The 4 Communication Styles – Which One Is Best?

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There are basically four different communication styles that people use. Believe it or not, you use one of these styles more often than the others. The different styles include the following:

  • Passive-aggressive
  • Passive
  • Aggressive
  • Assertive styles.

Remember that we all favor one over the other but then, there will be times when you have to switch to a different style even though you’re not that comfortable using it.

Group of People Brainstorming and communication around the table

For instance, if you need to emphasize an important selling point to a customer that needs convincing, then you might have to shed the quiet type and timid tone to one that is more assertive. 

That should help boost the customer’s confidence in you and in the products that you’re selling. 

Experts often say that the assertive communication style is the best of the four. However, you can’t always talk assertively to everyone you meet. There are situations when you need to use a passive or even an aggressive style when the situation warrants it. 

In this short article we will go over each of these communication styles and their characteristics. We will also go over the pros and cons of each style. 

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Communication Skills Training book by James W. Williams

Why You Need to Understand Each One of The Communication Style

It is important to understand each of the four communication styles mentioned earlier. You should also understand why people use each style. Each one serves a different purpose, and each suits different situations. 

Man Who figured out the different communication styles

For instance, you can sound aggressive to a competing salesman from a rival company, but you can’t take the same tone when talking to your boss, especially when the problem was your fault.

The reason why a lot of people advocate the assertive style of communication is because that style incorporates many aspects of the other three styles of communication. 

Nevertheless, note that each style is unique. Understanding each type will allow you to choose the appropriate style for each interaction you experience. Identifying the situation and the appropriate style will help you navigate your relationships a lot better. 

Understanding another person’s communication style also helps you adjust your way of communicating as well. For instance, you don’t have to be reactive or even feel hurt when someone talks rather aggressively. You can empathize and work things out better in your conversations. 

It also opens up leadership opportunities where you can help the other fellow grow and develop. 

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The Passive Communication Style

Passive communication is where one doesn’t overtly express too much or even any emotion during a conversation or personal interaction. The main characteristic of this communication style is that the person yields to the other. 

They can act timidly, trying to avoid conflict or even trying hard not to contradict what the others are saying. At the other end of the spectrum, this communication style also includes a style where one shows indifference towards the subject being discussed. 

The latter may tend to irritate others since the one who uses this form of communication (i.e. a show of indifference) is bluntly pointing out that they don’t care. The lack of outward communication can spark resentment, anger, and sow misunderstanding. 

When one uses this style of communication, it is not just the words that come out that matter. Your mannerisms as you deliver the message (i.e. how you say the words) will have a greater impact. 

When you act as a passive communicator, you speak and then display poor body posture and also lack any form of eye contact. In general, you would look like you’re the type that couldn’t say no to someone. 

The ironic thing is that people also see passive communicators as someone with whom you can get along easily. They rarely contradict or go against whatever point you’re making. They say yes and go with the flow in almost every single instance. 

Examples of Passive Communication: 

  • People don’t consider my feelings. 
  • I don’t know what else I could do. 
  • I don’t want to confront him. 
  • I prefer to keep the peace. 
  • It’s not even worth it. 
  • She’s the boss so there’s really nothing I could do about it. 
  • It’s not like I had any choice in the matter. 

Passive Communication Style Characteristics 

Do you have a passive style of communication? If you’re unsure, then take note of the following characteristics: 

  • You speak softly 

If you are a passive communicator, you will tend to speak softly. You may even sound apologetic every time you speak to other people. 

Apart from sounding like apologizing, you may even ask for forgiveness beforehand. You may even have qualifiers before your main sentence. 

  • You seem to sound immature 

A passive communicator tends to sound a bit immature, unable to do tasks on their own, or is someone who is weak even though they may not be actually so. 

  • They may actually be passive-aggressive 

Sometimes, it is easy to confuse passive communication with passive-aggressive communication. If you have certain outbursts followed by guilt or shame because of what you have said, then you may be passive-aggressive instead (more on that later). 

  • Rarely show anger towards others 

Passive communicators seldom voice their anger or dissatisfaction. They try to remain neutral and rarely criticize. 

  • Undecided 

This type of communication sounds like someone who is undecided about the current issue being discussed. 

  • Reduced eye contact 

Passive communication uses fewer eye contacts as much as possible. The goal is to let the other party do the talking. 

If you observe the majority of these traits in your way of communicating with others, then it is likely that you are a passive communicator. 

Pros and Cons of Passive Communication Style 


  • Adaptive to the communication styles of other people 
  • It’s a great way of avoiding conflict, especially if you don’t want to confront the issue or person right away. 
  • People tend to delegate critical responsibilities to others since they see you as less capable to assertive or aggressive communicators (this is useful if you want to avoid high risk and high stress responsibilities). 


  • You pass up opportunities for growth and development. 
  • You don’t get to express how you really feel. 
  • This type of communication casts you in a bad or at least an inferior light. 
  • Internalizing feelings or the inability to express your thoughts may cause anxiety. 

The Aggressive Communication Styles

Angry Man Screaming on the Telephone

It is highly probable that you already know or have experienced aggressive communication. You’ll know it when you see it. It is aggressive, which means it is loud. You will feel the intensity of the other person and you might even feel that the way the other person speaks violates your rights. 

People who are both physically and verbally abusive will use this type of communication. 

Examples of Aggressive Communication 

  • I am better than you! 
  • It’s all your fault! 
  • You owe me. 
  • You’re just stupid… 
  • Why can’t you see things my way?
  • Why on earth would you do such a thing?  

Characteristics of Aggressive Communication 

As you can see from the examples above, aggressive communicators use a lot of “you” statements. Here are the characteristics of aggressive communication. 

  • Confident and firm tone of voice 

Aggressiveness requires a confident voice that is firm and sure of things. However, it is also condescending, harsh, and cold. The tone may also be sarcastic and strident.  

The person speaking may even be shouting and have a rising tone at the end of certain sentences for emphasis. The person taking this form of communication can speak fast or slow but often very fluent about what they are going to say. They don’t hesitate when they speak. 

  • Emphasizes blame on others 

Aggressive communicators rarely paint themselves in a bad light. They direct all the blame to everyone else. They may even sound abusive when they formulate their sentences. 

  • Uses bias 

It is also characterized by certain biases against other people. They may be directed at a person’s race, creed, sex, gender, etc. 

  • Threats and putdowns 

Even when an aggressive speaker sounds a bit calm, they will still voice threats and it will sound that they really do mean it. They also put down other people and try to embarrass others publicly. 

They may also use threatening questions. The words they choose often boast of themselves and evaluate and criticize other people, making things look like it’s their fault.  

They may also express their own opinions as if they were facts like “nobody wants you here” even though they haven’t obtained the consensus of the entire group. 

Non-Verbal Cues 

Remember that aggressive communication goes beyond just the words that people use. When aggressive people speak, they lean forward as if in attack mode. They use aggressive gestures like a clenched fist and finger pointing. 

They stare at you as if daring you to oppose them. Sometimes, they even invade the other person’s personal space. They may cross their arms, indicating that they are unapproachable and that may also be accompanied by a scowl. 

Pros and Cons of Aggressive Communication Styles


  • You can use this tone to get others to do what is needed or at least what you want.  
  • You feel powerful when you use this style of communication. 
  • It’s a great way to release inner tension. 
  • It will feel like you’re in control. 
  • It makes you feel less vulnerable. 


  • You may incite conflict with others—you may not be the only aggressive communicator in the room. 
  • It may cause resentment in other people you interact with. 
  • It can produce a sense of fear and paranoia, since you know that no one really agrees with you completely. 
  • It may cause feelings of shame and guilt, especially if you’re not really the aggressive type. 
  • It may just be a way for people to compensate for their lack of confidence. 
  • It’s hard to relax. 
  • It can make other people cooperate with you of their own free will. 

Passive-Aggressive Communication Styles

The passive-aggressive communication style is a combination of both passive and the aggressive communication. It is passive on the surface, but if you read between the lines, it is truly aggressive in intent. 

It is making use of behind-the-scenes intent and subtle and indirect expression of opposition and anger. It will feel like you can’t object directly to the thing that you resent so you try subtle and subversive ways to strike back. 

Woman using a sarcastic communication style

Examples of Passive-Aggressive Communication 

  • Fine, whatever. 
  • Sure, we can do things your way (hiding resentment about letting the other person having their way). 
  • Why are you upset? (feigning shock even though they know exactly that they caused the reaction). 
  • I’m not mad (denying anger). 
  • I’m coming (verbally complying but delaying their actual compliance). 
  • I was only kidding (sarcastic undertones). 
  • You just want everything to be perfect. 

Characteristics of Passive-Aggressive Communication 

A huge portion of passive-aggressive communication takes the form of non-verbal cues. Passive-aggressive people tend to communicate better with body language. They also try to avoid telling the other person what they truly feel. They will object, resist, and even fight back but only from behind the scenes. 

Here are the common characteristics of this communication style. 

  • Tends to mutter to themselves 

Since they don’t openly object to the other person’s point of view, they mutter their complaints and objections to themselves. 

  • Subtle sabotage 

Instead of admitting that they were privy to important information, they would feign ignorance and say “I thought you knew” or some similar language. They withhold information or their expertise to the detriment of the other party. The spiels only serve as a cover for their actual guilt. 

  • Sarcasm 

Sarcasm is employed, especially when trying to sound sincere. 

  • Facial expressions that don’t match their words 

Again, a passive aggressive communicator will communicate their real feelings and intent through non-verbal means. They will agree with you in word, but they will look appalled and argumentative. 

Pros and Cons of Passive-Aggressive Communication Styles 

The passive-aggressive style is not the best communication style in the workplace. It shows that you aren’t sincere and you have issues that you won’t be willing to discuss openly. 


  • It allows you to avoid direct confrontation. 
  • Allows you to find other channels to express your true feelings and opinions. 
  • Gives you some time to think and decide what you really want to say since you only hint at what you really want. 


  • It tends to alienate people around you. 
  • The real issues usually don’t get addressed. 
  • You remain in a powerless position where you are stuck at a crossroads because you aren’t willing to directly confront the person or the issue. 
  • It can lead to distrust within the workplace. 
  • It can increase the amount of frustration that you feel. 

As you can see, the cons outnumber the pros for passive-aggressive communication. The same is true for passive and assertive styles of communication. That is, some people have become very interested in learning how to switch to the assertive communication style

Assertive Communication Styles

Woman being assertive in conversation

Assertive communication is often cited as the most efficient and best way to communicate with others. You can say that it takes the best of all of the first three styles and combines them into one. 

In this mode of communication, you tend to be clear and bold about expressing your thoughts and emotions. Nevertheless, you are not overbearing. There is always a tone of respect and regard for everyone being spoken to. 

It is firm but not bossy. 

It allows you to consider the needs, thoughts, opinions, and rights of others around you. You can use this type of communication to win an argument, persuade others, and also find a balance between conflicting voices. 

Examples of Assertive Communication 

  • I respect your rights and privileges 
  • I realize that everyone has choices to make and I hope you will learn to consider mine as well. 
  • We are all entitled to voice our opinions on the matter. 
  • I am sorry but that could affect our relationship, especially if things don’t work out. 
  • I believe this is a wrong move for our company since it can affect our relationship with our current partners. 

Characteristics of Assertive Communication Styles

It is worth learning how to use assertive communication. The payoff is greater despite being challenging for some people who may already be too comfortable with the first three communication styles discussed earlier. 

Here are the characteristics that you will need to achieve when you decide to make the switch. 

  • There is no room for abuse in assertive language. 
  • You stand up for your rights and the rights of others. 
  • You will feel connected to everyone you talk to. 
  • You feel in control of yourself; therefore, you are relaxed and there’s no need to rush when you speak. 
  • You take on a calm clear tone. 
  1. Allows you to listen to others without interrupting them—you also become genuinely interested in what others have to say. 
  2. Needs, thoughts, opinions, and points of view of everyone involved are carefully and respectfully expressed. 
  3. Plenty of “I” and “we” statements. 

Pros and Cons of The Assertive Communication Styles

The following are the pros and cons of assertive communication: 


  • You feel connected to everyone and everyone can easily talk to you—you become very approachable. 
  • Creates a respectful environment 
  • It provides control for everyone 
  • All issues and opinions are discussed—open communication is encouraged and practiced in the workplace and in the home 
  • Protects your needs 
  • It prevents stress. 
  • It builds trust. 
  • It fosters satisfying relationships. 
  • Prevents conflict 


  • Some people may still feel offended—but that is more of a reflection of themselves. 
  • It will take time and a lot of practice to learn to communicate assertively. Sometimes you will find that you still revert back to your old ways of communicating. 
Man Holding a Virtual Light bulb in his hand

Making the Switch 

Making the switch to different communication styles will not be easy for everyone. It will take some serious effort for a lot of us. The good news is that there are comprehensive guides like our book, Communication Skills Training that can help you along the way. 

Read next:

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What are the 5 functions of nonverbal communication?

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