Communication Styles Essay

Being assertive means respecting yourself and other people. It is the ability to clearly express your thoughts and feelings through open, honest and direct communication.

Becoming more assertive does not mean that you will always get what you want - but, it can help you achieve a compromise. And even if you don't get the outcome you want, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you handled the situation well, and that there are no ill feelings between you and the other person or people involved in the discussion.

Communicating assertively is not a skill reserved for the very few – anyone can do it - but, it does take time and practice if it is not how you are used to communicating. Fortunately, it is a technique you can practice and master at home in your own time – either by yourself or with a friend you can trust to give you honest feedback. Remember to also think about how the person you are talking to may react and how best you might cope with this.

Before deciding that you would like to communicate assertively, you need to have an understanding of what your usual style of communication is. There are five communication styles, and while many of us may use different styles in different situations, most will fall back on one particular style, which we use as our 'default' style.

The Five Communication Styles

  • Assertive

  • Aggressive

  • Passive-aggressive

  • Submissive

  • Manipulative

Different sorts of behaviour and language are characteristic of each.

The Assertive Style

Assertive communication is born of high self-esteem. It is the healthiest and most effective style of communication - the sweet spot between being too aggressive and too passive. When we are assertive, we have the confidence to communicate without resorting to games or manipulation. We know our limits and don't allow ourselves to be pushed beyond them just because someone else wants or needs something from us. Surprisingly, however, Assertive is the style most people use least.

Behavioural Characteristics

  • Achieving goals without hurting others
  • Protective of own rights and respectful of others' rights
  • Socially and emotionally expressive
  • Making your own choices and taking responsibility for them
  • Asking directly for needs to be met, while accepting the possibility of rejection
  • Accepting compliments

Non-Verbal Behaviour

  • Voice – medium pitch and speed and volume
  • Posture – open posture, symmetrical balance, tall, relaxed, no fidgeting
  • Gestures – even, rounded, expansive
  • Facial expression – good eye contact
  • Spatial position – in control, respectful of others

Language

  • "Please would you turn the volume down? I am really struggling to concentrate on my studies."
  • "I am so sorry, but I won't be able to help you with your project this afternoon, as I have a dentist appointment."

People on the Receiving end Feel

  • They can take the person at their word
  • They know where they stand with the person
  • The person can cope with justified criticism and accept compliments
  • The person can look after themselves
  • Respect for the person

The Aggressive Style

This style is about winning – often at someone else's expense. An aggressive person behaves as if their needs are the most important, as though they have more rights, and have more to contribute than other people. It is an ineffective communication style as the content of the message may get lost because people are too busy reacting to the way it's delivered.

Behavioural Characteristics

  • Frightening, threatening, loud, hostile
  • Willing to achieve goals at expense of others
  • Out to "win"
  • Demanding, abrasive
  • Belligerent
  • Explosive, unpredictable
  • Intimidating
  • Bullying

Non-Verbal Behaviour

  • Voice – volume is loud
  • Posture – 'bigger than' others
  • Gestures - big, fast, sharp/jerky
  • Facial expression – scowl, frown, glare
  • Spatial position - Invade others' personal space, try to stand 'over' others

Language

  • "You are crazy!"
  • "Do it my way!"
  • "You make me sick!"
  • "That is just about enough out of you!"
  • Sarcasm, name-calling, threatening, blaming, insulting.

People on the Receiving end Feel

  • Defensive, aggressive (withdraw or fight back)
  • Uncooperative
  • Resentful/Vengeful
  • Humiliated/degraded
  • Hurt
  • Afraid
  • A loss of respect for the aggressive person
  • Mistakes and problems are not reported to an aggressive person in case they "blow up'. Others are afraid of being railroaded, exploited or humiliated.

The Passive-Aggressive Style

This is a style in which people appear passive on the surface, but are actually acting out their anger in indirect or behind-the-scenes ways. Prisoners of War often act in passive-aggressive ways in order to deal with an overwhelming lack of power. People who behave in this manner usually feel powerless and resentful, and express their feelings by subtly undermining the object (real or imagined) of their resentments – even if this ends up sabotaging themselves. The expression "Cut off your nose to spite your face" is a perfect description of passive-aggressive behaviour.

Behavioural Characteristics

  • Indirectly aggressive
  • Sarcastic
  • Devious
  • Unreliable
  • Complaining
  • Sulky
  • Patronising
  • Gossips
  • Two-faced - Pleasant to people to their faces, but poisonous behind their backs (rumours, sabotage etc.) People do things to actively harm the other party e.g. they sabotage a machine by loosening a bolt or put too much salt in their food.

Non-Verbal Behaviour

  • Voice – Often speaks with a sugary sweet voice.
  • Posture – often asymmetrical – e.g. Standing with hand on hip, and hip thrust out (when being sarcastic or patronising)
  • Gestures – Can be jerky, quick
  • Facial expression – Often looks sweet and innocent
  • Spatial position – often too close, even touching other as pretends to be warm and friendly

Language

  • Passive-aggressive language is when you say something like "Why don't you go ahead and do it; my ideas aren't very good anyway" but maybe with a little sting of irony or even worse, sarcasm, such as "You always know better in any case."
  • "Oh don't you worry about me, I can sort myself out – like I usually have to."

People on the Receiving end Feel

  • Confused
  • Angry
  • Hurt
  • Resentful

The Submissive Style

This style is about pleasing other people and avoiding conflict. A submissive person behaves as if other peoples' needs are more important, and other people have more rights and more to contribute.

Behavioural Characteristics

  • Apologetic (feel as if you are imposing when you ask for what you want)
  • Avoiding any confrontation
  • Finding difficulty in taking responsibility or decisions
  • Yielding to someone else's preferences (and discounting own rights and needs)
  • Opting out
  • Feeling like a victim
  • Blaming others for events
  • Refusing compliments
  • Inexpressive (of feelings and desires)

Non-Verbal Behaviour

  • Voice – Volume is soft
  • Posture – make themselves as small as possible, head down
  • Gestures – twist and fidget
  • Facial expression – no eye contact
  • Spatial position – make themselves smaller/lower than others
  • Submissive behaviour is marked by a martyr-like attitude (victim mentality) and a refusal to try out initiatives, which might improve things.

Language

  • "Oh, it's nothing, really."
  • "Oh, that's all right; I didn't want it anymore."
  • "You choose; anything is fine."

People on the Receiving end Feel

  • Exasperated
  • Frustrated
  • Guilty
  • You don't know what you want (and so discount you)
  • They can take advantage of you.
  • Others resent the low energy surrounding the submissive person and eventually give up trying to help them because their efforts are subtly or overtly rejected.

The Manipulative Style

This style is scheming, calculating and shrewd. Manipulative communicators are skilled at influencing or controlling others to their own advantage. Their spoken words hide an underlying message, of which the other person may be totally unaware.

Behavioural Characteristics

  • Cunning
  • Controlling of others in an insidious way – for example, by sulking
  • Asking indirectly for needs to be met
  • Making others feel obliged or sorry for them.
  • Uses 'artificial' tears

Non-Verbal Behaviour

  • Voice – patronising, envious, ingratiating, often high pitch
  • Facial expression – Can put on the 'hang dog" expression

Language

  • "You are so lucky to have those chocolates, I wish I had some. I can't afford such expensive chocolates."
  • "I didn't have time to buy anything, so I had to wear this dress. I just hope I don't look too awful in it." ('Fishing' for a compliment).

People on the Receiving end Feel

  • Guilty
  • Frustrated
  • Angry, irritated or annoyed
  • Resentful
  • Others feel they never know where they stand with a manipulative person and are annoyed at constantly having to try to work out what is going on.

Source: The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. 2nd edition. Edmund J Bourne. New Harbinger Publications, Inc. 1995.

The Benefits of Understanding the Different Styles of Communication

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. It will also help you recognise when you are not being assertive or not behaving in the most effective way. Remember, you always have a choice as to which communication style you use. Being assertive is usually the most effective, but other styles are, of course, necessary in certain situations – such as being submissive when under physical threat (a mugging, hijacking etc.).

Good communication skills require a high level of self-awareness. Once you understand your own communication style, it is much easier to identify any shortcomings or areas which can be improved on, if you want to start communicating in a more assertive manner.

If you're serious about strengthening your relationships, reducing stress from conflict and decreasing unnecessary anxiety in your life, practice being more assertive. It will help you diffuse anger, reduce guilt and build better relationships both personally and professionally.

Remember the first rule of effective communication: The success of the communication is the responsibility of the communicator.

This article was published on my website in July 2011.

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People often talk about cultural differences between western and eastern countries. Indeed, the way of thinking, traditions, religious customs, living conditions, and so on in these countries are way different from one another; however, how about the western world itself? Surprisingly, a closer look at it can reveal a multitude of curious details regarding the way people of, for example, Europe and North America speak, behave, and communicate in general. In fact, the differences between Europeans and Americans are so numerous that one could write a book about it.

Perhaps, the most obvious trait of the majority of Americans is that they smile a lot. It does not matter whether they have a strong reason to smile, they do it. A smile is not just a powerful marketing tool, helping vendors sell more goods or attract customers; for an American, it is also a way to show that someone is friendly, that life in general is fine, and that a person is glad to see you when meeting you. Europeans, on the contrary, prefer to keep a more neutral facial expression. They smile mostly when they are in a good mood, or feel amused, and so on; however, if there is no strong reason to smile, a European’s face will remain neutral, or even dull. This especially refers to eastern European people; in Russia, for example, there is a proverb saying that “laughing for no reason is a sign of a fool.” Still, it does not mean that Europeans are grim, or that they do not have a sense of humor. The same refers to communication in general. Americans are extremely communicative; small talk and chats are common. Europeans talk mostly when there is something to say, and rarely enter communication just for the sake of talking to other people.

The next big difference is political correctness. America does a great job by making so many ethnic and religious groups of people live together peacefully, and political correctness is a big helping hand in this. However, there is a downside: you have to pay attention to what you say all the time, because an average American is rather easy to insult. Even a friend’s constructive criticism may be perceived as an intrusion or an insult. American people prefer to express what they think carefully, considering how it might affect surrounding people. Europeans, although being quite politically correct as well, are more straightforward, even with unfamiliar people. A European friend will almost always express their opinion on different occasions, and will not hesitate to remind you that you need to lose some weight, dump your partner, or take a shower.

Americans are a nation of great contrasts. Perhaps only in America you can find incredibly open-minded and flexible people who can easily embrace everything new, incorporate it in their lives, and enjoy it; in this country, you can find religious fanatics that still believe in the manifest destiny. Europeans are moderately conservative; although they do not strongly oppose new ideas and can tolerate many novelties, they are mostly people adhering to older ways and traditions. There are many religious people in Europe (as well as atheists) but unlike Americans, they do not manifest their spiritual orientation as often.

Although Europe and America are parts of the western world, people inhabiting them are different in a lot of ways. Generally, it can be said that Americans are people of contrasts. They are open-minded, flexible, and ready to embrace everything new; but at the same time, American society manages to breed incredible conservatives and religious fanatics. Europeans, compared to Americans, are more moderate. Furthermore, Americans smile a lot—sometimes simply because of etiquette; Europeans mostly smile for a reason, and if there is none, they prefer to keep a neutral facial expression. Americans are extremely politically correct; in the majority of cases, it is indeed a beneficiary practice, but it can also mess up daily or even intimate communications, sometimes preventing having close relationships; Europeans, on the contrary, are more straightforward, preferring to tell the truth in direct (although maybe not pleasant) ways. Each way of communication is different—neither is correct or incorrect.

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