In my last article (Communication: Saying What You Mean and Meaning What You Say – Part 1), we began exploring the intricate skill of communication; in particular, we focused on non verbal forms of communication and how there can be inconsistencies between what we say out loud and what the body says without words. Some helpful tips regarding increasing your awareness of and familiarity with your body language/non verbal forms of communication were then discussed. In this article, the focus will be on communication styles and their role in effective communication.
In our increasingly multicultural and globalized societies, it is likely for us all to have met others who have spoken a foreign language; it is also likely that communications with these individuals were challenging and not especially effective or satisfying. Perhaps neither person’s needs were sufficiently met or opinions adequately considered or respected.
Let’s use an example (a fictitious one) to illustrate this: Suppose you decide to go on vacation to the foreign country of Maqwarksville. Neither you nor your travel mates have been there before but you have all heard such great things about it that you have decided to visit. It so happens that none of you speak or understand the local dialect (Maqwarkian) nor could you find a copy of a translation book. You board your flight anyway….
The scenery at Maqwarksville takes your breath away soon after you walk out of the airport. You and your friends want to get started on nature hikes and tasting the local cuisine right away, so you ask the concierge at the hotel you are staying at for directions and suggestions. One problem: he does not speak English nor does he seem to be familiar with the gestures you are using, in fact no one at the hotel does! What a surprise! When you booked for the hotel online, it did not mention that only Maqwarkian is spoken here! How will you find what you need (like food or directions) or do what you really want (to see the beautiful scenery)?
Though not as dramatic as in the example, differences in communication styles can lead to confusion and frustration. Satisfactory and respectful communications (whether on the phone, in person, online, etc.) are characterized by understanding and consideration of the rights and needs both of yourself and those with whom you interact. How you listen and how you respond (both verbally and non verbally) have strong impacts on the effectiveness of the communication.
There are 4 main communication styles: passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive.
Communicating with a passive style is characterized by timidity and an excessively apologetic and barely audible tone. The passive communicator’s own needs and rights are not valued or respected; instead, those of other people are given greater importance. Communicating in this way leads to not expressing or respecting one’s own needs, rights, and beliefs. Conflict is often avoided using such a style; however, being taken advantage of and “walked all over” by others are very real consequences.
Harsh, threatening, and demanding characterize the aggressive style of communication. Usually in a loud and intimidating tone of voice, individuals using an aggressive style stand up for their own rights at the expense of others; self respect is taken to the extreme while respect for others is minimal. The focus of an aggressive communicator is on winning and dominating. The rights of other people are not respected, while their own are given priority. Social isolation is often a consequence of using this style of communication.
On the surface, this style of communication seems passive but underneath the passive exterior, there is aggressiveness and resentment. Passive-aggressive individuals firmly believe in their own rights and beliefs but don’t outwardly express them; instead, they resort to indirect and perhaps sneaky ways of securing their own values and worldview. Ultimately, this style produces more stress and conflict than it resolves. No one is treated with respect or fairness.
The assertive style of communication is characterized best by fairness: respect for one’s own needs, thoughts, and opinions and at the same time, respecting those of others. Communicating with this style yields satisfactory balance and compromise; it’s a win-win! I will focus exclusively on the assertive style in my next article.
Communication styles are not set in stone: we all tend to use different styles in different circumstances or situations. Noticing which style is most prominent in certain relationships or situations is a beneficial step toward achieving a respectful balance in interactions. To identify the style in place and take steps to make considerate and respectful alterations, try asking yourself:
Together, this article and the last have been centered on the different aspects of the uniquely intricate skill of communication: both verbal and non verbal, various forms, and different styles. Seeing as so many elements are included in this single process, it could be considered that communication is itself a language; the various parts that make up this “language” could then be considered dialects. Ultimately, then, it seems that we all can speak and understand a little Maqwarkian! Further, we all have the choice and the ability to continue learning, practicing, and updating fluency in the elaborate language of communication.
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