Maintaining excellent communication between team members is the secret to great collaboration and a welcoming working environment.
Managers often struggle to understand the reasoning behind their team members’ choices through a lack of understanding of people’s communication styles. In fact, many team leaders assume everyone communicates in the exact same way as them.
In reality, however, people naturally work in different ways and so have different communication traits. Part of promoting inclusion within the workplace is understanding these communication styles and using this information to encourage a more inclusive, collaborative environment.
Here at AllyBot, we believe that excellent communication and inclusive language are vital to making every team member feel comfortable and included. Our Slack tool is designed to improve your communication practices and encourage more language that doesn’t exclude anyone.
In this article, we’ll teach you all you’ll need to know about workplace communication styles and how to adapt to their various needs. Let’s go!
What are the 4 Main Communication Styles?
Before we explore the four types of communicators, let’s first explore what we mean by a communication style.
The Economist found that 42% of people cite different communication styles as the primary factor driving miscommunication in the workplace.
Everyone communicates and approaches problems & conflicts in a different way. Some of us tend to talk and act directly, whilst others take a more indirect approach.
Communication styles are general classifications of these tendencies and practices – and understanding them is crucial for learning how to effectively interact with other team members.
There are four main communication styles. These are:
Let’s explore the characteristics of each of these styles.
The first style of communication we’ll cover in this guide is passive. A passive communicator is someone that is afraid to express their opinion or needs and feels uncomfortable with seeking attention.
Passive communicators regularly struggle to outwardly communicate with others – especially if there are difficult conversations to be had (i.e. a grievance, misunderstanding).
Team members who communicate passively will often:
- Be unable to assert themselves or their opinions
- Apologize to avoid conflict
- Struggle to say no to tasks or ask for help if struggling
- Appear easy-going and accepting
- Struggle to maintain eye-contact
A passive communicator’s aversion to conflict quite often leads to lots of pent-up negativity, resentment, and anger towards colleagues.
These team members tend to have a high level of acceptance before they get annoyed, but as little disagreements are usually unresolved, they may be prone to outbursts of anger or frustration if the annoyance ‘bar’ is reached.
Inclusion for Passive Communicators
Passive communicators are usually uncomfortable with asking for help, and team leaders can struggle to spot when passive people are unhappy.
To include them, managers should:
- Ask for their opinions and input: Don’t assume a passive communicator will ‘pitch in’ if needed. Initiating a conversation such as “how are you getting on?” will improve your chances of active communication with them.
- Be specific and direct: The fear of sparking up conflict or disagreements means passive communicators take a conservative approach to conversations. Ask specific questions and try to talk in private to minimize perceived conflict opportunities.
How do passive communicators approach inclusion? They tend to also be passive allies – and may need more encouragement to take active steps to improve cohesion and inclusion in your team.
By contrast, an aggressive communicator isn’t afraid to voice their opinions and concerns. They perhaps struggle to take into account the feelings and viewpoints of other team members.
This communication style is the least desirable approach, and team members should be encouraged to understand the downsides of this approach.
Team members who adopt an aggressive communication style often:
- Interrupt others and prioritize their voice and ideas before others
- Speak loudly and often in an overbearing manner
- Easily become frustrated or irritated when things go wrong
- Are quick to blame or criticize others
- Struggle to actively listen to others
- May become abusive or manipulative in positions of leadership
- Are unwilling to change their views, especially involving inclusion
These communicators are unpleasant to work with – and can often intimidate passive team members.
Inclusion for Aggressive Communicators
Managers looking to build inclusive teams will need to be assertive and challenge undesirable behavior from aggressive communicators. This may be difficult as these team members tend to disregard feedback.
Team leaders should:
- Assert authority: Aggressive team members prefer to be in charge, but they should be reminded of the team leadership structure.
- Help them understand changes and viewpoints: Aggressive communicators don’t emphasize well. Managers may need to spend more time with them to “get them on their side”. When targeting inclusion, make sure to explain why their practices are inappropriate and offer reasoning behind your actions.
- Encourage inclusive language: It all starts with the words they say. Get aggressive communicators onto the path of changing the way they talk to their colleagues as early as possible.
Passive-aggressive team members appear to be passive directly – but unlike passive people, these communicators aren’t afraid to use indirect means of conflict to voice their concerns.
When these team members are annoyed or feel powerless, they turn to behind-the-scenes, subtle ways to air grievances. This lack of a direct approach leads to lots of pent-up annoyance too.
Passive-aggressive communicators tend to:
- Mutter to themselves when annoyed
- Remove themselves from conflicts
- Be quick to absolve blame or responsibility for their actions
- Use sarcasm to mask their grievances
- Be unwilling to actively confront issues
By building up bitterness and resentment, passive-aggressive team members often feel isolated and powerless to solve the issues that annoy them.
Inclusion for Passive-Aggressive Communicators
These team members should be encouraged to voice their concerns respectfully instead of letting them simmer.
To promote inclusion, managers should:
- Confront negative attitudes and sarcasm: It can be difficult to break passive-aggressive habits – and the sarcasm is often unintentional and reactionary.
- Encourage them to voice their concerns directly: Team leaders should identify when they are annoyed and give them the space to reveal grievances.
- Address feelings of powerlessness and isolation: Passive-aggressive habits are formed when team members feel disconnected and powerless to make changes. Prove you mean business through inclusion and actively address their concerns.
Passive-aggressive communicators approach inclusion also tend to be passive allies – and should be encouraged to take active steps to improve inclusion.
Assertive communicators are assured and feel confident to respectfully share their opinions and feelings. They are honest and direct with their colleagues but are also willing to listen and learn from their team.
They tend to be enthusiastic, but know when to say no when they believe their wellbeing or rights are at risk.
Assertive communications tend to:
- Know how to state their views respectfully and aren’t afraid to advocate
- Express good levels of empathy
- Collaborate well with others and is willing to share responsibility
- Talk freely and openly
- Consider the needs of others, but do not neglect their own rights
Inclusion for Assertive Communicators
This is by far the most desirable communication style – and any effective, inclusive team will need as many assertive communicators as possible.
Assertive communicators do well with adopting collaboration strategies such as using inclusive language. Managers should encourage these communicators to get involved and share ideas with their teams. They are great candidates to lead inclusion & diversity efforts as they can empathize with and learn from others.
Encourage assertive, inclusive communication with AllyBot
Every team member should strive to be an assertive communicator. Aggressive or passive-aggressive communicators tend to struggle with inclusive language in particular – and we get it.
We understand being inclusive is difficult – so that’s why we’ve developed AllyBot to help you and your team members along on this journey.
AllyBot is a Slack plugin that automatically checks your team’s messages for over 400 non-inclusive words and phrases.
If your team members use any non-inclusive language, AllyBot will help them to adopt a more assertive approach by suggesting alternative phrases that better make others feel welcome.
Adopting inclusive language is a major step in improving your communication style.