to manage conflict which is inevitable between people. Healthy communication allows for diversity of opinions. Communication is a learned skill for most of us. Learning what our style is, who we best communicate with and what our triggers for conflict are can set you on an effective path for dealing with others.

There are 3 main communication styles, in other words, ways in which we share information with others: passive, aggressive, and assertive. Some experts also include a fourth style: passive aggressive. As human beings, we generally do not fit strictly into one category, however, we tend to have a primary style. A key piece to healthy communication with others is knowing your own style first: What is your natural method of verbal expression? There is much communication that happens at the non-verbal level that is often ignored or overlooked and can become a source of misunderstandings and conflict. These include eye contact, posture, proximity, facial expressions and voice tone.

In the passive style, the communicator is the “wallflower” and tends to be unaware or ignores his/her own thoughts, feelings and desires. They may act indifferent or aloof and tend to go along with others ideas and suggestions. They tend to dislike conflict and therefore avoid confrontation, deferring to others. Poor eye contact and posture are strong indicators of this style. They tend to be perceived as easy going when in reality they are anxious and afraid of disapproval from others. Positive perspectives of this style include being easy going, open to go with the flow,” and a willingness to please.

In the aggressive style, the communicator is the “steamroller.” This is the person who tends to be demanding, defensive or even hostile. They tend to override others opinions and dominate conversations and activities and are often poor listeners as they are ready to speak more than hear. Their body language includes direct eye contact, maybe even staring, leaning forward and closer as they speak, and their tone can be commanding and/or harsh. They may be misunderstood often due to their strong non-verbal presence. Positive perspective of this style includes a tendency to be overachievers, determined and are known to “get things done”.

In the passive aggressive style, the communicator is the “confuser.” This person tends to be unable to voice their thoughts and feelings effectively, so they become easily frustrated, irritable and resentful. The resentment is acted out in ways to attempt to relieve their discomfort and can come across as sarcasm, indirect communication, criticism of others or oppositional behavior (i.e. the person who says “I’d love to help” then complains the whole time). They tend to confuse others because they appear to be indifferent yet angry. Their words and body language do not match. They may smile in agreement while balling their hands into fists. They confuse others with this mismatch and therefore tend to alienate others.

In the assertive style, the communicator is the “self-confident.” This is the most effective style as it has openness and clarity as its key elements. This person can share their voice in a calm manner, making their ideas or requests known, without imposing them on others. They can be considerate of differences and look for consensus with others.

None of us always uses only one method of communication. Our choice often depends on who we are speaking with, their relationship to us and the circumstances involved. Determining your major style helps prepare you to identify and deal with the style of others. Knowing each other’s styles can be very helpful in managing expectations, conflict and setting more realistic goals and boundaries for yourself and as a couple. Couples therapy strives to help couples identify their unique predominant style, share it effectively with their partner and offers opportunities for practicing the “2 way street” skills that are important in creating understanding, empathy and intimacy in any relationship.

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