What Are the Four Main Communication Styles in the Workplace?

Lori Li
6 min read
Jul 14, 2021

Communication is fundamental in any successful workplace. Teams should collaborate, share ideas, solve problems together, and feel comfortable in their work environment. But that’s not always the case — and ineffective communication can lead to severe issues. 

Such as? More than 85% of executives and workers blame workplace failures on poor communication and weak collaboration. Sixty-nine percent of managers feel uncomfortable communicating with employees, which can cause costly and time-consuming mistakes. 

And while 64% of businesses consider communicating their “strategy, values, and purpose” to employees a priority, miscommunication costs businesses with 100+ workers $420,000 per year on average.

But it’s not always easy. Poor communication may result from a lack of opportunities to interact with coworkers, communication tools, or conflicting communication styles. An employee engagement tool like TINYpulse can unite your entire workforce in a centralized space, improving communication between employees and managers for a more harmonious culture.

What different communication styles are there? How do these affect the workplace? Let’s find out. 

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What Are the Main Types of Communication Styles?

According to Alvernia University, there are four types of communication styles: 

  • Assertive communication
  • Passive communication
  • Aggressive communication
  • Passive-aggressive communication

Let’s take a closer look at each.

Assertive Communication

The assertive style is open without being aggressive or intimidating. Powerful communicators tend to be capable of expressing their desires, goals, emotions, and ideas. It’s easy to see how this can be beneficial in the workplace: assertive communicators may be more skilled collaborators and creative. 

But assertive communicators are aware of others’ feelings and needs. They may be empathetic and be willing to listen to the people to whom they’re speaking. They will also be more likely to make eye contact and speak more confidently than passive speakers.

A central element of the assertive style is the use of “I.” For example, strong communicators may make statements such as “I feel annoyed that you spoke during my presentation” or “I think you’re right.” 

Passive Communication

Passive communicators will be less open about their thoughts, feelings, and ideas than assertive speakers. They may let other people express themselves and agree, either because they want to avoid a conversation or don’t care about the outcome. 

Passive communicators will also be more likely to let others make decisions to reduce the risk of tension. As a result, they may take part in tasks when they don’t want to. 

Coworkers might become frustrated with passive communicators. A failure to contribute to conversations or suggest ideas could feel like laziness or apathy, especially when combined with a reluctance to make eye contact or make their voice heard. 

However, passive communicators are also less likely to take sides in a conflict. That means they could help resolve tense situations in the workplace.

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Aggressive Communication

It’s usually easy to spot an aggressive communicator. They tend to speak in a loud voice that captures attention and express their thoughts and feelings with a disregard for how they may affect other people. 

Aggressive communicators typically become defensive when others confront them or react in a negative way to criticism. It’s unlikely that they would admit to making a mistake or take the blame without at least trying to pass some of it off onto someone else. 

Another likely trait of aggressive communicators is an inability to listen to other people actively. They may interrupt when they feel they have a more critical point to make or dominate conversations. 

However, this ability to take control means that aggressive communicators may also be influential leaders. 

Passive-Aggressive Communication

According to Princeton University, passive-aggressive communicators can be confused as being passive on the surface. However, they may harbor resentment toward others who speak in a more assertive or aggressive style. 

Workers with a passive-aggressive communication style can attempt to control others through sarcasm or demonstrate little empathy for others. It’s unlikely they would confront a colleague or manager about an issue but would choose a more insidious mode of attack instead. 

For example, they might spread rumors about someone who “wrongs” them in some way and avoid direct involvement.

How Do You Deal With Each Type of Communicator?

Assertive communicators may be the easiest to work with. They’re usually respectful of others, share their thoughts and feelings in a non-confrontational way, and contribute to conversations confidently. 

But passive, aggressive, and passive-aggressive communicators can be more challenging to work with. So how do you deal with them best?

Dealing With Passive Communicators

Passive communicators have their own opinions on matters but will likely keep them hidden until pressed to commit themselves. They might claim that a decision does not affect them, even if it frustrates or angers them. And they could agree to a course of action they would prefer not to. 

That’s why it’s best to be confident when communicating with passive personalities. Recognize that their apparent lack of interest may be because they feel uncomfortable saying no to a coworker or manager. Reassure them that they’re entitled to voice their opinion and be patient. 

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Dealing With Aggressive Communicators 

Aggressive communicators can be challenging to interact with for coworkers, managers, and (perhaps worst of all) clients. They may speak without considering the way others feel and cause offense. And their behavior could intimidate or concern people around them. 

One of the critical steps in interacting with an aggressive communicator is to stay calm. It is vital, especially if they become agitated and refuse to take the blame for a mistake. Avoid matching their tone and body language, or they may believe you’re ready for a confrontation. 

Try to involve others to show the aggressive communicator that their behavior affects more people than they may realize, especially if they tend to have outbursts in the office or offend colleagues with their language or tone. 

Assertive individuals may be particularly adept at dealing with aggressive communicators. 

Dealing With Passive-Aggressive Communicators 

Passive-aggressive communicators can be challenging to work with if you get on their bad side, intentionally or unintentionally. They may be unwilling to commit to a decision or voice their opinions on a topic during a meeting. But they will express their true thoughts to a trusted coworker and create a hostile atmosphere towards one or more people. 

It may be best to be confident and direct with passive-aggressive communicators, as with passive types. Don’t be afraid to keep asking questions about their feelings when looking for their input. Reassure them that their viewpoint is valid and that you (and others) care about their opinion. 

Persistence could pay off and encourage passive-aggressive communicators to be more open. 

How to Encourage Better Communication in the Workplace

Contrasting communication styles are unavoidable in most workplaces. Businesses bring people from different backgrounds and personalities together and expect them to work harmoniously. 

But fitting into a team and demonstrating your skills can be difficult, especially if you’re the only newcomer among dozens of colleagues who have a tight bond. And employees may be reluctant to share their concerns with management or report issues related to problematic communication styles. 

That’s why businesses must embrace the latest tools to connect employees with managers in a transparent way. TINYpulse provides teams with an innovative toolset that allows leaders to communicate with all workers in real-time. They can make their team feel visible and valued and invite them to contribute their ideas openly. 

But TINYpulse also empowers managers to gather feedback from workers anonymously. Employees can share their thoughts on various issues, including their relationship with their coworkers, without the worry of being identified. You can give employees a voice by asking science-backed questions through tailored surveys. 

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Embracing more open communication between workers at all levels can encourage different types of communicators to interact effectively. Leaders and employees can also recognize one another’s achievements with the Cheers for Peers tool. 

Good communication helps inspire confidence, makes workers feel valued, and builds trust between coworkers. Offering praise is a simple gesture that could encourage passive communicators to open up and assert themselves. Similarly, aggressive communicators can receive the public acknowledgment they may crave in a non-verbal way.

Implementing more effective tools can help improve communication in the workplace, providing all types of communicators with a shared space to make themselves heard. 


Understanding different communication styles and how to deal with them best can create better communication in the workplace. Teams can collaborate, solve problems together, share ideas, encourage each other, and cultivate a more pleasant working environment. 

Recognizing the four main types of communication styles may take time, but it will help strengthen relationships between employees and managers. Gather feedback anonymously to encourage all kinds of communicators to share their thoughts and ideas to improve the workplace. 

TINYpulse provides leaders with the right insights to make better decisions based on real-time data and science-backed questions across companies with 10 to 100,000 employees. Book your demo to see how it works for yourself!

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