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Understanding Your Communication Style

 
Good communication skills require a high level of self-awareness. Understanding your personal style of communicating will go a long way toward helping you to create good and lasting impressions on others. By becoming more aware of how others perceive you, you can adapt more readily to their styles of communicating. This does not mean you have to be a chameleon, changing with every personality you meet. Instead, you can make another person more comfortable with you by selecting and emphasizing certain behaviors that fit within your personality and resonate with another.

There are three basic communication styles:
  • Aggressive
  • Passive
  • Assertive

Discovering which style best fits you can be done in a number of ways including personality tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) instrument, psychological assessments, and self-assessments.

(MBTI, Myers-Briggs, and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator are registered trademarks or trademarks of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Trust in the United States and other countries.)

Elements of the Aggressive Style

  1. Mottos and Beliefs
    • "Everyone should be like me."
    • "I am never wrong."
    • "I've got rights, but you don't."
  2. Communication Style
    • Close minded
    • Poor listener
    • Has difficulty seeing the other person's point of view
    • Interrupts
    • Monopolizing
  3. Characteristics
    • Achieves goals, often at others' expense
    • Domineering, bullying
    • Patronizing
    • Condescending, sarcastic
  4. Behavior
    • Puts others down
    • Doesn't ever think they are wrong
    • Bossy
    • Moves into people's space, overpowers
    • Jumps on others, pushes people around
    • Know-it-all attitude
    • Doesn't show appreciation
  5. Nonverbal Cues
    • Points, shakes finger
    • Frowns
    • Squints eyes critically
    • Glares
    • Stares
    • Rigid posture
    • Critical, loud, yelling tone of voice
    • Fast, clipped speech
  6. Verbal Cues
    • "You must (should, ought better)."
    • "Don't ask why. Just do it."
    • Verbal abuse
  7. Confrontation and Problem Solving
    • Must win arguments, threatens, attacks
    • Operates from win/lose position
  8. Feelings Felt
    • Anger
    • Hostility
    • Frustration
    • Impatience
  9. Effects
    • Provokes counteraggression, alienation from others, ill health
    • Wastes time and energy oversupervising others
    • Pays high price in human relationships
    • Fosters resistance, defiance, sabotaging, striking back, forming alliances, lying, covering up
    • Forces compliance with resentment
Elements of the Passive Style
  1. Mottoes and Beliefs
    • "Don't express your true feelings."
    • "Don't make waves."
    • "Don't disagree."
    • "Others have more rights than I do."
  2. Communication Style
    • Indirect
    • Always agrees
    • Doesn't speak up
    • Hesitant
  3. Characteristics
    • Apologetic, self-conscious
    • Trusts others, but not self
    • Doesn't express own wants and feelings
    • Allows others to make decisions for self
    • Doesn't get what he or she wants
  4. Behaviors
    • Sighs a lot
    • Tries to sit on both sides of the fence to avoid conflict
    • Clams up when feeling treated unfairly
    • Asks permission unnecessarily
    • Complains instead of taking action
    • Lets others make choices
    • Has difficulty implementing plans
    • Self-effacing
  5. Nonverbal Cues
    • Fidgets
    • Nods head often; comes across as pleading
    • Lack of facial animation
    • Smiles and nods in agreement
    • Downcast eyes
    • Slumped posture
    • Low volume, meek
    • Up talk
    • Fast, when anxious; slow, hesitant, when doubtful
  6. Verbal Cues
    • "You should do it."
    • "You have more experience than I do."
    • "I can't......"
    • "This is probably wrong, but..."
    • "I'll try..."
    • Monotone, low energy
  7. Confrontation and Problem Solving
    • Avoids, ignores, leaves, postpones
    • Withdraws, is sullen and silent
    • Agrees externally, while disagreeing internally
    • Expends energy to avoid conflicts that are anxiety provoking
    • Spends too much time asking for advice, supervision
    • Agrees too often
  8. Feelings Felt
    • Powerlessness
    • Wonders why doesn't receive credit for good work
    • Chalks lack of recognition to others' inabilities
  9. Effects
    • Gives up being him or herself
    • Builds dependency relationships
    • Doesn't know where he or she stands
    • Slowly loses self esteem
    • Promotes others' causes
    • Is not well-liked

Elements of the Assertive Style

  1. Mottoes and Beliefs
    • Believes self and others are valuable
    • Knowing that assertiveness doesn't mean you always win, but that you handled the situation as effectively as possible
    • "I have rights and so do others."
  2. Communication Style
    • Effective, active listener
    • States limits, expectations
    • States observations, no labels or judgments
    • Expresses self directly, honestly, and as soon as possible about feelings and wants
    • Checks on others feelings
  3. Characteristics
    • Non-judgmental
    • Observes behavior rather than labeling it
    • Trusts self and others
    • Confident
    • Self-aware
    • Open, flexible, versatile
    • Playful, sense of humor
    • Decisive
    • Proactive, initiating
  4. Behavior
    • Operates from choice
    • Knows what it is needed and develops a plan to get it
    • Action-oriented
    • Firm
    • Realistic in her expectations
    • Fair, just
    • Consistent
    • Takes appropriate action toward getting what she wants without denying rights of others
  5. Nonverbal Cues
    • Open, natural gestures
    • Attentive, interested facial expression
    • Direct eye contact
    • Confident or relaxed posture
    • Vocal volume appropriate, expressive
    • Varied rate of speech
  6. Verbal Cues
    • "I choose to..."
    • "What are my options?"
    • "What alternatives do we have?"
  7. Confrontation and Problem Solving
    • Negotiates, bargains, trades off, compromises
    • Confronts problems at the time they happen
    • Doesn't let negative feelings build up
  8. Feelings Felt
    • Enthusiasm
    • Well being
    • Even tempered
  9. Effects
    • Increased self-esteem and self-confidence
    • Increased self-esteem of others
    • Feels motivated and understood
    • Others know where they stand
Clearly, the assertive style is the one to strive for. Keep in mind that very few people are all one or another style. In fact, the aggressive style is essential at certain times such as:
  • when a decision has to be made quickly;
  • during emergencies;
  • when you know you're right and that fact is crucial;
  • stimulating creativity by designing competitions destined for use in training or to increase productivity.
Passiveness also has its critical applications:
  • when an issue is minor;
  • when the problems caused by the conflict are greater than the conflict itself;
  • when emotions are running high and it makes sense to take a break in order to calm down and regain perspective;
  • when your power is much lower than the other party's;
  • when the other's position is impossible to change for all practical purposes (i.e., government policies, etc.).

Remaining aware of your own communication style and fine-tuning it as time goes by gives you the best chance of success in business and life.

(Ruth Sherman, President, Ruth Sherman Associates, LLC, Greenwich, CT, 1/99)