Managers: How to Identify the 5 Communication Styles

Learn about the five styles of communication (assertive, passive, aggressive, submissive, and manipulative) and best practices to manage different personalities effectively. 

As a manager, it’s important for you to understand how to manage different communication styles in order for your team to be productive, successful and satisfied. As you know, your team is made up of unique individuals who all have their own way of communicating. Your role as a manager is to navigate these differences so that you can take advantage of your team members’ competencies.

In order to understand other peoples’ communication styles, it’s crucial for you to understand your own. Understanding other people tends to begin with working on our own self-awareness. A recent article by Forbes highlights the importance of self-awareness in tailoring your communication style appropriately, in different instances: 

“The key is to first understand your own particular communication style so you can match your communication style to that of your audience. Whether you’re speaking with your boss, a small sales meeting, your employees or an audience of thousands, matching your communication styles to the folks you need to hear your words is an essential step to effective communication.” 

In order to support you in understanding the 5 main communication styles, Fellow has put together a comprehensive guide that explains what communication styles are and details each communication style, including why it’s effective or ineffective. Keep scrolling down to get started!

What are communication styles?

Communication styles are different approaches to expressing our thoughts, feelings and opinions. As a leader, it’s important to remember communication is multi-faceted and includes verbal and non-verbal communication, such as body language and facial expressions.

Why should managers learn about their team’s communication styles?

Strong communicators tailor their communication style to the audience they’re in conversation with. As a manager or team lead, it’s important to understand your audience in order to communicate in a way that is going to be well-received. If you choose the wrong communication approach, it can cause individuals to not listen, feel disengaged or even spark conflict. That’s why it’s important you understand different communication styles to choose the most effective means of communication possible.

According to Psychologist and Coach Claire Newton, a good understanding of the five basic styles of communication will help you learn how to react most effectively when confronted with a difficult person.

“Remember, you always have a choice as to which communication style you use,” says Claire Newton. “Being assertive is usually the most effective, but other styles are, of course, necessary in certain situations. If you’re serious about strengthening your relationships, reducing stress from conflict and decreasing unnecessary anxiety in your life, practice being more assertive.”

5 Types of Communication Styles 

There are 5 main types of communication styles. Before we take a look at each style in detail here they are at a glance: 

  1. Passive communication
  2. Aggressive communication
  3. Submissive communication
  4. Manipulative communication
  5. Assertive communication 

These styles are used for both written and verbal communication. While they’re all very common in the corporate world, the assertive style is typically seen as the most effective communication style because it’s essentially a combination of the positive aspects of the other styles. Without further ado, let’s get into the details of each style: 

1 Passive communication 

Passive communication is typically associated with individuals who agree to whatever the others in the group want. Their individual opinions are kept to themselves, even when they tend not to agree, which causes passive-aggressive communication to take place. When a passive communicator fails to stand up for themselves time and time again, it can lead to frustration and resentment. An article by Learning Hub, depicts the passive communication style very effectively: 

“The passive communication style is often used by those who want to come off as indifferent about the topic at hand. They either keep their opinions to themselves or try to make it seem as if they support every piece of input in the discussion. When speaking, passive communicators will display insecure nonverbal communication cues by not making eye contact, slouching their shoulders, or shrugging when people ask them for some input.” 

Why is the passive communication style ineffective?

This style of communication is ineffective because the authentic ideas and thoughts of the individual are usually not shared with the rest of the team, thus putting a limit on the information that is distributed amongst the team. Simply agreeing with the majority doesn’t mean that these ideas are the most suitable or appropriate but simply, the most popular opinion. 

Pro Tip

“Managing conversations with a large group can be challenging. As a facilitator, it’s your responsibility to avoid groupthink and encourage everyone to have a voice.”

– Noah Levin, The Anatomy of a Meeting (team meetings guide)

2 Aggressive communication

Aggressive communication is characterized by being controlling, demanding and sometimes hostile. As a polar-opposite of passive communication, an aggressive communicator will openly express their opinion without thinking twice, usually in a loud and dominant voice. These communicators are often insensitive to the rights of their peers and push people away by being disrespectful. Voicing opinions are important but when you express your viewpoint in a malicious, abusive way, it becomes completely ineffective. 

Why is the agressive communication style ineffective?

Usually, aggressive communicators want to intimidate others and get their way because others are too afraid to speak up against them. This completely defeats the purpose of having an honest conversation, which is meant to be an open dialogue, where each person involved has a chance to share their ideas and also listen to others. 

Pro Tip

Be on the lookout for interruptions. If someone on your team gets cut off by an aggressive communicator, provide cover by saying “Hang on, [Name] wasn’t finished.”

3 Submissive communication

Submissive communicators are people who avoid conflict at all costs. This type of communicator tends to believe that other peoples’ needs are more important than their own and feel as if other peoples’ opinions are more intelligent and more valid than theirs. Psychologist, Claire Newton provides some behavioural characteristics of submissive communicators, highlighting: 

“A submissive person behaves as if other peoples’ needs are more important, and other people have more rights and more to contribute. Behavioural characteristics include: Apologetic, avoid any confrontation, find difficulty in taking responsibility or decisions, yielding to someone else’s preferences (and discounting own rights and needs), opting out, and feeling like a victim.” 

Why is the submissive communication style ineffective?

This style of communication is ineffective because it discounts the individuals’ own rights and needs. Having a victim mentality can be extremely harmful and is typically associated with a refusal to try new things. If you aren’t open to try new things, then you aren’t open to learn, grow and improve things. This is especially ineffective when a submissive communicator allows others to make decisions for them, losing sight of their wants and needs. 

Pro Tip

Foster a welcoming environment and encourage submissive communicators to speak up by repeating that everyone’s input matters and there are no “stupid” ideas or questions.

4 Manipulative communication

Manipulative communicators are skilled at doing whatever it takes to gain a personal advantage in any given situation. There’s usually an underlying motive when they’re speaking and they try to influence others to their own advantage.

Why is the manipulative communication style ineffective?

This is an ineffective way to communicate because other people never know where they stand with a manipulative person. If you can’t trust your employees or co-workers, it creates a huge disadvantage on productivity and efficiency. Constantly having to decipher someone’s opinions and ideas to understand their true motive is exhausting. Being cunning and controlling is going to put a huge divide in the team, preventing collaboration, effective teamwork, and amicable work relationships. 

Pro Tip

“When you hear an unreasonable solicitation, it’s sometimes useful to put the focus back on the manipulator by asking a few probing questions, to see if she or he has enough self-awareness to recognize the inequity of their scheme.”

Psychology Today

5 Assertive communication

Of the 5 communication styles, assertive communication is believed to be the most effective. Assertive communicators are able to express their honest thoughts in a polite and respectful way that considers other peoples’ opinions and feelings. The DS Psychology Group effectively describe this style of communication stating that assertive communication means: 

Woman on Video Call Outside

“Directly, honestly and appropriately stating what your thoughts, feelings, needs or wants are. You take responsibility for yourself and are respectful to others. You are an effective listener and problem solver. You stand up for yourself in a way that does not violate the rights of others.” 

Assertive communicators respect the values, thoughts, and ideas of others, speaking in a calm voice while making non-threatening eye contact. 

Why should you use an assertive communication style?

Assertive communication fosters an environment to have an equal, two-way conversation where each individual feels safe to express their feelings. Because this style of communication encourages transparency, it allows individuals to build stronger working relationships. Assertive communicators tend to ask for feedback and feel comfortable providing it to their team members as well. This fosters a culture of continuous growth and improvement

7 Tips for being an assertive communicator

  1. Ask for feedback and be open to constructive criticism
  2. Work on your active listening skills
  3. Be empathetic and try to understand the other person’s perspective
  4. Encourage honesty and transparency
  5. Remain calm (don’t react aggressively to threatening situations)
  6. Take responsibility for your actions
  7. Don’t interrupt others (give quieter members of the team an opportunity to express their thoughts and ideas)

Conclusion

In making an effort to understand the 5 communication styles described in this article, not only are you working on your own communication skills but you’re learning about the most effective way to communicate with different types of people you work with. While focusing on how to react to certain individuals and certain situations, you’re going to notice an improvement in your professional relationships and synchronicity with your team. Even better, having this understanding can help reduce stress and avoid conflicts.

Forbes reinforces these ideas in their article about communication styles: 

“No one communication style is inherently better than another. But picking the wrong style for a particular audience, whether it’s one person or a thousand, shuts down listening and can spell trouble. Learning to build flexibility around your preferred style allows others to more successfully hear the important things you need to communicate.” 

Be sure to refer back to this guide on how to identify the 5 communication styles at work whenever you need a reminder, or simply some inspiration. The more you work on understanding these different ways of communicating, the more you’ll feel equipped to manage different personalities effectively. 

Related Posts