Family Communication Styles

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Although communicating with family members may seem complex at times, family communication styles can be broken down into two major constructs: clearness of the message and directness of the communication. There are four basic communication styles: clear and direct, clear and indirect, masked and direct and masked and indirect. Clarity in communication refers to how easily a message is understood, while directness refers to whether the message is spoken directly to the person for whom it was intended.

Clear and Direct Communication

Clear and direct communication is considered the most healthy form of communication in families. Clear and direct communication occurs when a message is stated plainly and directly to the person for whom the message is intended. An example of clear and direct communication is a statement such as "Honey, I'm so proud of you for completing your homework early."

Clear and Indirect Communication

In clear and indirect communication, a message is clearly communicated, but the person for whom the message is intended is not clear. This type of communication in a family can be problematic, because the message may be generalized to multiple family members. "I'm disappointed that the dishes weren't washed tonight" sends a clear message, but does not address directly the person for whom the message is intended.

Masked and Direct Communication

Masked and direct communication occurs when a family member is directly identified, but the message communicated is not. Masked communication may be viewed as passive-aggressive, because it vaguely discusses concerns without directly addressing them. If you are upset with your son for not cleaning his room, stating "Son, some people just don't know how to keep their home clean" clearly identifies that you are speaking to your son, but does not clearly state your message.

Masked and Indirect Communication

The least effective method of communication is masked and indirect communication. This communication style does not identify the intended recipient for the message, nor does it clearly state the message that you are trying to convey. A statement such as "People don't care about keeping a clean house anymore," is both vague and does not directly identify any one person in the family.


The key to effective communication is realizing when you are using an ineffective method of communication and then reframing your statements to be both direct and clear. Indirect and masked styles of communication can lead to confusion and frustration within your family. Whenever possible, reframe your statements to be both clear and direct to avoid confusion and frustration due to miscommunication.