What are the main communication styles in the workplace?
There’s more to communication than words. Learning to identify different communication styles can improve collaboration – and influence your workplace culture for the better.
Everyone knows the feeling. You think you’ve given clear instructions or information to a colleague, but somehow, you’ve got your wires crossed.
Even worse, they seem unhappy with you, although you can’t see what you’ve done to offend them.
Sometimes the problem isn’t what you’re communicating but the way you’re doing it. People have different business communication styles. And it might be that yours doesn’t match with your colleague’s.
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Communication styles across age groups
Communication preferences can also differ across generations. Millennials and Gen Z are looking for – and expecting – different things to their older counterparts.
Failing to respond to different communication needs can hurt efficiency and lead to workplace isolation. So how can you make effective communication part of your workplace culture?
What are the main types of communication styles?
The first step to becoming a more effective communicator is to understand the communication style of the person you're dealing with. There are several models to describe communication styles in the workplace, and psychologists identify some key types:
Assertive communication style
This is the type of communication that everyone aspires to. The assertive communicator is calm, respectful, but makes their requirements known clearly and firmly.
Passive communication style
These people tend not to assert themselves and can store up grievances. They might let other people dominate conversations and can be poor at making eye contact.
Aggressive communication style
Aggressive communication can include interrupting, a failure to listen and speaking in a loud voice. Aggressive communicators are dominating which can lead to the impression that they’re leaders. However, this type of communication can descend into abuse.
Passive-aggressive communication style
These people appear to be passive. But under the surface, they’re often angry or discontent. They might show this by being sarcastic or sulking and may attempt to subtly undermine tasks.
It might be difficult to change the way someone interacts. But just recognizing how someone communicates – and being aware of your own style – can help you tailor your approach.
How can you work with different communication styles?
Now you've identified the type of communication styles you may encounter, you'll be in a better position to have constructive and effective conversations with people whatever their particular style. Here are three ideas to help you tailor your approach.
How do you deal with a passive communicator?
To deal with a passive communicator you need to understand they might not be making their true needs and feelings known. For example, they may say something doesn’t matter to them when really it does. They may also agree to do something when they don’t want to. The best approach to this is to be confident, definite and reassuring.
How do you deal with a passive-aggressive communicator?
In mild cases of passive aggression, you might be able to diffuse the situation with humor. However, in more serious cases you may need to tackle the problem more directly using formal procedures if necessary.
How do you deal with an aggressive communicator?
Experts recommend staying calm and professional and getting to the point. But most important is not to return the aggression. You’ll need to enlist the help of your HR team to tackle any abuse or bullying.
By enabling people to collaborate democratically on a task you can help boost the confidence of passive communicators. Or giving people the discipline of being part of a self-policing task-based group can also help temper aggression.
Methods of communication
Creating a workplace culture where people interact effectively also means being smart about communication methods.
For example, younger employees are looking for the immediacy of communication they experience in their personal lives to translate into the workplace.
And making sure you have the right tools to bring your Gen Y-ers into the conversation will boost their confidence and help avoid workplace isolation.
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