No matter where you are in the world, knowing how to effectively communicate with your staff and colleagues is one of the best ways to run a successful business.
But just like how we all have our own unique personalities or outward personal style, the way that people like to communicate can vary from individual to individual.
Learning to recognize and understand different styles of communication is a great skill to build as a leader to not only help you get your own point across more clearly but also to help facilitate more productive conversations on your team and potentially even avoid conflicts.
Sound complicated? It doesn’t have to be. We’re here to give you all of the details that you need to know, from the main communication types that you might see with your team members, along with tips for how to manage these types of personalities and create a harmonious work environment.
How We Get the Point Across
Usually, when we’re referring to communication, we instantly think of talking. That’s known as verbal communication. But there’s so much more to how we interact as humans and the cues we pick up from each other than the words that we say.
Generally, communication is grouped into the following four categories:
This is the one we’re all familiar with. Spoken words, whether face-to-face or over the phone or a video chat, convey how we’re thinking and feeling in a situation. When these are paired with non-verbal cues, the message becomes much clearer.
Especially in today’s digital age, not all communication happens verbally. Written communication includes any messages that you share in writing—whether it’s a formal business report or email or something more casual like a text or instant message.
This is where you’ll find context for many of the words we speak through things like tone or delivery. Body language cues like hand gestures, facial expressions, posture, and even someone’s physical appearance are all part of non-verbal communication.
Visual aids typically involve things like signs, maps, diagrams, or colors. They’re not often used alone and are instead paired with verbal communication techniques to emphasize a point or help an audience remember something important–think visuals on a speech presentation!
Why It’s Important to Understand Different Communication Styles
When you’re building a business and frequently bringing in new team members, there’s a fairly good chance that they’ll all have different communication styles. That’s not a bad thing—it’s completely natural!
But having a working knowledge of how each person likes to operate is a huge benefit. It enables everybody to interact with each other more productively and respectfully, saving hours of miscommunication that could delay project timelines or potentially upset someone on the team.
For example, maybe an employee is confused about a note they saw from another service rep in a customer’s file. Rather than being tempted to take action based on assumptions, the employee approaches the relevant team member to respectfully ask what was meant by the note.
That quick exchange gives them the clarity they need to determine their next steps in a more accurate and efficient way. Research backs up that productivity boost. According to McKinsey, well-connected teams see productivity increase by 20-25 percent. Being on the same page really does make a difference.
Efficiency aside, communication also improves interpersonal relationships at work. The other employee will likely appreciate that their team member took the time to ask questions, listen, and understand them, as opposed to ignoring their note altogether. When people feel understood and listened to, both employee engagement and teamwork improve. In fact, studies have found that employees are nearly five times more likely to feel empowered to do their best when they feel heard.
While you can’t change the way that someone chooses to give or receive information, knowing their communication style allows you and others to tailor your approach to every conversation and build lasting, positive relationships with your staff.
4 Types of Communication Styles in the Workplace
Working to understand these styles is all about building your own communication skills as a leader—after all, you can learn a lot through observation.
By practicing active listening (meaning, listening with the intent to comprehend and retain information, rather than waiting for your own turn to speak) and making eye contact when an employee is talking to you, you’ll quickly start to pick up on which of the four main types of communication style each person has.
Let’s take a look at each of these styles in a little more detail:
1. Passive Communication
What you’ll notice:
- Frequent apologies
- Nervous fidgeting
- Quiet speaking voice
- Reluctance to speak up
Example: “I’m sorry, I don’t have anything else to add. That all sounds fine to me.”
Passive communicators are generally the quietest people on the team. They often let other people dominate conversations and discussions, all while being reluctant to share their own thoughts or feelings during brainstorming sessions or meetings.
These individuals are often the peacekeepers so they have a hard time saying no, for fear of upsetting the balance. They’ll usually speak quietly, apologize for something they’ve done or said, and fidget nervously when the attention is on them.
What can you do?
The best way to manage passive communicators is to have a direct approach and encourage them to come out of their shell. Have as many one-on-one meetings with them as you can so that they can feel comfortable without the pressure of being heard by a larger group.
Avoid giving them the chance to answer questions with “yes” or “no”. You may need to follow up with these individuals after a short period of time, when they’ve had the chance to think through their answers.
2. Aggressive Communication
What you’ll notice:
- Emotional language
- Frequent interruptions
- Intense and bold gestures and expressions
- Unreserved sharing of thoughts, feelings, and opinions
Example: “Ugh, that’s such a bad idea! Here’s why.”
If you find yourself with individuals on the team who are more dominant in discussions, tend to interrupt people, or use intense gestures like folding their arms, you have an aggressive communicator on your hands. They can often come across as quite intimidating and may use highly emotional language before really thinking about what they want to say.
People with this type of communication style can quickly turn a workplace into a tense and negative atmosphere, so it’s important to quickly rein in certain behaviors associated with this type.
What can you do?
Keep your own tone calm, yet assertive, when in conversation with an aggressive communicator. Keep them focused on the big picture and actionable steps to get there. This is a great way to divert attention off personal issues that may be brought up and to involve the more passive members of staff in the discussion. If a situation escalates into harassment or bullying, it may be time to involve HR or make the difficult decision about that employee’s future with your business.
3. Passive-Aggressive Communication
What you’ll notice:
- Actions and words that don’t align
- Eye rolls, grimaces, and other doubtful facial expressions
- Muttered comments
Example: “Julie is going to be the one to lead that project? Oh boy, I’m sure that will work out great for us.” *said sarcastically with an eye roll*
The passive-aggressive communication style is an interesting blend. While on the outside, an individual may look more like a passive communicator, there are certain signs to look for that show frustration bubbling under the surface.
Employees who frequently use sarcasm, mutter under their breath, or appear to be sulking are typically passive-aggressive. Their words say that they’re fine, but in reality, their actions suggest otherwise.
What can you do?
Being upfront and making clear requests of these individuals can help to prevent any confusion about a task, along with asking them for direct feedback in a one-on-one setting. Humor can be a useful tool to diffuse tension in scenarios involving passive-aggressive communicators. You may need to confront the negative side of their behavior if it continues without improvement.
4. Assertive Communication
What you’ll notice:
- Asking questions to better understand someone’s point of view
- Balance between speaking and listening
- Calm and respectful demeanor
- Willingness to openly share opinions, ideas, and feedback
Example: “That’s an interesting idea, but I do have a couple of concerns. Can you tell me more about your suggestion so we can reach an agreement?”
When it comes to being the most liked and productive person at work, everyone aspires to have an assertive communication style.
Not to be confused with aggressive, these individuals are usually calm and respectful, but still make their opinions clear. They take the time to listen to others, are great at following and giving step-by-step instructions, and are often the people who turn ideas into reality.
When working with people who have an assertive style, you’ll notice that they speak clearly and maintain eye contact whenever talking to someone. They’re considerate of other people’s needs, but have no fear in sharing their own thoughts. For this reason, assertive communicators typically make the best leaders.
What can you do?
Encourage them to continue expressing themselves in the respectful manner that they currently are. These team members can also be helpful in diffusing negative situations and balancing out the other communication types, which is why leadership should be in the cards for these individuals.
Other Business Communication Styles
While the main four communication styles can be seen throughout all areas of life, there are a few other types that people may exhibit in a more formal work setting.
People with an analytical communication style care about the facts. They like to be as direct as possible, using hard data and numbers to problem solve. Having people like this on your team helps to avoid emotional decision-making and focus more carefully on the end result. They’re a great choice when you need someone to zone in on the quantitative information of a project—from a timeline to statistics.
Example: “I think that’s a great idea, and here are last quarter’s sales numbers to back it up.”
Intuitive communicators also care about data, but these are really your big ideas people. They prefer conversations that get to the point and to get on with the work, which can lead to them missing important details. But intuitive communicators often have out-of-the-box thinking that can generate unexpected results and help them to become truly invaluable members of staff. If you’re looking for someone to lead a brainstorming session for your team, your intuitive communicators should be the first people you look to.
Example: “I think that’s a great idea. Let’s get to work on it!”
Functional communicators are really the backbone of your workplace communication strategy. They’ll take a holistic view when problem solving and make sure that no detail is left untouched. Functional communicator employees work best when they can give their full attention to a strict process and figure out the necessary integrations for a project.
Example: “I think that’s a great idea. I’ll move forward with mapping out a timeline and a project plan.”
Personal communicators are some of the most fun people when you’re thinking about workplace communication styles. They’re often the most social and bubbly members of the team who love to build an emotional connection before cracking on with a task. Personal communicators are perfect for customer-facing positions thanks to their relationship-building skills.
Example: “I think that’s a great idea. Let’s brainstorm it together a little more!”
Uncovering some of these traits can be more challenging than the four main communication styles. Most people don’t even know where they fall themselves, particularly new hires who may be in only their first or second job and haven’t had a chance to become too involved in big projects.
Workplace personality tests like DiSC or Myers-Briggs can be a fun team bonding activity and be incredibly useful when it comes to learning the subtle differences among your employees. Using tools like the DiSC assessment or Clifton StrengthsFinder can give you an opportunity to find out more about each other, as well as give leadership insight into what tasks or roles may suit an individual’s core strengths.
Build Channels for Effective Communication in Your Business
When you know more about the people who work for you, you create a stronger team and an all-round better work environment. And a better work environment means happier employees, greater productivity, and a thriving business. Who wouldn’t want that?
It definitely takes time and effort to connect with your staff and learn their unique personality traits and quirks, but it’s more than worth the effort. By working on your own communication skills at the same time, you can become the leader that your team needs, no matter their role in your organization or what their preferred communication style is.