Observer: calming down the storms

If you prefer not to rock the boat, unless something really riles you, then perhaps you're a passive communicator. Test yourself and see. Do you:

  • Feel that your feelings and opinions are overlooked by your colleagues?
  • Avoid catching anyone's eye when in a meeting?
  • Try not to ruffle anyone's feelings when you talk or write to them?
  • Think you have little control over what happens in your workplace and your team?

If you answered yes to a couple of those, then perhaps this is your preferred communication style. The disadvantage is that some people think passive communicators don't contribute much to teams and therefore may not show them the respect they are due. But they're wrong. This communication style has its uses. Passive communicators are great for calming down tense situations. If there's a conflict brewing at a team meeting, the passive communicator will be able to help people see each other's viewpoints.

Achiever: reaching the finish line first

If you're focused on achieving your goals and sometimes don't notice other people's viewpoints, you may be an aggressive communicator. Try this assessment and see. Do you:

  • Have trouble focusing on the points other people are making in meetings?
  • Find it difficult to deal with frustration?
  • Make impulsive decisions that you just KNOW are right?

If some of these seem to apply to you, then perhaps this is your usual communication style. One disadvantage of this communication style is that team members may feel alienated and ignored by aggressive communicators. But this communication style has its place in project teams. Sometimes teams need someone who can cut to the chase, so they can move on, and this is where aggressive communicators shine. The strength of an aggressive communication style is the willingness and ability to make quick decisions, especially if you have expert knowledge of the area under discussion.

Explosive: ice-cold on the surface, but burning fire from the inside

Passive-aggressive communicators are a mixture of the two communication styles described above. Test yourself and see whether this could apply to you. Do you:

  • Shy away from confronting issues openly, even though you might not always agree with the direction things are going?
  • Feel frustrated and sometimes ignored?

Passive-aggressive communicators share both the strengths and weaknesses of passive and aggressive communicators.

Connector: keeping things smooth

If you're good at saying what you need and supporting your colleagues, you could be an assertive communicator. Find out with this self-test. Do you:

  • Keep control of your feelings in meetings whether you agree or disagree with the topic under discussion?
  • Look people in the eye when you talk to them and state your opinions clearly without undermining or labeling colleagues?
  • Take a flexible approach to problems and listen to the opinions of others before making up your mind?
  • Make sure no one takes advantage of you?

If you answered yes to a few of these, then you might be an assertive communicator. Even assertive communicators may stumble occasionally when trying to make their point, but generally this type of communicator helps every project go smoothly. Assertive communicators are decisive, positive and respected by their colleagues.

Tips on Being an Assertive Communicator

It's evident that of the four styles, being an assertive communicator is most likely to get the result you want. So how can you ensure that you and the members of your team communicate effectively and assertively? Here are some tips:

  • Stay focused on the topic under discussion
  • Keep emotions out of it
  • Ask for the opinions of others -- you need to hear and acknowledge them, even if you don't accept them
  • Avoid getting defensive
  • Be prepared to accept criticism and feedback in a constructive manner
  • Diffuse tension with humor if it's appropriate

What would you add?

Case Study: Communication Styles

How would these communication styles play out in a real-life team situation? Let's say you call the team together, whether face-to-face or online, to organize a project for winning a piece of business. You invite everyone to put ideas on the table, and you plan to make a decision at the meeting. Mr. Quiet, a passive communicator, says: “No one ever listens to me anyway, so I'll go along with whatever you decide.” Ms. Variable, a passive-aggressive communicator, sits next to Mr. Quiet, making snarky remarks under her breath. Mr. Impulsive, an aggressive communicator, picks the option he likes and tries to make others vote for it. He says: "You're all silly if you don't see that this will work." What do you think an assertive communicator would say?