Last updated 19 April, 2023

The 5 main communication styles: Which is yours?

At its most basic, human communication is the act of transferring information from one person to another. Delivery may be through spoken words, in written form, or through non-verbal signals (e.g., body positioning, gestures and/or facial expressions). A participatory process, it involves both expressing and receiving information. 

Why effective communication matters

Communication skills underpin almost all of our personal, professional, social and learning activities. 

According to a review published by the National Communication Association, USA, building communication skills is vital for “the development of the whole person … (and) is a prerequisite to personal and professional success.” In addition, the review found that “communication competence can contribute to individuals’ social adjustment and participation in satisfying interpersonal relationships.” 

Effective communication helps us to:
  • Build trust

  • Express our needs and feelings

  • Deepen our connections

  • Avoid misunderstandings

  • Have tough conversations

  • Better navigate social situations 

  • Resolve conflict effectively

  • Improve our mental and emotional wellbeing

  • Achieve professional success

Communication in the workplace

The modern workplace requires employees to spend hours each day interacting with colleagues and with clients, sending emails and writing reports. In fact, many employers list ‘effective communication’ as an essential employee skill; and, according to HRForecast, it will remain one of the most in-demand skills over the next 10 years. 

6 Key benefits of effective workplace communication:
  • Develops a healthy culture

  • Builds stronger leadership

  • Increases collaboration and engagement

  • Reduces employee friction

  • Boosts productivity

  • Nurtures external stakeholder relations

Reasons why communication can go awry

While ‘good communication’ sounds straightforward, things do go wrong when we expect others to see things the way we do; make assumptions about what the other person thinks or feels; and/or focus on our own needs rather than the listener’s. 

Unfortunately, if our message is not properly heard and clearly understood, the listener may become confused, frustrated, upset or angry. They may respond in an unexpected or emotionally charged way, which creates obstacles in the communication loop. 

Sometimes, no matter how skilled we are or how hard we try, misunderstandings still arise, mainly because others have a very different communication style to ours. This can lead to tension or, worse, conflict – and over time, can seriously hurt the relationship.

The solution? By making an effort to understand the different ways we communicate, we can find common ground – and lay a strong foundation on which to build more meaningful connections. 

5 Main styles of communication 

When it comes to communication styles, people can range from being calm and unemotional to being highly emotional, and from being indirect to being straight, even blunt. While most of us will gravitate towards a certain style, there are different situations (or people) that require us to tweak the way in which we communicate to achieve our goals. We can also learn to moderate our emotions and adjust our directness (or lack thereof) to become more effective communicators. 

Psychologists and relationships experts identify the following main styles of communication:

1. Aggressive

Aggressive communicators tend to dominate conversations. They often speak loudly, can be unpredictable, and are less likely than other types to be good listeners. They demand attention, typically refuse to back down, are blunt, and can be highly critical of other people’s ideas and opinions. Their body language includes a steely gaze, scowling, pointing and leaning forward as they speak, which makes them come across as intimidating. 

How to navigate this style in relationships

While this communication style can be difficult to navigate, especially if you tend to be more passive, it pays not to ‘give in’ simply to avoid confrontation. Instead, set clear boundaries to protect yourself; voice your needs or opinions calmly; try not to be defensive; and never respond in kind – remember, this person is determined to ‘win’ during communications, and a ‘tit for tat’ approach will only serve to escalate conflict.

If you’re an aggressive communicator :
  • Watch your body language 

  • Turn down the volume

  • Practise active listening skills

  • Work on being more empathetic

2. Passive

These communicators are ‘people pleasers’ and, generally, prefer to go along with others’ suggestions. They tend to be slow to contribute during discussions or meetings, and steer well clear of confrontation. While they may come across as easygoing, they often are anxious, feel insecure and worry about other people’s disapproval. They find it hard to put their thoughts and feelings into words. They tend to avoid eye contact and use a soft, low speech volume during communication. As they don’t like to take up physical space, they may ‘shrink’ themselves by slumping or hunching over. 

How to navigate this style in relationships:

Because this communicator needs time to reflect before they express themselves, it pays to ask them direct questions. Be warm, friendly and encouraging. Try not to be impatient – allow them space to consider their response. Take on the role of facilitator, and avoid being confrontational; even a hint of frustration may cause them to shut down. 

If you’re a passive communicator:
  • Stop being apologetic and practise saying no

  • Work on your decision-making skills

  • Develop your self-worth and self-confidence

  • Adopt a more confident body language – even if you have to ‘fake it till you make it’!

3. Passive-aggressive

These people appear passive but express their anger or frustration indirectly. They want to communicate more directly but feel powerless to do so, often because of the situation or the other person’s communication style. They fear being vulnerable and, instead, can be sarcastic, complaining or sulky. To mask their true feelings, they speak in a sweet tone. Often, their words and body language don’t match. They may pout or roll their eyes during communication, and they often cross their arms or use asymmetrical body positioning (e.g., hand on hip). 

How to navigate this style in relationships:

Don’t be vague or drop hints. Avoid being judgmental or aggressive. Instead, stay calm and be patient; if you are critical, scold or lash out, you’ll simply escalate conflict. Even if you’re feeling confused or angry, it’s important not to react. If you do need to confront this communicator, do so in private to avoid them becoming overly defensive. Try to speak in the first person (i.e, use “I” statements rather than direct blame at them). Be prepared to set firm boundaries, with consequences.

If you’re a passive-aggressive communicator:
  • Build your self-awareness

  • Work on being more assertive rather than aggressive

  • Learn to express your feelings and emotions

  • Reframe your mindset to be more positive

4. Manipulative

This style is shrewd, calculating and controlling. Manipulative communicators know how to get what they want but rarely express their needs and desires upfront. Often, the ideas and opinions they share have an underlying meaning. They may be patronising, or they may sulk or look sad or upset to elicit certain reactions from others. They tend to fish for compliments or express envy. They use a higher pitch and often shift their body position during communication. They tend to invade your space and can be ‘touchy’ or mirror your body language. 

How to navigate this style in relationships:

It’s essential to keep calm but be firm to show them you’re not easily manipulated. Acknowledge their perspective but don’t respond to them straightaway – even if they pressure you to give them an answer on the spot. When you do respond, be assertive. Learn to say no firmly; don’t accept blame; redirect focus away from yourself by asking them direct, probing questions. Always stay on topic during discussions to prevent them from hijacking a conversation to meet their own agenda.

To be less manipulative:
  • Work on your self-esteem

  • Learn to express your needs more directly

  • Stick to the facts and avoid emotional language

  • Practise consistency to build trust

5. Assertive

Assertive communicators are confident and self-aware. They typically use a balanced voice volume, are emotionally expressive and straightforward. They are neither too passive nor too aggressive, and don’t tend to use manipulation. While they may be direct, they are also considerate of differences and supportive of other people’s rights. Generally good listeners, they maintain eye contact during communication, use relaxed gestures and are respectful of personal space.  

How to navigate this style in relationships

This person thrives on interactive discussion, so be honest and willing to share your opinions and ideas. They can be direct – if you ask for their input, you’ll get it. Be open to feedback; if you’re dismissive when they are critical, they may become less approachable. Give them space to speak, listen attentively, and be prepared to agree to disagree when appropriate. Communication experts say this style is the most balanced, and it’s the one we should strive for. 

How to be a more assertive communicator:
  • Develop your self-worth and self-confidence

  • Consciously cultivate self-awareness

  • Gain control over your emotions

  • Learn to express yourself in a firm but neutral tone

  • Work on having positive body language – stand up straight, don’t fidget when you talk, and make strong eye contact

Get support

Being able to identify your default communication style and understand how to best interact with other types of communicators will help you build trust, resolve conflict, make more meaningful connections, and increase intimacy in romantic relationships.

Whether you need support to identify your preferred communication style, work on becoming more assertive or adopt a more positive body language, our coaches can help you interact more effectively with those around you – be that at work or in your personal life. 

Click here to match with a coach and start levelling up your communication skills today.

Gain a real advantage.

Kick-start your coaching for $99!

You might also like…

Article title image 3 1
The instant gratification trap: consumer culture’s impact on relationships

The instant gratification trap: consumer culture’s impact on relationships

Consumer culture has created a society that expects instant gratification, has access to endless options, and seeks perfection in all areas of life, including relationships. These cultural trends have led to relationships becoming less resilient and more disposable. Learn how to fight this trend to build stronger, long-lasting connections.

Read More


Create stronger bonds. Kick-start your coaching for $99