We are constantly communicating to others our thoughts and feelings, whether we are aware of it or not. Our words, our actions, our gestures and posture all send signals. There are four basic styles of communication: aggressive, passive, assertive and passive-aggressive.
Aggressive communication displays a lack of regard for other people and assumes that others are inferior. Someone whose communication behaviors are aggressive interrupts others frequently, disregards what others say and has no qualms about literally taking over someone else’s space. An aggressive communicator attacks, verbally or physically, and thinks that all problems are someone else’s fault and also believes that everyone else is obligated to provide whatever he or she wants, writes psychotherapist Jinnie Cristerna in the Today's Chicago Woman article "4 Styles of Communication." These communicators use intimidation and humiliation to get what they want, and they feel their behavior is justified.
Assertive behaviors are those that firmly demonstrate a person’s desires and sense of self without overstepping boundaries. People with an assertive style of communication speak clearly and confidently, control their emotions and respect the needs of others while still getting their own needs met. This person strikes others as a good listener, a fair person, and someone who feels content with his or her life.
Unlike assertive behavior, passive behavior expresses little or no confidence. Someone whose communication style is passive sends signals of weakness via behaviors such as poor posture, a quiet voice and a lack of eye contact. This communication style is replete with an avoidance of expressing opinions and needs. This individual may even appear apologetic for having any needs.
Much like passive communication behaviors, passive-aggressive behaviors display a lack of confidence and strength; however, as with aggressive communication, passive-aggressive communicators show a need to express emotions -- but in a fearful way. People who communicate in this way may avoid the objects of the their anger while releasing anger indirectly, such as through backhanded compliments or talking negatively about others behind their backs. The passive-aggressive communicator is the person who smiles at you when he or she is actually angry with you, the person who appears calm and cooperative but subtly disrupts, spread rumors and sabotages, according to Signe Whitson, a licensed social worker, in the Psychology Today article "Passive Aggressive vs. Assertive Behavior in Relationships." This type of communicator does whatever it takes to quietly get revenge.
Shawna Van Trease has been a freelance copy editor and writer since 2007. She has written extensively for private clients, including market research and website development firms. Van Trease holds a Master of Arts in social work from the University of Chicago.