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Article 12 min read

The 4 types of communication styles in the workplace + quiz

Different types of communication styles exist in every workplace. Learn how to identify communication patterns and collaborate more effectively with teammates.

Por Stella Inabo, Contributing Writer

Última actualización el June 11, 2024

Key takeaways:

  • The 4 communication styles in the workplace are passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive.

  • Communication styles impact how messages are interpreted, influence interactions, and can create diverse and inclusive environments.

  • Taking a communication styles quiz can help you understand how you communicate and how to communicate with other styles.

Effective communication in the workplace goes beyond just listening and responding to what your customers and colleagues say. You must also recognize how they express themselves and adapt your responses accordingly. Workplace dynamics are shaped by various personality types and communication styles. Take the characters from The Office, for instance. From Jim Halpert’s growth into an assertive leader to Pam Beesly’s passive approach, each character demonstrates different styles of communication in a “professional” environment.

Our guide to workplace communication styles spills the beans—or chili—about the different styles of communication, how to identify them, and actionable tips for adapting your style to specific situations to create meaningful connections in the workplace. It also includes a quiz to help you understand your own communication style.

More in this guide:

What is a communication style?

A communication style refers to the way a person communicates with others. This includes verbal and nonverbal methods of communication, the words people use, their tone of voice, facial expressions, listening habits, and body language.

Communication styles in the workplace reflect how employees interact with teammates, managers, customers, and other stakeholders in a professional environment. Communication styles can vary depending on factors like personality, cultural background, role within the company, and the specific demands of the job.

Why are communication styles important?

Understanding and leveraging communication styles is important in both personal and professional environments. Good communication boosts morale and fosters a positive work environment while improving customer satisfaction and loyalty with your customers.

Different communication styles can:

  • Impact the way messages are conveyed and interpreted.
  • Influence how people interact and connect with others.
  • Determine how people navigate conversations toward conflict resolution.
  • Create diverse and inclusive environments.

According to Peter Neels, the senior director of customer experience innovation and strategy at Zendesk, it is beneficial for businesses to have employees with different communication styles.

“It allows you to understand different learning styles and how they intake information,” says Neels. “Some folks are analytical, while others need to have high-level overviews. The key is to learn from others so you know the best way to share information.”

4 types of communication styles in the workplace

Different avatars represent the four types of communication styles in the workplace, including passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive.

There are four different types of communication styles: passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive. It’s important to note that people can switch between these styles depending on the situation. So, someone may not always use the same communication style.

Let’s explore each style and tips on how to work effectively with each type of communicator.

1. Passive communication style

Passive communicators tend to “go with the flow,” preferring to avoid conflict and confrontation at all costs. They may struggle to assert themselves and defer decision-making to others, even if they have an opinion. They often prioritize the wants and needs of others over their own and may agree to things they don’t want to do to avoid saying “no.”

Example of a passive communicator: Pam Beesly, The Office

In the “Office Olympics” episode, Pam discovers that her boss moved her desk into the hallway to accommodate a new workspace for a coworker, Ryan Howard. Rather than speaking up against the move, she accepts the situation to avoid confrontation.

How to support passive communicators:

  • Create a safe, supportive environment where they feel comfortable expressing their thoughts, opinions, and concerns.
  • Engage with them in one-on-one interactions, alleviating the stress of group communication.
  • Recognize and celebrate their achievements and contributions to build confidence and boost their morale and motivation.

2. Aggressive communication style

Aggressive communicators often dominate conversations, ensuring their thoughts and opinions are heard. They might speak out of turn or talk over others. These interactions can lead to tense or awkward situations.

Example of an aggressive communicator: Michael Scott, The Office

Michael shows his aggressive communication style in the episode “The Merger,” where he interrogates his new employees from the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company Stamford branch during their first day at the Scranton office. He bombards them with rapid-fire questions, makes sarcastic remarks, and aggressively imposes his authority, creating an uncomfortable and intimidating atmosphere.

How to work with aggressive communicators:

  • Stay calm, composed, and assertive without being defensive.
  • Set boundaries with clear repercussions to keep them from crossing any lines.
  • Define roles and responsibilities to ensure everyone stays in their lane.

3. Passive-aggressive communication style

Similar to passive communicators, passive-aggressive communicators find it difficult to convey their true feelings directly or clearly articulate their point of view. They often express dissatisfaction through sarcasm or nonverbal communication, like sighing, muttering under their breath, displaying annoyed body language, or giving the silent treatment.

Example of a passive-aggressive communicator: Angela Martin, The Office

In the “Launch Party” episode, Angela hosts a party to celebrate the launch of a new website. During several interactions, Angela passive-aggressively criticizes the party planning committee’s decisions and expresses dissatisfaction with the event’s execution.

How to help passive-aggressive communicators:

  • Use direct language that requires clear responses.
  • Repeat their message to confirm you understand them correctly, but rephrase it in a positive way.
  • Practice active listening to show you acknowledge their concerns and want to understand their perspective.

4. Assertive communication style

Assertive communicators express themselves confidently and actively listen to others. They state their thoughts and feelings without fear or disrespect and define clear boundaries and expectations. They usually speak politely and calmly, maintain good eye contact in a face-to-face conversation, and strive for open and honest communication.

Example of an assertive communicator: Jim Halpert, The Office

In the episode “Safety Training,” Jim takes a proactive approach to addressing safety concerns in the workplace. Instead of passively accepting hazardous conditions, Jim raises awareness about safety protocols, encourages his colleagues to take precautions, and collaborates with management to implement improvements.

How to collaborate with assertive communicators:

  • Mirror their positivity and body language to create a better connection.
  • Practice active listening and ask open-ended, engaging questions.
  • Create a welcoming environment that encourages collaboration.

What’s your communication style?

Discover your unique communication style with our free quiz, and learn how to communicate more effectively to build stronger connections.

What else affects how someone communicates?

A list of factors that affect communication styles is next to an illustration of a person riding a bike.

Categorizing people based on conversation styles can give us clues into the type of communicator they are. But communication styles aren’t always cut and dry. You can’t just slap one label on someone and call it a day.

Take aggressive communicators, for example. They might appear intense in a meeting, but that doesn’t mean they’re always aggressive. Several other factors influence how we talk to each other, including:

  • Personality: Like Stanley Hudson’s no-nonsense vibes or Jim’s laid-back attitude, individual traits play a significant role in communicating.
  • Cultural background: Diverse backgrounds, like Dwight Schrute’s rural upbringing on a beet farm or Kelly Kapoor’s obsession with pop culture and celebrity gossip, shape our communication styles.
  • Gender identity and social roles: Characters like Oscar Martinez challenge societal norms and promote acceptance and diversity as members of the LGBTQ+ community. Meanwhile, Angela adheres to traditional gender roles and values, which strongly influence her communication tactics.
  • Emotional state: From Michael’s reckless enthusiasm to Pam’s insecurity, emotions can impact how we express ourselves.
  • Environment or education: The office setting or educational background can also affect communication styles, as seen with characters like the clueless Kevin Malone or Cornell University-educated Andy Bernard.

Most people generally strive to be an assertive communicator. But thanks to the above influences, assertive communication is a spectrum rather than an endpoint. It’s all about finding the right balance.

How to be an assertive communicator

Assertive communication is one of the top customer service skills and workplace communication styles businesses look for in their employees. It’s a healthy style that conveys respect and professionalism.

Because assertive communication is rooted in respect, compassion, and empathy, this type of communication makes it easier to build customer rapport, connect with coworkers and leadership, and enhance the employee experience. Here’s how.

  • Assertive communication with customers: Customer communication should be empathetic but still direct. It involves actively listening to customer needs and concerns while confidently and respectfully addressing any issues or requests to ensure customer satisfaction.
  • Assertive communication with coworkers: Assertive communication includes openly sharing ideas and perspectives, actively participating in discussions, and respectfully conveying opinions or concerns in the workplace.
  • Assertive communication with management: Being transparent and assertive with management can improve your work experience dramatically. It fosters better communication to help set boundaries, prevent burnout, and ensure respect regardless of position or role in the company.
  • Assertive communication in leadership: As a manager, being assertive involves clearly communicating expectations, providing constructive feedback, and addressing issues directly. It also entails advocating for the resources or support needed to achieve team goals, encouraging open dialogue, and creating a positive and inclusive work environment.

Let’s take it back to another episode of The Office. In “Business School,” Michael Scott’s confident client negotiation skills led to a breakthrough in sales. Michael shows that assertive communication can be a game-changer in navigating workplace dynamics.

Now, let’s delve into a few techniques for identifying communication styles to achieve workplace success.

How to identify different styles of communication

Determining how to interact with other communication styles can help you understand where to improve your assertive communication skills. You can identify different conversation styles in others and yourself in a few ways.

Look for patterns in conversation styles

When communicating with different types of people, observe how they communicate in various situations. Here are a few common patterns in conversation styles to look for:

  • Confident expression of thoughts and needs versus holding back to avoid miscommunication or conflict

  • Attempts to take control during conversations or domineering or confrontational language and behavior

  • Difficulty expressing and setting boundaries

  • Indirect communication, negative body language, or sarcastic comments

By recognizing these conversation patterns, you can better understand individuals’ communication tendencies and adapt your approach to foster effective communication and interpersonal relationships.

Common communication style phrases:

  • Passive: “I don’t care one way or the other.”
  • Aggressive: “Let’s just do it my way.”
  • Passive-aggressive: “Fine, I’ll just do it myself.”
  • Assertive: “I’d love to, but I can’t take on anything new right now.”

Observe verbal or nonverbal cues

Observing verbal and nonverbal cues is crucial for understanding communication styles, as they provide valuable insights into emotions, attitudes, and intentions. Here’s a deeper look into the different types of communication and cues.

Different types of communication
VerbalVerbal communication involves the use of spoken words to convey messages.
NonverbalNonverbal communication involves the use of gestures, facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, eye contact, and other cues to convey meaning without words.
VisualVisual communication utilizes visual elements such as charts, graphs, diagrams, maps, illustrations, photographs, videos, and other visual aids to convey information.
WrittenWritten communication occurs during various forms of text-based interactions, such as live chat support, reports, memos, letters, emails, articles, blogs, and social media posts.

Some verbal cues to look for include tone of voice, the use of specific words and phrases, and how fast or slow the person speaks.

Nonverbal cues include the person’s body language, such as posture, gestures, or adjusting physical distance and personal space. They might maintain or avoid eye contact and use facial expressions like smiling, frowning, grimacing, or raising their eyebrows. You can also find nonverbal cues in written communication, such as emojis, exclamation points, or all caps.

Use a communication style quiz

Communication style quizzes are like personality tests for how we communicate. Using a self-assessment, like the free Zendesk communication style quiz, can be a valuable tool for gaining insights into your own and others’ communication styles.

Communication style quizzes work by asking you to answer questions about how you talk, handle conflicts, and interact with others. They assess your communication behaviors and habits, helping you see where you shine and where you might need a little work.

While communication style quizzes provide valuable insights, remember they’re just one tool for understanding communication dynamics. Effective communication involves a combination of self-awareness, practice, feedback, and continuous learning to refine your communication skills in various contexts.

Frequently asked questions

Enhance collaboration with effective communication styles

Understanding the communication styles of others—and your own—can make your workplace and customer interactions even more effective. After all, you don’t want to deal with an uncomfortable work environment or lose a loyal customer because of a communication breakdown.

Take our free quiz and learn how to enhance conversations and create stronger customer connections. Who knows—it might help you win a Dundie Award for “Most Effective Communicator.”

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