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The 4 different communication styles & how to leverage them

4 different boxes of conversation with Cpl branded logo.

We all work differently and within one office you’ll notice people can have quite different communication styles. Communication styles don’t refer to preferring email over a phone call, rather they refer to how we naturally behave around each other.

Timid and laid back or domineering and upfront, to the point and confident or sarcastic and in-direct.

If you are a manager, or if you work as part of a team, it’s important to know what your own communication style is, as well as your colleague’s communication styles. This will enhance collaboration and avoid any unnecessary bickering.

Basically, communication styles sum up the logic behind the phrase “it’s not what you said, but the way you said it.”

Another big influence on communication styles are the different expectations of the various generations in the workplace. A millennial will naturally communicate in a different way to a baby boomer and vice versa. There is nothing wrong with this, but it’s valuable to be conscious of.

There are a few different lists out there, but the 4 most common communication styles are:

  1. Passive
  2. Aggressive
  3. Passive-aggressive
  4. Assertive

What communication style are you? And how can you work well with each style of communicator?

Find a more detailed description of each below, along with some tips on how to work well with each.


A passive person tends not to say what they mean. If they have an issue, they’ll keep it to themselves and let others do the talking.

A passive colleague will often be apologetic and keep their opinions to themselves. On the plus side this type of communicator can often be patient and easy-going. A passive colleague will rarely cause upset.

Working with a passive person

When communicating with passive communicators ask direct questions and be reassuring. Be wary that a passive person finds it difficult to say no, which can lead to burnout.


As the title suggests, this type of communicator is loud and domineering. An aggressive communicator will interrupt others and make their opinion known. They will typically be known around the office as erring on the side of inappropriate and controlling.

Although this all sounds quite negative there are advantages to being an aggressive communicator. These people can be very persuasive which makes them a great asset if managed correctly.

Working with an aggressive person

Don’t treat an aggressive communicator with aggression. Instead, stay calm and logical. Involve HR or more senior members of your team if necessary.


Like passive communicators a passive-aggressive person tends to be quiet, but with an underlying air of hostility. These communicators are often unhappy in their roles but are uncomfortable venting this in a direct way. Sarcasm is another common trait of a passive-aggressive worker.

Passive-aggressive colleagues are in ways more difficult to deal with than a more upfront aggressive colleague.

If you think you might be a passive-aggressive communicator at work, it’s likely you’re unhappy and it’s important to address this or potentially look for a new role somewhere where you’ll be more comfortable.

Working with a passive-aggressive person

In mild cases, humour can diffuse a passive-aggressive conversation but if a passive-aggressive colleague is causing disruption, it’s important to tackle the problem directly.


An assertive person is calm, clear and confident. The preferred method of communication, assertive colleagues are generally upfront, while being emphatic to others on their team.

Being assertive takes time. If you’d like to be more assertive try using more “I” statements, say no to unrealistic asks and be mindful of keeping your emotions in check. Think like a leader and be confident in your own opinions.

Working with an assertive person

You will know where you stand with an assertive colleague, these people are good to ask for advice and are very level in their communications.

Can you see yourself in any of these communication styles? Or could you pick a style for anyone on your team?

Most of us are a combination of types. If you’d like to be more assertive, or if you feel you’re aggressive and rather be more passive, being mindful of this is a great first step.

Remember “it’s not what you said, but the way you said it” when communicating with your colleagues and you could be one step closer to getting the results you want faster and better.

Interested in more articles like this? Visit our Career Advice Centre or get in touch if you’d like to chat about developing your skills in a new role.