Fairly recently, when analyzing some of my recent conversations with various individuals in my life, I realized that a lot of people aren’t that great at communicating. In some instances, I’m fairly bad at it myself.

As I ponder why communication is so difficult, I find myself quite puzzled. I mean, essentially, it’s simply talking. I talk all the time, more than I should most times, so I’m not understanding why so many people, including myself, struggle with it.

For myself, I noticed that my anxiety gets in the way of me being an effective communicator. If I’m worried about how someone will respond to what I have to say, it triggers me and causes me to either censor what I have to say or shut down completely. At first, I believed that this was unusual.

However, when I went to therapy, I found out that it’s simply my style of communication and it’s called passive communication. There are other styles as well.

According to Princeton University’s UMatter website, there “are four main styles of communication: passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive.” Some people tend to stick to one particular style, but “most of us don’t use a single communication style in every interaction”. You can utilize them all in the right circumstances and situations. As I mentioned before, my main communication style is passive communication.

Passive communication is characterized by “not expressing feelings or needs; ignoring your own personal rights and allowing others to do so” and it “often leads to misunderstanding, built-up anger, or resentment”. Essentially, you barely communicate. Before you think to say anything, I know that this sounds bad. I’m working on it, hence the subtle reference to my therapist. 

However, passive communication can be useful in dangerous or high risk situations. You’re definitely not going to catch me, or anyone else for that matter, mouthing off and expressing their thoughts and opinions to a mugger or bank robber.

Aggressive communication is pretty self explanatory and essentially the opposite of passive communication. It is described as “expressing feelings, needs, and ideas at the expense of others; ignoring others’ rights in order to support your own” and it “often alienates and hurts others.” I believe there was a time that I tried using this particular style. Let’s just say that didn’t go so well.

People who use aggressive communication tend to disregard how other people think or feel, causing them to retreat or respond with the same aggression. This can also be expressed through body language by eye rolling, finger pointing and crossing arms. 

I watched clips of the GOP presidential primary debate the other day and a vast majority of them were heavily reliant on aggressive communication. In my opinion, aggression doesn’t agree with diplomacy. That’s how wars end up becoming a thing.

If you thought that aggressive communication was the worst, you were sadly incorrect. Passive-aggressive communication sucks even more. My nickname for this one is the “silent killer.”

Passive-aggressive communication appears passive, but indicates and acts out anger. It also allows for “limited consideration for the rights, needs, or feelings of others”. Examples of this are the “silent treatment” and spreading rumors instead of confronting an individual.

Keeping in the tradition of saving the best for last, the last communication style is assertive communication. Assertive communication is “direct, honest communication of thoughts and feelings” while “respecting the feelings, ideas, and needs of others”. This is the ideal form of communication. It’s essentially a win-win for all parties involved and much can be accomplished in conversations using assertive communication.

However, assertive communication can be misinterpreted as aggressive communication. For example, when a woman tells a man that they’re interested in or in a relationship with that their needs aren’t being met and they would like to explore how that could change and some men construe it as women being “pushy” or “demanding.”

Speaking of relationships, communication is essential to any and all relationships. Knowing and understanding how someone else thinks and feels could possibly be the difference between the success or failure of a platonic, romantic or familial relationship. Being the best of all the communication styles, “assertive communication is most likely to lead to respectful and longer-term relationships, so that’s the style to strive for in most situations.”

As someone who tends to get anxious when it comes to expressing how they think or feel, I understand that developing and maintaining an assertive communication style can be difficult, especially when trying to get there from a passive or aggressive communication style. 

However, the important thing to understand is that your thoughts, feelings and opinions are just as important as anyone else’s and they deserve to be heard just as much. Once you’ve got that down, you’ll be well on your way to being a great and effective communicator.