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Passive Style Of Communication | How To Be More Assertive? [Series 1/4]

Over the years, I have been working with thousands of professionals trying to improve their communication skills. I thought it was about time to gather some essentials in mini-series blog articles.

I am pleased to introduce you to the first chapter of this mini-series, the Styles of Communication: passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive and assertive.

We can all benefit from developing a greater awareness of how we communicate and the impact our communication style has on our relationships.

This week, we will start with the passive style, a style that is more common than we initially realise.

Style of Communication Series:

Passive style of communication as a mask

Passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, assertive… which communication style(s) do you use? How do you navigate across the different communication styles? How can you reinforce your assertiveness and project confidence in your communication? Are you aware of how your communication style impacts your relationships as well as your personal branding and reputation? In this article series, I will help you find the keys to developing your assertiveness and finding your voice.

We Can Identify 4 Main Styles Of Communication

To become a great communicator, we should all aim for assertiveness, although, in reality, we often navigate across 2,3 or 4 styles.

It is common to feel confident and assertive with peers, people we often work with, and our direct team members. Moving up and communicating with senior executive leaders or in larger forums can be more intimidating, leading to a more passive style. How much knowledge we feel we have or do not have around a discussed topic tends to impact our communication style from passive to assertive as well. No matter how great we are in our area of expertise; being able to articulate clear and impactful messages is the key to success and long-lasting relationships.

The Passive Style Of Communication

“They sound as if they know what they are talking about”, “Am I enough”, “I am not sure if I should say that or not”, “Is that relevant”, “Should I say that”, “What will people think”, “Perhaps, they know better”

Do you experience self-doubt and little confidence at times? Do you find yourself missing out on opportunities to voice your thoughts and needs? Is it hard to push back or say no at times (or all the time)?

The passive style can be found in these (too) nice friends and colleagues who exhaust themselves to please others.

With a passive style of communication, the focus is often on others and how to keep everyone happy. A passive communicator focuses on others’ needs, desires, and expectations and it is often at the expense of their own needs.

As an immediate result, it feels good as people are happy and harmony seems to be reached. In the long run, it adds stress and anxiety as passive communicators hardly say no, push back and clearly tend to over-commit. It is common for passive communicators not to respect their engagements or to see the quality of the delivery impacted by a full plate.

The risk for passive communicators is to remain the best-kept secret of an organisation as well as to be taken advantage of. As they don’t voice their needs and hardly put boundaries, more aggressive communicators tend to (unconsciously) benefit from more passive ones. Another limit is that passive communicator push their personal needs and emotions away which represents a risk of snapping, moving to an aggressive style of communication, or burning out!

How Do We Recognise Passive Communicators?

Passive communicators are nice, and kind, and can be quite discreet at times.

They are the ones you hear the less, especially in large forums, with a soft and sometimes hesitating voice. Note that not all passive communicators are silent; some will be bubbly and extroverted but still focused on others and others’ needs. “What do you want? What do you think? I am fine with whatever you prefer…”

You will hear passive communicators aiming to please everyone and accommodating others. They can also be pacifiers and mediators to avoid conflicts and unhappy people.

“Yes, yes, of course. Not a problem. Sure, I will do it” or if aiming for more assertiveness “It is not quite convenient but I will try my best” are typical sentences coming from passive communicators.

Passive Style of Communication in a diagram

The Undermining Elements That Weaken Messages:

Passive communicators will want to watch for filler words and other modifiers that will undermine and weaken their messages. When trying to come across as nice, humble, and modest, passive communicators end up weakening their messages.

Such examples will be:

“I think”, “I guess”, “I am no expert but”…

Read more in this dedicated article on Undermining Messages Of Passive Communicators

How To Develop More Assertive Behaviour And Communication Habits?

Passive Style of Communication as a new mindset

1. Observe others

What do they do that comes across as passive, aggressive, assertive…

How to get inspired by others? What to avoid from your observations?

2. Welcome your emotions

Aim for emotional inner peace; if you are connected to your emotions, you can perceive the signs of frustration, impatience, or anxiety that typically lead to a passive or aggressive style of communication.

3. Always think of your BATNA

B.A.T.N.A. Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement

What is there for you? What is the added value or impact that you can gain in this situation?

4. Take some distance from challenging situations

Are you worrying too much? Are you putting unrealistic expectations on yourself?

5. Prepare for important discussions

You will hardly be and remain assertive if you are not prepared. You may work well on the spot and improvise successfully but important situations require important preparation.

6. Develop awareness of your values = best decision-making tool

What do you value? What are your core values and which needs are they creating?

Your values directly influence your emotions and dictate how you experience situations.

7. Trust your gut

Aim to reduce the influence of your self-doubts and negative inner dialogue by developing your confidence.

8. Take your place and use your space

Communicating assertively also means playing well with voice modulation and body language. Is your voice loud enough? Is your body language open?

9. Believe in yourself

Watch your level of self-compassion and your self-compassion process to boost your self-confidence and find your assertiveness.

10. Stay tuned for our next article on the assertive style of communication

Why Is The Series Starting With The Passive Style Of Communication?

I decided to start with the passive style of communication as this is the most common style I have met in individual coaching sessions. Group workshops are different in the sense that participants are often nominated to attend a class they did not necessarily ask for.

The passive style of communication seems to lead to more emotional suffering and is often linked to self-doubt which leads to reaching out for help through coaching, podcasts, and blog articles.

Aggressive communicators will not necessarily feel the same urge unless faced with important work challenges due to their style while assertive communicators may not face many challenges leading them to reach out for support.

If you recognise yourself in this style of communication, you will want to keep an eye out for the assertiveness chapter. It can also be the right time to engage in your professional development journey through individual coaching: contact us.

Maud Vanhoutte

Explore 3 Training Courses Promoting Assertive Communication

Click on a course below to learn more and take the next step in improving communication skills:


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