This article is part of The Ascender, the Highrise platform for articles and resources.

Dealing With 4 Communication Styles in the Workplace

The Highrise Team
October 11, 2022
A communication coach speaking about communication styles
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Communication is a crucial aspect of working with other people. Employees need to get the right information to do their job, you need to communicate what a customer expects, and as a manager, you have to share constructive feedback with everyone.

Improving communication often begins with understanding the different communication styles that cohabit in a workplace so you can adapt and address toxic communication.

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What Are the 4 Communication Styles in the Workplace & How to deal with them?

A person’s communication style can vary based on background, education, or personal experiences. These things can shape the words chosen, the tone, or even the body language. It can also affect facial expressions or what a person chooses not to say.

Assertive Communication

An assertive coworker shares ideas and speaks their mind. They express their feelings when appropriate and know how to ask for what they want.

Individuals with an assertive communication style have a calm demeanor, but they’re not afraid to set boundaries and expectations. When they speak, their ideas are clear and easy to follow. They're often intuitive communicators and know how to share clear instructions.

It can be difficult to compromise with this personal communication style since they know what they want, but they will typically remain calm and use their good communication skills to avoid conflicts.

How to deal with the Assertive Communication Style?

An assertive communicator is an asset. Make sure there is a fair exchange when they deal with passive coworkers, but these individuals are typically good candidates for leadership roles. Putting assertive individuals in charge can help create a company culture that values sharing. These employees can also be an asset if you need people who can speak with customers and represent your business in a positive manner.

Aggressive Communication

The aggressive communication style is problematic. There are some characteristics in common with the assertive style, but aggressive coworkers aren’t calm and reasonable.

While speaking up and sharing one’s feelings can be good things, aggressive coworkers tend to do so during outbursts. They tend to use negative words and intense eye contact to intimidate others. They also have a tendency to play the blame game.

An aggressive communicator can create a toxic workplace where others don’t feel safe.

How To Deal With Aggressive Communication Style

Dealing with aggressive employees should be a priority. This communication style is toxic and calls for a firm response:

  • When dealing with an aggressive communicator, defuse the situation by staying calm and offering to discuss the issue once the employee has calmed down.
  • Set some clear rules. An employee handbook and frequent reminders during meetings can bring awareness to toxic communication styles, threatening body language, and other issues.
  • Take a direct approach with the aggressive communicator if they cross a line. They need to know their behavior is unacceptable. Consider sanctions or even firing the person if the problem doesn’t improve.
  • Model the assertive communication style instead. Show them how they can communicate effectively while respecting other people's feelings.
  • Consider adopting a go-to process for resolving conflicts. Having someone from HR arbitrate in these situations can ensure that everyone remains calm and feels safe.


Passive-aggressive communication is another problematic type. These individuals don’t have violent outbursts, but there is deep negativity behind what they say or don’t say.

These employees tend to go along with the flow. They don’t practice clear communication and avoid eye contact. However, they will express negativity through snide remarks or their body language. Some will turn to others to vent or use the silent treatment.

This communication style is toxic since the person is not being honest about their needs and feelings.

How To Deal With Passive-Aggressive Communication Style?

A passive-aggressive communication style can stem from personal issues. This personal style can also indicate that there are broader issues in the workplace. For instance, the passive-aggressive communicator might not feel safe or might feel that no one will listen. This style can result from negative experiences with speaking up in the past.

Engage passive-aggressive communicators. Practice active listening to determine the cause behind the deep-rooted negativity that causes this workplace communication style.

Passive Communication

Passive communicator struggles with asserting themselves and sharing their ideas. They will agree with others, especially those in leadership positions. If they disagree with something, they will remain quiet.

On the rare occasions where they speak up, they are often apologetic and might have few things to say. Some might prefer email communication to stay connected to others. One-on-one conversations might be less stressful compared to group settings. There is extensive research on introverts that might help you understand these employees.

If another employee has an aggressive communication style and bullying tendencies, they will often target a passive communicator.

How To Deal With Passive Communication Style?

Passive employees will often weigh the pros and cons of speaking up in the workplace and decide that going with the flow is less risky. Great leaders encourage communication by fostering an environment where people don’t feel judged to remove this perceived risk.

Positive reinforcement can also make a difference in the passive communication style. Praising those who speak up can help create a culture where sharing matters.

Don’t hesitate to go out of your way to engage passive employees. Ask passive communicators questions and ask for a little elaboration if they don't want to engage in small talk. An assertive communicator can help by adopting a leadership role and modeling positive business communication styles.

If there are several passive communicators in a workplace, there might be company-wide issues that make people feel unsafe or result in low employee engagement. Consider using anonymous surveys to create a safe environment where you can ask about these issues.

A communication coach speaking to an audience about communication styles in the workplace

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Importance of Communication Styles in the Workplace

Diversity is a strength for any business. Every employee is unique. While some don’t have an ideal communication style, they have qualities in other areas.

Accommodating the different communication styles that coexist in a workplace will create value for your organization and foster a sense of belonging for everyone.

Creating a Positive Work Environment

Employees with aggressive or passive-aggressive communication styles can result in a toxic environment. The prevalence of these communication styles can also indicate a deeper issue. For instance, employees might feel that the company isn’t treating them fairly or they might feel powerless to change things.

Airing out grievances and modeling positive communication will go a long way in making things move in the right direction and helping everyone become assertive communicators.

Make the Workplace More Inclusive

Does everyone feel seen at work? A diverse workforce is an asset, but your company might not be inclusive if most people have a passive communication style or struggle with interpersonal relationships due to negative behavior from a few aggressive communicators. An executive coaching professional can help with this.

Encourage Growth

Without proper communication in place, employees cannot have a growth mindset. Collaboration and open communication encourage creativity. An environment where everyone feels safe when it comes to sharing new ideas can encourage innovation.

Working with a team that can communicate clearly will also result in a better experience for your clients. Plus, effective communication will minimize the time and energy wasted on conflicts and will leave room for focusing on the big picture.

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In Conclusion

Dealing with different types of communication styles at work can be a challenge. It’s important to learn to recognize these different styles and acknowledge when communication is an issue. Address toxic communication by speaking with aggressive and passive-aggressive employees and focus on creating a positive environment where everyone can adopt an assertive behavior.

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