How is Your Communication Style Affecting Employees?
Navigating the different communication styles in a workplace can often result in conflict and confusion.
In any workplace, there will be multiple styles of communication, and therefore, multiple directions in which communication can go if not handled correctly.
From those who react versus those who respond, to those who communicate passively to those who communicate aggressively – where might you fit and what are the implications?
The types of communication in the workplace
Generally, communication in the workplace can be split into four categories – passive, passive aggressive, aggressive, and assertive.
Passive communicators can often seem indifferent or ambivalent, and as a result, may seem to listen to others more than they choose to speak.
Though it may be assumed that someone who is a passive communicator might not have the potential for conflict in the workplace, this is untrue – as a result of withholding their opinions and feelings, passive communicators can build a lot of resentment towards others, which can impact their work in the long run.
If you are a passive communicator, you will generally be better at resolving conflict because you are easy to get along with.
But on the other side of the coin, passive communicators can easily become ‘people pleasers’, and as an employer, this can mean putting in strenuous hours and struggling to say no to people.
An aggressive communicator may sound like the archetypal boss of a high-stress environment.
Think of those who often dominate a conversation, perhaps through interrupting others, and aren’t afraid to share their opinion no matter the circumstances.
An aggressive communicator will often demand respect from others and can come across as rude, intimidating and demanding as a result – it’s not all bad, though! Many people with aggressive communication styles can make great leaders in the workplace, so long as they adapt accordingly.
Importantly, this type of communicator is more of a reactor than a responder, meaning that they will often react to an event without thinking on it first, which can cause conflict.
As the name suggests, a passive aggressive communicator falls somewhere in between passive and aggressive.
This means that passive aggressive communicators can seem relatively calm and collected, yet unlike a passive communicator, they won’t always keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves.
Instead, they will communicate in more subtle ways than the aggressive communicator – sarcasm, mumbling, and indirect ways of displaying their displeasure – meaning that their actions don’t always match how they are truly feeling.
If you are a passive aggressive communicator, you might struggle with feeling as though you aren’t always being heard, which is a reason behind why your words don’t match your emotions.
Somewhat the crème de la crème of workplace communication styles, an assertive communicator is the most effective.
By expressing their feelings in an authentic and considerate way, assertive communicators can effectively vocalise their own viewpoints without stepping on anyone else’s, making it a communication style that relies on respect.
Most importantly, an assertive communicator will set boundaries – they won’t struggle to say ‘no’ if they need to, and they can assert their opinion without being defensive or confrontational.
You’ll often be able to tell if you or others in your workplace are an assertive communicator, as you’ll often be the person that others seek out for advice or discussions in a comfortable fashion.
Why does your communication style matter?
Communication is a skill.
In a workplace, communication is absolutely vital in creating a healthy environment for employees, and is also integral to productivity, output, and overall functioning.
If you are an aggressive communicator, for example, you may have already noticed that you struggle to maintain positive relationships with some colleagues, and that employees may find you too intimidating to approach.
Therefore, the best course of action would be to acknowledge that attempting to implement more positive communication techniques could help considerably (e.g., not focusing only on business/output in colleague conversations).
Each type of communicator will have their own barriers to overcome in order to avoid communication conflicts or missteps:
As a passive communicator, you may find that you’re conflict-avoidant and as a result, struggle to always convey your opinions to employees directly.
In order to communicate more effectively, it’s important to value your own contributions, which can begin by building your confidence slowly (sometimes ‘fake it till you make it’ can be a good temporary benchmark!).
Another key area is to learn to say ‘no’ in order to set healthy workplace boundaries – compromise can be good, but not at the expense of your leadership.
If you feel as though your team/employees aren’t listening to you, it can quickly build into resentment and feeling as though you’re being overlooked.
A good way to switch this behaviour is to attempt a response rather than a reaction – are you attempting to solve or discuss a problem, or simply ranting/lashing out?
You can’t hope to control how people might act towards you but you can certainly control how you react to them!
You want to do well and want your team to do well, yet sometimes this can come off as hostile and intimidating.
Consider the way that you communicate certain requests of employees – are you standing in very close proximity and gesturing a lot? Dialling back body language slightly can help you to appear more approachable to employees.
This type of communicator is valued highly in the workplace already – assertive communication is a proactive approach because it relies on problem-solving and responding, rather than reacting.
However, there are still areas that could be slightly tweaked, e.g., being more direct rather than softening things, such as ‘I will’ instead of ‘I could’.
These styles of communication aren’t always cut and dry, and more often than not, you’ll have a primary and secondary communication style depending on the setting and those you’re interacting with.
It’s still important, however, to acknowledge how your communication style can impact the working environment around you – it’s great to have a healthy mix of communication styles in a team, so long as everybody has an awareness of how to navigate around each other.