What’s Your Communication Style?

January 31, 2013

By Jarvis Johnson, LMFT

It is essential in relationships to keep the lines of communication clear or problems are likely to build up and get worse, particularly if ignored or used as the excuse to attack or blame the ones you love.  With assertive communication, the main goal is to promote mutual respect, not just to get your way or change the other person and make them think like you do.   It’s to promote respect for both parties and demonstrate this in the context of addressing problems.    There are several patterns that are easy to identify in communicating: Passive, Aggressive, Passive-Aggressive, and Assertive.

  •  Passive:  This is when a person typically ignores a problem, hopes it goes away without talking about it, “sweep it under the rug” or to placate (tell the other person what you think they want to hear). The problem with these techniques is over time these behaviors create resentment, anger, possibly even an explosive episode of “I can’t take this anymore!”  This is not the desired result of peace.
  • Aggressive: This is when the person chooses to solve problems with loud, angry, demanding, blaming behaviors.  “If I yell long and loud enough I’ll get my way and problem solved.”  In the short term these work and will get you the desired outcome.  But the problem with these behaviors is that they create problems with others; they become hostile, defensive or withdrawn from you and will not want to deal with you over time.   It’s important to note the desired outcomes and the unintended outcomes are the result of our choices and behaviors.
  • Passive-Aggressive: This is when a person acts compliant and passive in their actions but are secretly sabotaging behind the scenes.   This person will appear to be cooperative but will often be late, will not complete a task and will deny being angry yet will express it indirectly.
  • Assertive Communication: This is the preferred method for addressing conflicts, disagreements or anger-provoking issues with those we care for.  It is easy to forget in a conflict that we care about others and want to have a good relationship with them or have to live with them and would like to stop certain negative behaviors that make this harder.

Assertive communication is always the preferred way to communicate.  There are three parts to assertive communication.

  1. Behavior:  You begin with a statement about the event, behavior and facts, not your opinion of the event or the person.  Start with one sentence about stating the problem or issue from your perspective.  For example, “When you are a half hour late and don’t call me…”
  2. Feeling:  Then express why this issue is so important to you and use just one word such as “angry…irritated…annoyed…disrespected…” This shows the impact this behavior has on you, the speaker, without going into a long history or compounding it with name-calling or ignoring.
  3. Fair Request: Now, what is it you would like this person to do?  Address the BEHAVIOR you would like, and if speaking to another adult ASK.  Be sure it is a behavior you request as this is the only thing another person can change if they choose to.  Be specific and address one issue at a time. For example, “When you know you’ll be a half hour late please call me to let me know.”     This is an alternative to the passive approach of avoidance or aggressive approach of getting your way regardless of the cost to others or passive-aggressive approach which leads others to guess what is wrong or what to do.

About the Author 

Jarvis Johnson is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist at Novell and Novell Counseling.  To schedule an appointment with Jarvis, please call 951-252-9911.