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Communications: What’s Your Style?

September 23, 2009

LAF Note: This post was written by regular contributor Chevis English.

CommunicationWhen I chose to study communications at the University of Arkansas, I never knew how many types of communication there actually were. There is nonverbal communication, inteERpersonal communication, intrRApersonal communication, small group communication, gender communication (Side Note: best class one could ever take for the sake of their relationship) and the list goes on. Today we have new forms of communication with the advent of the Internet, email, texting and social media, which are still evolving everyday.

There are also different styles of communication and everyone speaks differently. The four main styles of communication are assertive, aggressive, passive and passive aggressive. As a newbie in the professional world it is important to communicate with the right style.  If we speak too aggressively we are considered arrogant and if we speak too passive we are seen as lacking confidence.

I have tried to learn to speak more assertive and not sound passive, but I find myself reverting back to my natural tone at times. I naturally have a voice that is soft in tone and I have been told that I come off as sounding not confident.  It does raise a few questions though:

How should we speak assertively without coming off as arrogant when we are still ripe in the industry?  When should we speak passively? What communication style do you think is best for us Gen Yers? Do our personality styles coincide with how we speak?

*Picture taken from DailyPic on Flickr.

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23 Comments leave one →
  1. September 23, 2009 7:56 am

    I often find it hard to be aggressive/assertive. I sometimes wish it was easier. I’m a very outgoing individual which often leads people to believe I’m also confident. Not true, but I guess we should fake it until we make it right?

    I have friends in this industry who have no problem speaking their mind and they typically get what they want. However being very assertive has often labeled them the “B” word. However certain times call for being assertive/aggressive. It depends on the situation and the person.

    For me, I found that I communicate in all four ways you suggested. It just depends on the person that I am communicating with. Since I am an outgoing person, in order to stop myself from putting my foot in my mouth ( which happens too often) I try to be more reserved when I first meet someone. Whether it’s a co-worker, boss, new friend from twitter. I do the same for journalists/editors. There are some people you can joke with and others who are all business. Some are always in a hurry and if they are pushy, I push a little back. I’ve found that when I do push back it surprises them and somehow, sometimes, I feel they respect me more.

    But one thing I think we should remember is whether we are being, assertive, aggressive, passive or passive aggressive, we need to always be respectful. I think if we remember to be respectful we wont come off as arrogant or overly confident.

    Great question!


    • September 23, 2009 8:09 am

      Christina –

      Communications style do depend on who you’re speaking with – and how they respond to it. I think it’s great that you use all four and can recognize which ones fit.

      Women that are assertive can be compared to the ‘B’ word, and it’s something that might continue to happen. Which, honestly, is sad. I think women communication style is changing the most, and I’m glad you brought up that point.

  2. September 23, 2009 8:18 am

    I’m a fellow Gen-Yer in an entry-level position and I’ve found it’s best to be assertive in areas where I actually do have the most amount of knowledge (social networking), but more thoughtful and sponge-like when it comes to other situations where the other person(s) clearly have more experience.

    As Millennials we definitely bring a lot to the table in terms of use of technology, so use that to your advantage and talk with assertiveness; it won’t come off as arrogant but rather confident in your knowledge and skills– and helpful too!

    From what I’ve observed in the workplace and online, those who have been in the business a long time are always looking to learn to better themselves even further!

    • September 23, 2009 11:15 am

      Kristina – quick question about having the most amount of knowledge in SM. Are we talking the platforms or strategy?

      • September 23, 2009 10:54 pm

        Good point, I should have clarified- I meant we (generally) have the most amount of experience using the SM platforms although not always knowledge on strategies using SM. However, I do think since we have a lot of experience using the platforms we bring a good amount of knowledge on how to strategize using the platforms. Through discussion and teamwork all generations can collaborate for the best end result — and learn along the way!

        • September 24, 2009 6:50 am

          Ok, cool – thanks for the clarification. I’m really big on young professionals truly understanding brand strategy, not just platform strategy, when dealing with SM. I think you brought up a great point about teamwork. 🙂 It’s imperative in these types of roles.

  3. September 23, 2009 8:21 am

    What a great post! This is yet another reminder to me about missing out to study or at least take some comm. classes in college before jumping into the industry (was psych/business double major, also works =)

    A lot has to to do with whom you are talking to… namely, if in the PR or marcomm industries, to me it’s broken down to having an external (client) and internal (boss) face. Communication has to be balanced differently with each sect and sometimes the right switch to managing up (aggressive vs. assertive) versus being passive… the same for clients, only i personally believe being aggressive with a client is usually not the right thing to do (especially under current climate), but being assertive with your counsel and ideas could make all the difference in pushing through a strategy you believe in.

    VERY much enjoyed this as my first read this morning!


    • September 23, 2009 11:17 am

      After reading this, I wish I had taken more communications classes as well! I find that with certain types, I have an easier time saying something, rather than a person who can’t understand my body language, relate to my style, etc.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post – Chevis is a smart Cookie!

  4. September 23, 2009 8:44 am

    Chevis- great post, especially in the wake of this week’s coffee-run debate. Communication styles fascinate me and it’s interesting to see reactions here. Personally, like Christina up top, I think communication style depends on the situation and who you’re working with. I also think that there’s a big difference between showing confidence and coming off as arrogant. Arrogance shows a lack of respect for the accomplishments and experience of superiors, while confidence is the assertiveness and certainty that one can succeed in the task at hand. I always try to exude confidence in the workplace, speak up when I feel it is necessary, and respect my superiors, especially when they are trying to help me or asking me to do something.

    Again, awesome post and topic. I’m looking forward to reading more responses!


    • September 23, 2009 11:20 am

      My favorite saying: “Confidence is having the ability to walk up to someone and say hi. Cocky is thinking that person should be grateful.”

  5. September 23, 2009 9:03 am

    Speak passively when talking about things outside of your profession. Smile, nod, agree, and be friendly.

    When speaking professionally, assertive is definitely the way to go. Don’t cross the line where you’re coming off as aggressive as that’s when you make others feel threatened…but be firm in your beliefs, and confident in your words.

    At the same time, you have to know when yo choose your battles. People will hate you if you’re assertively conveying your views all the time. Know when you need to be assertive, and when you should ease off a bit, and take a friendly, lighter approach. Be assertive when the issue is serious, personal or when being friendly just won’t get the point through.


    • September 23, 2009 11:21 am

      Interesting point about professional v. personal voice, D. Do you think they can ever blend?

  6. September 23, 2009 9:25 am

    Communications styles have always fascinated me. My mother is a PR professional who is very well known and respected so I’ve always tried to take ques from her. She has told me, from as young as I can remember, that it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Effective communication takes thought and proper presentation.

    Christina made a great point about women being called the “B” word when we are assertive. I’ve been accused of it and sometimes I feel like it’s a fallback for when someone doesn’t like what you have to say.

  7. Chevis permalink
    September 23, 2009 9:35 am

    Thank you all so much for your insightful comments! I agree that you must use different styles of communication in different settings and especially when speaking to different people. It is so important to understand your audience when you’re speaking or you won’t get through to them at all.

    David: Picking your battles is so important and I have tried to get better at that in the past few years. I always try and ask myself – will what I am arguing about matter tomorrow, next week, next year?

    Tom: Respecting my superiors has been drilled into my head since I was little because it is such an important factor in one’s success. My dad always tells me that even if you don’t respect a person, you MUST respect their position.

    Kristina: Great points! I too have noticed that people who have been in the business world for a while are eager to learn new things. Especially when it comes to social media! I think it is important for us Gen-Yers to become well versed in things that may be foreign to our superiors because that can possibly give us an extra boost up in the workplace.

    Christina: I too struggle with speaking my mind and it tends to sometimes get me in trouble. I have been like that since I was a child so it is a tough habit to break. I often times say John Mayer’s “My Stupid Mouth” is my theme song. I agree with Lauren that it is sad that women are title a B**** just for getting their work done. For instance, I recently watched the September Issue, which was a movie that revealed Anna Wintour behind the scenes at Vogue. She has a reputation as being a ‘B’ but she just knows how to do her job well and wants things how she wants them. If she were a man, nobody would question her behavior at all. It is somewhat of a double standard.

  8. Katie permalink
    September 23, 2009 9:39 am

    Great post, Chevis! I think this is a huge topic for new professionals trying to establish their professional voice.

    There is def. a difference between being assertive vs. aggressive or confident vs. cocky.

    I think part of that difference comes from the fact that communication is a two-way street and you have to be willing to listen too.

    Having the confidence to share your ideas in the professional space is important but I think being humble enough to be able to take a step back and listen to what others are saying will keep you from becoming overly arrogant.

    I think one of *my* biggest problems with finding my professional voice is my tendency to be a little bit sassy…I’m still trying to find a balance between my sarcastic personality and my professional persona. But, like any type of communication, I think a lot of it has to do with time/place 🙂


    • September 23, 2009 11:22 am

      I think trying to define your voice is constantly changing as your roles and jobs change. You have to make it specific to your environment. I am sassy and quirky too – but I use it when it’s appropriate. You’ll get the hang of it – and when people know you, they accept it.

  9. September 23, 2009 9:42 am

    Really fascinating topic, Chevis!

    Communication can be a delicate art, that’s for sure. Knowing how to position your body, the right intonation in your voice, even what to WEAR that day is a combination of innate skill and trial and error.

    As you get better and better, you start to think backwards: “What is the reaction I want to get from the other person or group and how do I go about evoking that?”

    When I do work for nightclubs, I wear all black and may not shave for a few days. When I meet with a government client, I always wear a tie. You dress to the occasion and you speak to your audience.

    Experiment. Talk in different styles and see what reactions you get. It is fascinating!

  10. September 23, 2009 9:44 am

    I think Kristina has it right. It is important to speak assertively when you are speaking about something where you are the company “expert” or “go to” person.

    The thing that bothers me a little bit Chevis, is that you imply that the 4 communications styles stand alone, where I think there is some overlap. I like to think of communications styles on a continuum, where assertive may be on one end and passive may be on another, but there is a full range of middle ground where we exist on a daily basis.

    It is important to understand this grey area when we are communicating. How can we be assertive while also remaining open to new ideas? I love the idea of communication styles, but I love the idea of nuanced communication even better.

    Great post!


  11. Chevis permalink
    September 23, 2009 9:49 am

    One of my fave communication professors says, ” People may forget what you said but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

  12. September 23, 2009 9:59 am


    Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been waiting for someone in the PR field to address it. While I don’t work in PR, I find that I learn a lot from PR pros. I work in a small non-profit and, while I’m outgoing and a people person, I often find myself sticking my foot in my mouth. I attempt to be assertive where I have areas of expertise or when it comes down to employee benefits or office policies (an area where I do have experience). Luckily, I have a great boss who backs most everything I do.

    While I think that, as young professionals (I’m a little older than you, but still consider myself a young pro), we need to respect our superiors and fulfill our jobs as well as possible, but there is a line to be drawn. Always being passive and accommodating will label one a pushover and likely won’t get one far along a career path. I know that, in order to gain respect from my peers and superiors, I have to assert myself, take on responsibility, admit when I make mistakes, and fix them. I have trouble myself finding where the line is drawn between assertive and confident and being arrogant. I understand that it’s a sliding scale and some will think an action is arrogant, while others will respect you for asserting yourself.

    I personally have found that taking responsibility for my own actions, admitting to mistakes, and asking questions when I’m unsure of something will often balance out the times when I feel my input on a subject is valuable, the times when I am confident in my additions to the conversation, where I can assert myself without arrogance.

    However, I do feel, as others have mentioned above, that because I’m a young woman, rather than a young man, my confidence and assertive nature often get me into trouble where young men would be respected for speaking up. I’m not sure that there is any way to change this double standard, except to keep speaking up and not let it get to me when people think I’m too assertive. As long as I know that I welcome other viewpoints and am able to admit mistakes and laugh at myself when appropriate, I should be confident in my contributions.

    I think it often happens that people view assertive as ambitious and that being ambitious is not an attractive quality in a young woman, whereas being ambitious is a very attractive quality in a young man. I’m not sure why the gender double standard is so obvious and yet so unchanged, but I sincerely hope that young women of our generation will be able to overcome it (as many women have before us) with the grace of honest, confident communication strategy.

    Again, I thank you for this post. The discussion going on here is a valuable and timely one and I’m sure you won’t be the only one that benefits from it!


  13. September 23, 2009 11:03 am

    Great post & comments as always. As someone who started in PR when I was 20 (which seems like forever ago), I know firsthand what it is like to find the balance of listening and speaking – and I think that is the first step.

    The second is to remeber that only 7% of what you communicate is the actual words you say. The bulk of your message is made up of your nonpverbal cues,everything from your posture & facial expressions to the tone of your voice and the choice of attire (which some of you mentioned).

    I think you are all on the right track in identifying the importance of who you are communicating with. I have done workshops that train people to communicate with people how they want to be communicated with. For example – if you are communicating with someone who prefers brief, to the point information – i.e. a more aggressive communicator (that is really simpliying for this example), your communication will be more effective if you communicate in an aggresive method to that person even if it is out of your comfort zone.

    I have also found that injecting humor into conversations is a great way to diffuse a lot of conversations, as long as ir is genuine and appropriate.

  14. Rich Pulvino permalink
    September 23, 2009 2:25 pm

    Great post topic Chevis!

    The biggest difference between the aggressive and assertive communication styles is that aggressive communications evokes a sense of force and hostility, and that is something that should stay outside of the work place. An assertive communication style is geared more towards expressing confidence and enthusiasm behind what you are saying, but realizing that what you are saying is not always going to be the definitive answer to a situation/problem. There is a very thin line between the two and it becomes important to keep our personalities in check in a professional environment in order to prevent arrogant personas.

    As far as people misinterpreting certain communication styles, the more time you spend working with a person, the more you are able to pick up on his/her communication styles. What may have seemed like a lack of confidence during a first impression, may be something that takes nurturing and encouragement in order to bring out a more confident personality. I understand that first impressions are important, but if it is a person you are going to work with for a while, you should never be too quick to judge upon the first conversation.

    Rich (@rpulvino)


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