Styles of Communication

Nov 1, 2023

We’re all aware of the fundamental importance of communication. It serves as a lifeline for all types of relationships, whether they are intimate, friendly, or professional. However, it’s worth noting that not all forms of communication carry the same weight and significance.

Four Styles of Communication

There are four different types of talking, each of which is an important communication tool.

  1. Small Talk (Shop Talk): Casual conversations with connection and awareness if the conversation shifts.
  2. Search Talk: Curious conversations, exploring options, and discussing solutions. Speculate about causes, brainstorm possibilities, and pose solutions without committing yourself.
  3. Control Talk: Gaining agreement, compliance, or attempts to resist change. Used to direct, advise, or persuade.
  4. Straight Talk: Get to the heart of an issue by focusing on your own experience. This requires internal acknowledgment of your own awareness and the other person’s awareness. Awareness of sensory data (body language), thoughts, feelings, wants, and actions. 

Each of these different styles of talking contributes to our ability to not only communicate our thoughts and feelings to another person but also allow us to explore new relationships with a healthy foundation. 

Small talk plays a crucial role as the initial step in communication. These seemingly small conversations often pave the way for more meaningful discussions. Control talk, despite its initial perception as potentially negative, is essential for mastering the art of effective communication with others, ensuring that our message truly resonates with them, and providing guidance and direction. Creating an awareness around multiple forms of communication styles can provide you with more insight and help you engage in straightforward and meaningful conversations.

Listening Style for Each Talking Style:

Keep in mind that listening holds as much significance as speaking. When you pause to listen with heartfelt intention, it not only shows your empathy but also allows you to detach your emotions from the topic at hand.

Here’s a breakdown of the different types of listening that correspond to the types of talking:

  1. Small Talk and Conventional Listening: Show interest in a topic but expend limited energy, partial attending, varying eye contact, and casual acknowledgments.
  2. Search Talk and Explorative Listening: Be curious, using open-ended questions to guide the conversation and gain clarity. The goal is to foster understanding, broaden our insights, and clarify misunderstandings. Reflective questions, explorative talking, increased attention, receptive body posture, intermittent eye contact, and open-ended questions. 
  3. Control Talk Listening: Comply and concede. Listen and follow directions.
    • Negative Response to Control Talk – Reactive Listening: The intent is often to defend or counter a position by listening selectively and trying to deflect or direct the other person’s disclosures (interrupting and rehearsing your next statement internally).
    • Positive Response to Control Talk –  Interactive Listening: This involves acknowledging and valuing the speaker’s perspective while maintaining an open and non-defensive stance. Here’s an example of a positive response to Control Talk:

“I appreciate your perspective. It’s important for us to have open and honest communication. Can you share more about your thoughts so I can better understand your viewpoint?”

This response demonstrates a willingness to listen and engage in constructive dialogue, which can lead to improved communication and problem-solving.

  1. Straight Talk and Attentive Listening: Receiving the information without passing judgment or responding defensively means giving the other person the space to express their thoughts and feelings openly, wherever that may lead the conversation. This approach often requires less questioning and more of an encouraging and inviting atmosphere for them to feel safe sharing their emotions.

“Perception is reality to the one in the experience.” — A.D. Posey

The truth is that many times, our focus isn’t just on speaking to someone; it’s about them genuinely listening to us. Experiencing true attentiveness during a conversation, whether it’s casual or deep, fosters a sense of being seen, known, and understood. And when it comes to communication, that’s ultimately our goal.

Anticipatory Guidance

In addition to the kind of talking we do, there are also four styles of basic communication. Knowing what style you or someone you’re in a conversation with is using is a really helpful tool for knowing how to guide the conversation. We achieve this by providing validation, asking open-ended questions to seek to understand how the other person likes to receive encouragement, and being consistent in our actions. Remember, part of communication is commitment. 

Four Communication Styles 

The way we communicate has tremendous power over our nervous system, meaning that depending on the tone and manner of our conversations, we can either find ourselves in a heightened state of fight-or-flight or in a more relaxed and comfortable state.. 

PASSIVE COMMUNICATION is a style where individuals tend to avoid expressing their opinions, feelings, or needs, often to protect themselves and maintain harmony. Consequently, passive individuals typically don’t respond openly to situations that may upset or anger them. This pattern of communication often leads to a “Flight Response,” where grievances and annoyances accumulate without awareness. Eventually, when the tolerance threshold for unacceptable behavior is reached, there may be explosive outbursts. These outbursts can leave individuals feeling emotions like shame, guilt, and confusion, prompting them to revert back to passive communication as their default mode.

AGGRESSIVE COMMUNICATION is a style in which individuals express their feelings and opinions and advocate for their needs in a way that violates the rights of others. Thus, aggressive communicators are verbally and/or physically abusive. This can manifest through verbal or physical aggression. Typically, aggressive communication triggers a “Fight Response,” characterized by an attempt to impose change by attacking others and defending oneself. This involves actions like blaming, labeling, name-calling, arguing, interrogating, and moralizing, often from a position of power or superiority.

PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE COMMUNICATION  is a style where individuals may appear passive on the surface but are actually expressing their anger indirectly, subtly, or behind the scenes. Those who adopt this pattern often feel a sense of powerlessness, being trapped, and harboring resentment. In essence, they struggle to address their grievances directly with the source of their resentment. Passive-aggressive communication can lead to what we call a “Spite Response.” In this style, individuals employ a passive-aggressive approach from a position that may seem subordinate or victimized. They employ tactics such as making veiled criticisms, implying a sense of victimhood, complaining, sulking, gossiping, or keeping a tally of perceived wrongs. Their way of expressing anger is by subtly undermining the object of their resentment, whether real or perceived. 

ASSERTIVE COMMUNICATION  is a style where individuals confidently express themselves, regardless of the topic being discussed. It emphasizes respectful and direct communication without room for bullying or hurtful verbal tactics. In assertive communication, the speaker retains control over their emotions, knowing when to either disengage from a conversation or pursue it further. This form of communication empowers individuals to manage their nervous system, preventing them from slipping into the flight, fight, or spite responses. It fosters a sense of emotional balance and effective interaction.

Coded Language

While we all want to aim for assertive communication, we are imperfect humans who will mess up and make mistakes and sometimes (frequently!) say the wrong thing. One helpful approach is to become familiar with the language associated with various states of nervous system dysregulation.

One of the easiest to recognize is the flight response. This is when you feel the urge to exit a conversation immediately. It involves shutting down, going silent, or wanting to leave the discussion as quickly as possible. However, it might seem like the healthiest choice. Responding in this way can lead to your nervous system shutting down as well. This prevents you from fully processing your emotions and the experience you’ve just been through. In the long run, it can result in further avoidance of your pain and problems instead of addressing them.

The other two responses come with very distinct coded language:

Fight Talk Examples:

  1. Demanding or Ordering
  2. Villainizing, Blaming, or Accusing 
  3. Threatening, Attacking, or Scolding
  4. Labeling
  5. Name-calling
  6. Defending
  7. Interrogating
  8. Judging with Put-Downs
  9. Challenging/Taunting
  10. Lecturing
  11. Bragging
  12. Psychoanalyzing and Diagnosing
  13. Cursing

Spite Talk Examples:

  1. Cheap Shots and Jabs
  2. Victimizing, Poor Me Mentality
  3. Nagging
  4. Foot-Dragging, Lingering, or Delaying
  5. Complaining and Whining
  6. Pouting, Ignoring, or Withholding Affection (The Silent Treatment)
  7. Withholding Information
  8. Withdrawing Angrily
  9. Denying
  10. Cynicism and Sarcasm
  11. Placating (People Pleasing) 
  12. Martyr or Over Accountability (this is NOT a healthy admission of wrongdoing, but covering for someone else by accepting blame in a codependent style.)
  13. Putting Yourself Down
  14. Gossiping or Self-Righteous Behavior
  15. Keeping Score
  16. Lying and Distorting
  17. Guilt Trips

We all want to participate in healthy communication, and I hope this guide has been helpful to you in learning how to better communicate with everyone you encounter– including yourself!