Andrew McNaughton, LCSW, CADC

Let’s face it, we all would benefit from improving our communication with each other. While I recommend therapy for anyone seeking to improve their communication skills, this blog will present a basic overview on some of the styles and techniques that can be used to improve your communication.

The Four Communication Styles

  • Passive communication occurs when we do not directly communicate our preferences and put the needs of others ahead of our own. This happens as a result of not setting or enforcing clear and consistent boundaries. Sometimes passive communicators take on the role of a martyr, though indirectly drawing attention to this role would be considered Passive-Aggressive.
  • Passive-aggressive communication indirectly communicates preferences in a manner that is covertly hostile towards others. It can include making passing comments spoken aloud in the presence of others, using sarcasm or excusing hurtful remarks as humor, making audible noises to indicate dissatisfaction (sighs, groans, whispered mutterings, etc.), using physical gestures like stomping around or slamming doors, or being unresponsive to direct communication, also known as the silent treatment.
  • Aggressive communication is characterized by overtly hostile demanding of others. Traits of aggressive communication include raised voices, hurling insults, making verbal threats, cursing, intimidation, and making demands. This may occur along with physically aggressive gestures such as looming, cornering, breaking or throwing things, and making unwanted contact like pushing or hitting.
  • Assertive communication is a direct statement of preference. Say what you mean and mean what you say using clear, consistent, and calm communication. It is honest and direct communication of boundaries, but also expresses a willingness to be flexible and compromise. Assertive communication expresses our own preferences while acknowledging those of others.

Assertive communication is almost always the preferred style. Be aware of the traits of the other three communication styles to avoid slipping into unproductive communication.

Positive Versus Negative Communication

Positive communication uses “I” statements such as “I want,” “I feel,” or “I don’t like it when…” Positive communication emphasizes stating a preference or concern over assigning blame and demanding compliance. Negative blaming communication uses provocative statements starting with “You,” such as “You are always wrong” or “You never listen.” Again, I recommend striving for positive “I” statements and be willing to correct negative “you” statements. Positive communicators are willing to share not only concerns and preferences, but also take responsibility for the issues being addressed.

Active Listening

Active listening utilizes both verbal and non-verbal cues to indicate attention and understanding. Non-verbal cues of listening include maintaining eye contact, nodding the head, and positioning your body in a way that conveys interest (leaning forward or sitting up, verses leaning back or slouching).

Verbal cues indicate your understanding of what is being heard, and reflecting that understanding back to the speaker. Active listeners ask open ended questions to probe thoughts and feelings, rather than closed questions asking for a “yes” or “no.” Active listeners will repeat statements back for clarification, or summarize to indicate understanding.

Word Exchange

My previous blog goes into detail on the benefits of the Word Exchange, but the quick version of it is choosing to use vocabulary that states preferences instead of demands, rates actions and words instead of labeling self or others, offers possibilities instead of dealing in absolutes, and expresses rational emotions over irrational extremes. Practicing this not only can have an influence on your audience but also change how you think and feel.

Again, if you feel you would benefit from improving your communication abilities and learn more about these techniques, I highly recommend speaking to a therapist. Our relationship experts at Symmetry Counseling can help you learn to improve how you speak and listen to others in your life.