Understanding Passive Communication: How It Affects You

There are four primary types of communication that can affect your life, in your workplace and in other social situations. These are passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive. In general, there is an appropriate situation for which you should use each of these forms of communication, but many adults will feel more comfortable with others who employ a particular style.

There are four primary types of communication that can affect your life

On any given day, you probably use all four types of communication. You are also more likely to use one of these styles more often with each person in your social circle based on the power dynamics within the particular relationship. For example, you might generally communicate with co-workers in a very passive way while adopting an aggressive communication style with your spouse because you have the more dominant personality.

Do Other People Understand Your Communication Style?

Friends communicating

It is good to ask close friends and friendly colleagues about which communication style you typically exhibit. Quite possibly, you are used to acting in different ways according to your social role, and your communication style may look different in each context. People who know you in multiple contexts may be surprised at how different your styles of sharing messages are.

Furthermore, people who know you in one context may be even more surprised when they encounter your communication patterns in a different setting. The point is that you can adopt each style of sending messages to others to fit the situation, but being more consistent in how you interact with people will make them feel more at ease.

If you wish to change how people perceive you, then they will have to get used to any new communication style that you adopt, which is a crucial point to remember before attempting any radical adjustments to your personal expression.

Passive Communicator Definition

Friends communicating passively

We are going to encourage you to be brutally honest with yourself here. After reading the following bullet points based on this link from Princeton University, you may recognize your own style here. It could also start to feel like you could adopt a more effective pattern of communication, especially by being more upfront with your thoughts and feelings. But, please don’t be so hard on yourself when or if you recognize this. Here are four markers of passive communication:

  • When you are not expressing your feelings or needs, this can be especially evident in one or both partners. Being passive can affect one-on-one relationships, including casual dating, romance, long-term partnerships, and marriages. If you disregard your rights as a person and let others do the same, then you aren’t standing up for yourself.
  • When you are permitting other people in a group or partnership to make decisions, you are giving up your power. This could be to avoid conflicts or tensions that would upset you more.
  • When you don’t express yourself, you can cause others to misunderstand you. But you may also feel frustrated or angry inside, and these negative feelings can begin to build up. Similarly, others may become resentful of your passive communication, especially because you aren’t speaking up for yourself. They may take your lack of expression as a negative.
  • When you don’t feel safe, this form of communication can help you to exacerbate a bad situation, which could lead to violence. A good example can occur in a dating sensation, and a weaker person is feeling at risk from the other person, and his/her behavior is unpredictable.

Understanding the Positive Aspects

Friends laughing

Whether you believe passive forms of communication are positive or negative depends on your role in each social situation. It also depends on what you normally expect that a person, yourself included, could do in that type of situation where they used passive communication, but they should have been more aggressive.

For example, a leader is a person who can often receive negative judgments from others because he or she is given to being passive. In one scenario, an individual who listens and offers no judgments would be seen as a positive and friendly leader. This is the kind of person you want to bring your concerns to. In another scenario, a leader who will not call anyone out for poor performance or for being too aggressive in a meeting and not letting others talk could be seen as weak.

So, a passive leader should not be afraid to adopt a more assertive or aggressive communication style when the situation calls for it. Some leaders can hold onto some of their passive tendencies, such as avoiding conflict and not playing the blame game, as long as they can risk conflict when it really matters. However, they don’t get to blame others when they should use their role of authority to solve problems and to correct behaviors in individuals or groups. However, avoiding conflict makes them less likely to reach the highest levels of an organization.

A passive leader should not be afraid to adopt a more assertive or aggressive communication style

Understanding the Negative Aspects

Shadow of a couple arguing

A negative aspect of being passive occurs when someone uses this style to avoid conflict consistently in a relationship that merits open and honest dialogue. For example, let’s say that you are married, and there is something your spouse does every day that bothers you.

However, you have let the pattern continue and never said anything. One day, you blow up at your spouse because you’ve never said anything and you’ve finally had enough. What’s more, there’s a good chance that your expression of anger, resentment, or frustration, and maybe a host of other emotions, may be inappropriate. Your reaction may be too angry or explosive, given what your spouse has actually done.

Then, you end up doing more harm than good because you finally chose to express yourself. However, you were wrong for holding it in so long and not being honest about your feelings. You couldn’t reasonably expect your spouse to know that the behavior pattern bothers you if you never broach the subject.

Changing Your Communication Style

Old couple communicating well

Most of us have worked for many leaders and with many co-workers who suddenly come back to the organization and claim that they are changing their communication style for the better. A big reason is, especially for executives, that they have “heard” the feedback from their colleagues, and they want to be more organized, more outspoken, more present in different work areas so that employees feel supported, and more able to solve problems.

They already felt like they listened to us, but, somehow, with their new plan of action, they are going to change how we feel. We are going to be heard finally, and that should make us feel better. By the way, the leader puts the responsibility on you and your co-workers to provide extra leeway while we get used to their new communication style.

When you hear a leader talk like this, you have to shake your head. It’s hard to fathom that one person thinks she can change how to lead. You are all for the idea that the workplace culture will finally improve. What you are missing in a scenario like this is any belief that the person claiming the change will occur is capable of it or truly wants to change. Let’s put the shoe on the other foot for a moment. Imagine if you were the one who wanted to effect a dramatic change in your communication style. Ask yourself:

Imagine if you were the one who wanted to effect a dramatic change in your communication style

  • Would others believe you?
  • What would you change?
  • How could you be less passive?
  • How could you express thoughts and feelings more effectively and not let resentments build up in relationships?

Give Yourself Less Stress Through Assertive Communication

Man being assertive in communication

It’s okay to have a passive personality. It may surprise you, but you will experience less stress by changing how you handle communication. Get feelings out before they build up. Let others deal with them; however, they will do that. Don’t carry feelings around inside. If you don’t share your feelings, then you are only hurting yourself.

You aren’t giving anyone else the chance to change how they act towards you because you are withholding this information. Here’s another way to think about it. You are going to adopt more of an assertive communication style so that others can appreciate how you feel.

Conclusion

To become more active in dialogue, say what you think and feel as each day unfolds. Stop going along with the decisions of others. By speaking up, others will be able to sense that you respect yourself. People take you at face value. Then, you adopt an empathetic communication pattern by being an active listener and choosing appropriate responses.

Both you and other people who talk with you can feel more comfortable because both of you respect your rights to share. Whenever the playing field becomes unbalanced, then one or both of you could be exhibiting too much passive communication.

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