Which Communication Style Works Best at Work?

A conversation between two employees

Let’s talk about the most common types of communication styles in the workplace. We will also dive into the purpose of each and how to improve your communication skills at work.

Why are communication styles important?

Not understanding someone’s communication style can lead to misunderstandings in the workplace. By learning each person’s unique characteristics – and mastering your own communication style – you have more control over how you clearly and effectively deliver important messages.

Each communication style can also elicit specific feelings from those on the receiving end. Each style can cause someone to feel empowered, frustrated, trusting, guilty or something else. Fostering a positive work environment means embracing communication styles that encourage employees and avoid unnecessarily negative reactions. 

5 types of communication styles

Communication Style

Description

Examples

Best Used For

Aggressive

Dominates conversation, intense

"Do as you're told."

High-stakes negotiations (with caution)

Passive

Avoids conflict, submissive

"It's no big deal."

Defusing tense situations

Passive-Aggressive

Indirectly expresses discontent

"Sure, I'll do it." (but doesn't)

Rarely appropriate

Manipulative

Influences covertly

"I wonder if it's good enough."

Persuasion (with ethical considerations)

Assertive

Confident, respectful

"I respectfully disagree."

Most workplace interactions

Below are the five most common communication styles you’ll see in the workplace. 

Note that these styles aren’t mutually exclusive, and you can combine elements of several or switch between them to achieve the most effective messaging as part of your unique management style

1. Aggressive communication style

Aggressive communicators use this style to attempt to dominate the discussion. They speak louder than the other participants, maintain intense eye contact and step into the personal space of others while talking.

Those who use this style end up, whether intentionally or unintentionally, belittling who they speak to. This can create a reluctance to engage that undermines the intent behind their words. It’s not impossible to use an aggressive communication style in a professional setting; however, it takes skill to come off as confident rather than overbearing. 

As there is so much room for misinterpretation, it’s best to avoid an aggressive communication style where possible. 

Examples of an aggressive communication style include:

  • ‘You all made too many mistakes during this project.’

  • ‘Just do as you’re told.’

  • ‘I think you’re wrong, so I’ll do it my way instead.’

2. Passive communication style

The passive communication style strives to avoid conflict using humble and easy-going language, but it can also lead to speakers having difficulty expressing themselves. As a result, more assertive voices lead the conversation. This is also sometimes termed a more submissive communication style.

Passive communicators’ inclination to dance around uncomfortable topics can also lead to misunderstanding within the workplace. While the more submissive speech patterns can make it easier to deal with difficult clients or colleagues, it’s less useful in a more collaborative space. 

Examples of a passive communication style include:

  • ‘It’s no big deal; we can fix it.’

  • ‘I don’t want to start a fight, but…’

3. Passive-aggressive communication style

A passive-aggressive communicator uses techniques from both namesake styles. In this style, you use the outwardly humble tone from the passive style to mask more aggressive sentiments. Like a passive speaker, a passive-aggressive communication style tends to avoid direct conflict, creating a discrepancy between actions and actual opinions.

Passive-aggressive employees express their discontent using indirect methods such as gossip, starting rumours, the silent treatment and condescension. This kind of communication is universally inappropriate within a business environment, only working to frustrate your workforce and worsen social situations.

Examples of a passive-aggressive communication style include:

  • ‘Sure, I’m fine with doing things your way.’ (Then mutters, ‘It’s not like it’s going to work…’)

  • ‘Yeah, I’m happy to help.’ (But then does the exact opposite of your instructions.)

  • ‘I’m not upset; it’s fine you didn’t listen to me.’

4. Manipulative communication style

As a manipulative communicator, you’ll use cunning tactics to guide the discussion in the direction you want it to go. This style influences others to act a certain way while hiding your true intentions. 

Manipulative speaking styles are harder to recognise because they can appear like more appealing speaking patterns. However, if your manipulations are revealed, everything said from then on can come off as insincere. 

Manipulative speakers can create problems within the workspace. However, you can put their ability to get their way to more positive use if they focus on meeting the needs of their co-workers.

Since a manipulative communication style depends on obfuscation, it’s difficult to recognise it through words alone. Instead, look for discrepancies between what a person says and their actions. 

Examples of a manipulative communication style include:

  • ‘I have to complete this project by Friday; if only someone were available to help me…’

  • ‘I rushed to finish the presentation by the deadline; I wonder if it’s good enough.’

5. Assertive communication style

An assertive communicator shows confidence in what they say without monopolising the conversation. This communication style is the most effective at work because it encourages cooperation. As an assertive speaker, you consider the viewpoints of others while communicating your own perspective, seeking compromise when there’s a disagreement. 

Examples of an assertive communication style include:

  • ‘I understand your viewpoint, but I respectfully disagree for XYZ reasons.’

  • ‘I feel like you shouting over me during the meeting wasn’t productive to the discussion.’

  • ‘Does anyone else have any thoughts to share before we move on?’

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Tips for identifying your own communication style

  1. Self-reflection: Take time to reflect on your communication habits and how others respond to you.

  2. Feedback: Ask colleagues and friends for honest feedback on your communication style.

  3. Assessments: Use communication style assessments and quizzes to gain insights into your dominant style.

  4. Observation: Observe your reactions in different situations to identify patterns in your communication behaviour.

Communication skill improvement exercises

Skill

Tips

Active Listening

Maintain eye contact, avoid interrupting, summarise and reflect

Emotional Intelligence

Self-awareness, empathy, regulation

Cultural Awareness

Educate yourself, be open-minded, adapt your style

Exercise 1: Active listening

Objective: Improve your ability to listen and understand others.

Activity: Pair up with a colleague and take turns sharing a story. The listener must summarise the story and ask clarifying questions without interrupting.

Exercise 2: Role-playing

Objective: Practise different communication styles in a safe environment.

Activity: Role-play various workplace scenarios using different communication styles. Discuss the impact of each style on the conversation.

Exercise 3: Empathy mapping

Objective: Enhance your ability to understand others' perspectives.

Activity: Create an empathy map for a colleague or client, noting their feelings, thoughts, and needs. Use this map to guide your interactions with them.

Other frameworks: Four styles of communication

The Four Styles framework categorises communication into four types:

  1. Analytical: Focuses on facts and data, prefers structured and logical communication.

  2. Amiable: Values relationships and harmony, uses supportive and friendly communication.

  3. Expressive: Enthusiastic and persuasive, often uses storytelling and emotional appeal.

  4. Driver: Direct and results-oriented, prefers clear and concise communication.

Case studies on handling different communication styles

Case study: Managing aggressive communication

Scenario: A team leader frequently uses an aggressive communication style, causing team members to feel intimidated and reluctant to share ideas.

Approach: Implement assertive communication training and encourage the leader to adopt a more collaborative approach.

Outcome: The team leader learns to balance confidence with respect, leading to a more open and productive team environment.

Case study: Addressing passive communication

Scenario: An employee consistently avoids conflict and struggles to express their ideas in meetings.

Approach: Provide assertiveness training and create a safe space for the employee to share their thoughts.

Outcome: The employee gains confidence in their communication, contributing more effectively to team discussions.

Case study: Identifying passive-aggressive behaviour

Scenario: A team member uses passive-aggressive tactics, such as gossip and the silent treatment, to express dissatisfaction.

Approach: Conduct one-on-one meetings to address the behaviour and provide training on direct communication.

Outcome: The team member learns to express concerns openly, reducing workplace tension and improving team cohesion.

Tips on improving communication

Active Listening

  • Maintain eye contact: Show that you are engaged and interested.

  • Avoid interrupting: Let the speaker finish before responding.

  • Summarise and reflect: Repeat back what you heard to ensure understanding.

Emotional Intelligence

  • Self-awareness: Recognise your own emotions and how they affect your communication.

  • Empathy: Understand and acknowledge the emotions of others.

  • Regulation: Manage your emotional responses to maintain constructive communication.

Cultural Awareness

  • Educate yourself: Learn about different cultural norms and communication styles.

  • Be open-minded: Respect and value diverse perspectives.

  • Adapt your style: Adjust your communication approach to suit different cultural contexts.

Managing communication styles and team dynamics

Communication styles in team dynamics

  • Diverse teams: Embrace a mix of communication styles to leverage different strengths.

  • Conflict resolution: Use assertive communication to address conflicts and find common ground.

  • Team-building: Regularly engage in activities that promote understanding and collaboration among team members.

  • Clear guidelines: Establish communication protocols for remote teams, including preferred tools and response times.

  • Regular check-ins: Schedule frequent video calls to maintain connection and address any issues promptly.

  • Inclusive practices: Ensure all team members have equal opportunities to participate and share their views.

Frequently asked questions: Communication styles

What are the main communication styles?

The five main communications styles include:

  • Aggressive Communication. Used to monopolise the conversation.

  • Passive Communication. Used to avoid conflict.

  • Passive-aggressive Communication. Used to avoid conflict while still showing aggression.

  • Manipulative Communication. Used to guide the actions of others in the speaker’s favour.

  • Assertive Communication. Used to promote collaboration.

What is the best communication style?

The assertive communication style is considered the best for the workplace because it encourages productive discussions while minimising disagreements. 

The right communication for the right task

Most people use more than one communication style and switch depending on the situation. Keeping track of each team member’s primary speaking pattern can help put them where they’d see the most success. 

Personio makes it easy to find where each employee shines with its comprehensive analytics tool which provides in-depth insight into employee performance. Book your free demo to learn how Personio can help you better direct your team today.

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