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As we consider the state of our country and our world, it looks like everything is out of control. In moments of feeling overwhelmed, we might think, “I don’t know what to do”, “I feel so helpless”.

Consider this…

Sometimes helping might look like becoming healthier in our relationships and investing in our own personal growth by learning how to communicate more effectively. One way we begin to do this is by taking inventory of how we currently engage and communicate with others – by assessing the messages we convey to others and what they say about us, and reflecting on whether the messages we intend to give are the ones we are actually giving.

We can do this by considering…
· What is my dominant communication style?
· How am I coming across at this moment?
· Is it helping or hurting others and/or myself?
· What does it look like on me?
· What am I getting from it and what is it costing me?

Breaking it down

It goes without saying that the old nursery rhyme “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is simply not true. Words can and often do hurt when used inappropriately. Equally important to the appropriate use of words are the thoughts and behaviors we engage in communicating.

It was while taking an acting class many years ago that I became more sensitive to the impact of nonverbal behavior in my conversations. My fellow classmates and I were given exercises in which we used a word or a phrase that made no sense such as “what’s doing?” (before it became a popular slang term) to express ourselves and communicate with each other. We had some interesting moments as the sounds, expressions and movements we wrapped around these simple words gave way to scenes of laughter, sadness and tears. This exercise along with others helped sharpen my skills of observation and made me more sensitive to the nonverbal aspects of communication.

Words. Tone. Facial expressions. Body language.

These verbal and nonverbal components, among others, make up the four communication styles to which we generally refer in our interactions with others. In addition to these components, our thinking impacts how we engage with others. Also, there are the benefits that we knowingly or unknowingly, are looking to get out of the exchange. For example, a person who thinks of themselves as inferior may cower in a situation and say yes to when they would really prefer to say no. Why? Saying yes helps to avoid conflict or rejection.

Another factor we may or may not have considered or are aware of is that there is a personal cost to using a particular communication style. Take for instance the person referenced in the example above. This person, continually saying yes when they would prefer to say no, is setting themselves up to be repeatedly taken advantage of and will miss out on having their own needs and desires met.

Four communication styles

The four communication styles are: passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive and assertive. These are the ways we show up in our relationships at any given moment, on any given day.

Passive communication

Passive communication conveys a message of insecurity, feeling less than and lacking importance. A person using this communication style dismisses themselves and becomes an emotional stuffer. One of the times when this communication style might prove beneficial is when confronted with a potentially violent situation. For example, when being threatened with a weapon.

Aggressive communication

Aggressive communication puts forth a message of dominance and superiority. A person who uses this communication style dismisses others in favor of themselves, making certain their voice is heard.

Passive-aggressive communication

Passive-aggressive communication conveys a message of powerlessness and resentment. A person communicating in this manner comes off as being passive, and yet, tries to get in a dig at the one towards whom they feel resentment indirectly.

Assertive communication

Assertive communication promotes self-respect and a mutual respect for others, their beliefs, and rights. When thinking of assertive communication, think calm under pressure. There is a recognition of dignity and value for each other in conversations. Think improvement and strengthening relationships, while challenging toxic ones. Think a healthier way of being, if asserting yourself is not your go-to communication style. The one time to rethink being assertive is when presented with harm or danger.

According to the Mayo Clinic the use of passive, aggressive or passive-aggressive communication leads to problematic issues such as stress, anger, resentment, a vengeful mindset and/or a victim mentality. On the other hand, being more assertive may lead to an increase in confidence, greater emotional and mental awareness, better relationships and decision-making skills. Also, assertive communication helps establish boundaries that prevent others from taking advantage and exacting power and control over us and prevents us from doing the same to others.

Assertiveness and mental health

Being assertive is considered to be the healthier and more effective way to communicate. A lack of assertiveness underlies a number of issues for which people seek counseling such as depression, anxiety, anger issues and abuse.

If you want to learn more about these four communication styles and how you are currently showing up in your relationships give us a call. The therapists at Optimum Joy welcome the opportunity to help you move towards identifying communication styles and ways to grow in healthy relationships. Call today!

Written by therapist Roslyn Jordan

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