4 Styles of Communication

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Four Styles of Communication in Relationships

There are four major styles of communication: passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive and assertive. The first three are dysfunctional styles of communication; the fourth, assertive communication is a sign of maturity and healthy self-esteem.

Thriving-Baby-Boomers - 4 Communication Styles - Communication Styles - Passive (You step on me) Assertive (Both are protected) Aggressive (I step on you)

Communication Styles – Passive (You step on me) Assertive (Both are protected) Aggressive (I step on you)


A passive communicator generally has very low self-esteem and usually defers to the other person in opinions, wants, needs and desires. They believe that they are unworthy—unworthy of respect—unworthy of anything—that they have no rights, and that their needs are unimportant. They tend to feel a sense of powerlessness in most situations. A typical response of a passive communicator would be, ‘whatever you want,’ or ‘I don’t know.’ They are generally considered doormats by others, and although they have a high threshold for mistreatment by others, they will eventually explode—usually far in excess of the final straw.


The aggressive communicator also comes from a place of low self-esteem, but they tend to use bullying as a defence from their own woundedness and unresolved hurts in life. These people tend to be loud and obnoxious and overbearing, but it is their fear of being controlled that they are protecting themselves with this shell. Aggressive communicators use intimidation, humiliation, blame and criticism in their dealings with others. They generally start their sentences with “you.”



Passive-aggressive communicators appear passive on the surface but are really acting out anger in a subtle, indirect, or behind-the-scenes way. These people generally feel powerless, stuck and resentful and have a fear of expressing their anger at the true source of their anger. They tend to use facial expressions and body language that don’t match how they really feel; they smile at you while stabbing you in the back. They will mutter under their breath and deny that they said anything when confronted. They frequently use sarcasm in their communications. Sarcasm isn’t humour—it is veiled anger.


Assertive communicators clearly state their opinions and feelings, firmly asserting their rights without violating the rights of others. They come from a place of high self-esteem. These people value themselves, their time and their emotional, spiritual and physical needs and set their boundaries calmly and clearly while at the same time respecting the rights of others. Assertive communicators use “I” statements.


I can honestly say that through my half-century-plus of living, I have moved through all four communication styles.

During my childhood and into my early twenties I was very passive.

By my mid-twenties I became much more passive-aggressive in my communications.  I spent much of my twenties and early thirties being very angry and resentful with my lot in life. Being filled with this anger and resentment, and having very low self-esteem and self-confidence my communication style was very disconcerting to most people. My anger was such that I’d tell someone to f*** off and die—with a smile on my face. I came to discover many years later, that I really did want them to f*** off and die, I just didn’t want them to dislike me, so I softened the blow with a smile. I’m sure the person felt that twinge of discomfort from my words despite my having a smile on my face. This is the height of incongruency between one’s words and one’s behaviour. This is also an example of passive-aggressive behaviour.

From my late twenties to my early thirties I was just downright aggressive.

As I’ve matured and healed the issues of my past, I’ve become much more assertive. I can respect the rights of others, and state in a calm, confident, clear manner my wants, needs and desires without holding others responsible for fulfilling them.


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