Communication Spectrum

Types of Communication

Communicating can be so hard! Have you ever felt like what you were trying to say came out too harshly? Have you ever chosen not to say anything because you were not sure how to express your needs?

Communication can be tough for so many reasons. We have often witnessed destructive communication during our childhoods, within our relationships, and in our workplaces. Maybe you have even felt belittled by someone else’s poor, passive aggressive, or aggressive communication. Communication with others and ourselves directly impacts how we get through life and the quality of our relationships.

The great news is that we have control of what we say, how we respond, and the actions we take. We do not have to be stuck in unproductive or destructive communication styles. We can choose to communicate in ways that expresses what we need, is respectful, and is productive. I know I write that statement as if it is easy. It does take intentional work to change and to recognize our own patterns. First, we will discuss the different kinds of communication on the communication spectrum.

There are four commonly used categories of communication including passive, assertive, passive-aggressive, and aggressive.

  • Passive: This type of communication is characterized by not speaking up, not sharing, and not stating your opinion or needs in order to please someone else. Since the needs of this person are not being expressed, they may be at risk for being taken advantage of, having pent up hurt feelings, not having clear boundaries, and having unmet needs.
  • Passive-Aggressive: This type of communication is also characterized by not directly sharing needs, but the person will then penalize others for not knowing their needs or wants. Similar to the passive communication this can lead to resentments but is also like the aggressive communication in that the person works to manipulate others to eventually get what they want.
  • Aggressive: This type of communication is totally self-centered and is used to dominate, take advantage of, bully, and intimidate others. This type of communication does not leave room for others to share their needs, wants, or rights.
  • Assertive: This type of communication is characterized by respectful communication of needs, wants, and boundaries. There is no manipulation or discrediting someone else’s needs and there is a safe space for the individual to share their own needs. This is the most ideal form of communication.
A young woman is talking with a female friend about her problem in a cafe. The friend is supportive and understanding.

Benefits of Assertive Communication

There are many benefits to using assertive communication. When both people are using this form of communication it creates a space for both people to be able to speak with respect and to be able to share what they need and want. The other forms of communications cause barriers in communication and in relationships. If you are communicating with an abusive person, they may not be receptive to your assertive communication. It is important to evaluate if it is a safe person and place to speak assertively about your needs and boundaries.

Using ‘I’ Statements

A great way to practice assertive communication is by using ‘I’ statements. This is a great tool because it helps us to take responsibility for our feelings, words, and thoughts, while sharing what we want and need. Using ‘I’ statements first starts with you sharing how you feel when something occurs and then sharing what you wish would happen instead. Here are some examples:

I feel hurt when you talk about me and I would like it if you would talk about issues with me first.

I feel upset and unsafe when you slam the door during a disagreement, please do not do that.

I enjoy going bowling with you, can we do that sometime this month.

These are just examples of some ways you can use ‘I’ statements. Take some time to think about conversations where you could have used these kinds of statements or practice using this tool with a friend. I will say it can be hard to use ‘I’ statements when someone is accusing you or arguing with you, but it is so worth it to be able to express how you are feeling and what you need in that moment.

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