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How To Spot Different Communication Styles in the Workplace

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No one uses a singular communication style in the workplace. Everything from the topic of the conversation to the person you are speaking with’s tone of voice and body language can cause you to speak in a certain way.

For that reason, it’s important that you know not only what your own dominant style is but what the other styles look like so you can spot them and adapt your approach accordingly.


Assertive Communication Style

The American Psychological Association defines assertive communication as “an adaptive style of communication in which individuals express their feelings and needs directly while maintaining respect for others.” Those who communicate this way speak firmly and are not hesitant or wavering, actively listen to others, stand up for themselves and their boundaries, and are willing to compromise and collaborate when the time comes.

As pointed out in a previous blog on the topic of assertive communication, this communication style is often considered “ideal” as research has found it boosts self-esteem and confidence, earns trust and respect from others, contributes to stronger interpersonal relationships, reduces stress, and improves job satisfaction.


Assertive Communication Examples

  • “I am currently finishing up a few urgent and important tasks. Once those are wrapped up, I will have time next week to help you. Will that work for you?”
  • “I can see that, but I’d really like to…”
  • "I would appreciate if you…”
  • “I am concerned that if we do not meet this deadline, the project will be at risk. So what I need is for us to brainstorm a way to make it happen.”
  • “It appears that we disagree on this point. So let’s find a solution that we can both work with that will get us the results we need."


Passive Communication Style

By definition, passive communication means you accept or allow what happens or what others do without responding or resistance. While this is one way to reduce tension and ease conflict, this communication style can leave you feeling misunderstood, unheard/not included, and even resentful if used too often.

To help you spot passive communication, one Inc.com article points out that, “Characteristics of the passive communicator include being apologetic, self-deprecating, or indecisive.” As such, look for “deep sighs, mumbled complaints, profuse apologies, and incessant permission asking.”


Passive Communication Examples

  • "Whatever you want.”
  • “I don’t care what we do here.”
  • "I’ll go with whatever the team decides.”
  • “I don’t really have an opinion on this.”
  • “You have more experience than I do. You decide.”


Passive-Aggressive Communication Style

Passive-aggressive communication in the workplace is when someone “indirectly expresses negative feelings instead of openly addressing them. There's a disconnect between what a person says and what they do.” Someone communicating in such a way may use sarcasm, make snide comments, avoid confrontation but partake in gossip, pout/sulk when things don’t go their way, or deny strong emotions (ex. anger, disappointment).


Passive-Aggressive Communication Examples

  • “Don’t bother. I’ll just do it myself.”
  • “Per my last email…”
  • “I’m sorry I was late. I didn’t think it would be such a big deal.”
  • “I think you did a good job, but they might not think the same.”
  • “For future reference…”


Aggressive Communication Style

Aggressive communication is typically defined as “communicating in a demanding, abrasive, or hostile way. It is insensitive to others’ rights, feelings, and beliefs. The usual goals of aggression are domination and winning, forcing the other person to lose.” There are a few telltale signs and characteristics of aggressive communicators to watch out for; they include talking over others, shouting, intense eye contact, heavy sarcasm, ultimatums, and threats.

Aggressive communication is fairly common in the workplace. The Niagara Institute conducted an assessment of how professionals resolve conflict at work. Our assessment revealed that 30.6% of professionals agreed that they could come off as aggressive when in a dispute with a colleague. 

So while this communication style may be one way to get things done quickly, it can do significantly more harm than good in the long run. 


Aggressive Communication Examples

  • “Don’t argue. Just do it.”
  • “You heard what I said.”
  • “You’re out of your mind if you think that will work.”
  • “Can you do anything right?”
  • “I’m right, you’re wrong. End of discussion.”

Example Phrases of the 4 Communication Styles - Niagara Institute



The truth is none of us have one singular communication style in the workplace. While you may aim to communicate assertively as often as possible, everything from who you are speaking with to the topic of conversation may cause you to speak passively, aggressively, or passive-aggressively.

In which case, you need the communication skills and the confidence to speak the right words, at the right time, and in the right way. Fortunately, you can learn to do so with a communication program, like our ever-popular Speaking as a Leader.

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