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5 Types of Communication Styles in the Workplace

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.

Key Facts

  • Communication style is comprised of tone, word choice and action.

  • Each communication style brings with it advantages and drawbacks.

  • Improving your style means learning to hold genuine conversations with others.

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

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 To Improve Your Communication Style

If you feel like your communication skills, or the skills of your managers, could use a tune-up, below are a few steps you can take to help you improve them.

Have Conversations, Not Lectures

Effective communication is a two-way street, so engaging with the other speaker’s viewpoints is important. Give them space to share their options and practise active listening when it’s their turn to speak. Discourse on certain topics keeps people engaged with what you have to say, while giving an unprompted lecture will make employees tune you out.

Show Empathy and Authenticity

Genuine care and personal responsibility play key roles in developing a natural charisma. Strive to see every conversation through your employee’s eyes to understand their viewpoint better.  Try using ‘I’ statements to better articulate your point of view while avoiding putting your own issues on the shoulders of others.

Be Open to Feedback 

Feedback helps you improve your communication skills by getting a perspective outside your own. Constructive feedback from your team can identify issues in your tone and word choice that you may not have noticed otherwise. 

Frequently Asked Questions About 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. 

Use the Right Style 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.

Disclaimer

We would like to inform you that the contents of our website (including any legal contributions) are for non-binding informational purposes only and does not in any way constitute legal advice. The content of this information cannot and is not intended to replace individual and binding legal advice from e.g. a lawyer that addresses your specific situation. In this respect, all information provided is without guarantee of correctness, completeness and up-to-dateness.

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