Unlocking the art of communication: adapting your communication style for success

Unlocking the art of communication: adapting your communication style for success

Whether it is in our personal or professional lives, communication is a fundamental aspect of the relationships we build and maintain. This is why understanding your communication style and the impact it has is so important.

The four styles of communication

There are four main styles of communication and each one has a considerable effect on the outcomes of negotiations and our professional relationships. 

  1. Passive communication is where an individual avoids expressing their own needs, opinions, and feelings. Rather, they tend to accept other people’s opinions and preferences as their ownThose with a passive communication style will rarely assert themselves and this may lead to having unmet needs or misunderstandings (Mitashree, 2018).  
  1. Aggressive communication has individuals expressing their thoughts, needs and wants in a forceful manner (Rancer and Avtgis, 2006). Individuals with an aggressive communication style tend to disregard the feelings or needs of others, if it means getting what they want. This forceful approach tends to yield good results for the aggressor, but often leads to conflicts and strained or lost relationships.  
  1. Passive-aggressive communication is where individuals covertly or indirectly express their opinions and needs. They tend to retaliate and express their frustrations in a subtle manner. Similar to passive communicators, they do not address issues directly, but unlike aggressive communicators, their discontent is not expressed overtly (Johnson & Klee, 2007)
  1. Assertive communication involves an individual expressing their thoughts, needs and wants in a clear and direct manner. Individuals with this style understand how to clearly communicate what they need with respect to the feelings and needs of others (Mitashree, 2018). In the workplace, this approach represents the ideal balance between expressing one’s opinions and needs, and ensuring a favourable outcome for all parties involved.

While some people may have a single dominant communication style, others can also have a combination of styles.

Adapting your communication style

From passive to assertive:

  • Practise, practise, practise! Rehearse the conversations you anticipate you will be having to figure out what you want you want to get out of them and to build your confidence in expressing your opinions and needs.
  • Ask for feedback or mentorship from someone you trust and know is an assertive communicator. 
  • Don’t fear conflict. Conflicts are a part of social interactions and knowing how to resolve conflict is a valuable skill in any field. This may sound easier said than done, but Googling “overcoming fear of conflict training” yields a wealth of resources, from Harvard Business Review articles to YouTube videos created by qualified professionals to medically reviewed psychology studies outlining a range of practical tips.

From aggressive to assertive:

  • Without getting defensive, practise listening actively and with an open mind to understand what others are saying.
  • Gather feedback from people you interact with on how you can improve your communication.
  • Be open to negotiations. Negotiations help ensure that all parties involved can get a favourable outcome.  
  • Check out this article published by the Manhattan Center for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to see an interesting comparison of the same scenario approached with an aggressive communication style and with an assertive communication style.

Human interactions are a part of everyday life. Understanding and being able to adapt our communication style is how we can begin to use it to our advantage, not only in the workplace but in life more broadly too (Maloney & Moore, 2020).


Arocho, J. (2021). Assertive vs. Aggressive: What’s the Difference? Manhattan Center for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. https://www.manhattancbt.com/archives/4246/assertive-vs-aggressive/

Babitha, D. & Appavu, S. (2021). Assertiveness: A Review.  Asian Journal of Nursing Education and Research, 11(2), 294–298. https://doi.org/10.5958/2349-2996.2021.00071.9

Johnson, N. J., & Klee, T. (2007). Passive-Aggressive Behavior and Leadership Styles in Organizations. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 14(2), 130–142. https://doi.org/10.1177/1071791907308044

Maloney, M. E., & Moore, P. (2020). From aggressive to assertive. International Journal of Women’s Dermatology, 6(1), 46–49. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijwd.2019.09.006

Mitashree, T. (2018). Assertiveness – A win-win approach to business communication. IUP Journal of Soft Skills, 12(2). https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/assertiveness-win-approach-business-communication/docview/2064878987/se-2

Ogunyemi, K. O., & Olagbaju, O. O. (2020). Effects of Assertive and Aggressive Communication Styles on Students’ Self-Esteem and Achievement in English Language. Cross-Cultural Communication, 16(1), 96–101. https://doi.org/10.3968/11594

Rancer, A. S., & Avtgis, T. A. (2006). Argumentative and aggressive communication: theory, research, and application. Sage Publications.

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