Communication styles refer to the methods and ways individuals use to interact with one another. It encapsulates the patterns and structures of both verbal and non-verbal communication, including the type of language used, the tone of voice, and even body language (Watson & Hill, 2015).
A range of communication styles exists (Long, Johnson, MacDonald, Bader, & Wall, 2021). On one end of the spectrum, we might find the assertive style, characterized by clear, direct communication. This style allows individuals to express their thoughts and needs in a respectful way. Take, for instance, a manager stating succinctly that a project deadline has been brought forward and explaining the reason behind this change.
On the other side of the spectrum, we may have a style such as passive communication. This style is marked by an individual’s tendency to avoid expressing their thoughts or feelings, often out of fear of conflict. Picture a scenario where an employee, unhappy with their workload, says nothing about it to their manager for fear of appearing uncooperative.
Communication styles vary greatly, including on account of the context in which you’re communicating, the cultural context, and your personality. Some individuals might favor a direct and concise style, while others might veer towards a more elaborate way of expressing their thoughts.
Communication Styles Examples
Assertive communication implies expressing yourself effectively while respecting others’ rights and beliefs (Long et al., 2021).
This style is characterized by open, honest, and direct conversation.
For example, a team leader could address a performance issue by openly discussing the problem and offering constructive feedback. Assertive communicators are not afraid to express their needs and ideas but do so without violating the rights of others (Steinberg, 2007).
Aggressive communication is a style where individuals express their thoughts and feelings without regard for others (Watson & Hill, 2015).
Aggressive communicators often appear dominating and controlling, frequently interrupting others, invading personal space, and belittling others to get their point across.
A real-world example might be a supervisor who constantly criticizes employee performance without providing opportunities for dialogue or feedback. This style can hinder effective communication and lead to conflict and resentment (Paxson, 2018).
Passive communication entails avoiding expressing personal feelings, thoughts, or needs, often leading to personal dissatisfaction (Long et al., 2021).
Passive communicators tend to put other’s needs before their own, having difficulty saying “no” or setting personal boundaries.
A typical example could be an employee who doesn’t voice their discomfort with an increased workload, despite feeling overwhelmed. Over time, this communication style can lead to stress, resentment, and lowered self-esteem (Steinberg, 2007).
Passive-aggressive communication is a style in which individuals digress their feelings and disapproval indirectly rather than openly addressing them (McDougall & Pollard, 2019).
People using this style often deny having a problem while demonstrating their displeasure through other means, such as making sarcastic comments or sulking.
An example might be a coworker who, unhappy with a colleague’s tardiness, grumbles to other coworkers but doesn’t directly address the issue with the person involved. This style can create a toxic work environment and hinder open, healthy communication (Watson & Hill, 2015).
Directive communication style prioritizes control and efficiency, using straightforward language and making direct requests or commands (Watson & Hill, 2015).
Those who use this style tend to be decisive and have a clear understanding of what they want to accomplish.
An example would include a project manager who outlines specific steps and deadlines for a team during a meeting. However, excessively directive communication can be perceived as authoritarian and may discourage open dialogue or innovation (Paxson, 2018).
Expressive communication, distinguished by high emotional expressivity and sociability, focuses on building relationships and creating emotional connections (Long et al., 2021).
People with an expressive communication style tend to be enthusiastic, affectionate, and use a lot of nonverbal cues, like facial expressions and gestures.
For instance, a teacher who uses stories, humor and gestures to create an engaging lecture is employing an expressive style. When overdone, however, this style may lack focus and can come across as overbearing or overly emotional (Steinberg, 2007).
An analytical style of communication focuses on data accuracy and logical reasoning, usually with less attention to emotions or subjective factors (McDougall & Pollard, 2019).
Analytical communicators prefer dealing with facts and data, strive for precision, and tend to avoid making decisions based on emotion or intuition.
For example, a scientist presenting research findings in a methodical, factual manner demonstrates an analytical communication style. Whilst this style can be exceptionally useful in data-driven fields, it may not fully account for human emotional perceptions or social nuances (Watson & Hill, 2015).
A task-oriented communication style is goal-directed and focuses on completing tasks in an efficient manner (Steinberg, 2007).
Typically succinct, clear, and focused, this style is about getting things done.
An example of this might be a team leader running a meeting with a clear agenda, strict time limits, and stern guidance towards the objectives. While this can enhance productivity, it may neglect the relational aspects of communication, making those on the receiving end feel undervalued (Long et al., 2021).
The people-oriented communication style prioritizes building and nurturing relationships and tends to be more sensitive to the feelings of others (Paxson, 2018).
People-oriented communicators often express concern for others and use communication to establish rapport.
Consider a community organizer who prioritizes understanding and responding to the needs and feelings of community members. While this style is great for fostering relationships, overuse can result in a lack of progress on tasks (McDougall & Pollard, 2019).
Intuitive communication style focuses less on detailed information and more on the broader picture (Steinberg, 2007).
Intuitive communicators often rely on feelings, instincts, or “gut” to guide their communication, preferring to skip the hard data and lengthy explanations.
An entrepreneur pitching to investors with concise, attractive concepts rather than extensive, detailed business plans is an example of this style. However, intuitive communication may overlook critical details that affect decision-making (Watson & Hill, 2015).
Logical communicators value rational thinking, objective evidence, and a systematic approach to problem-solving (Long et al., 2021).
These individuals focus on facts, follow linear reasoning, and ensure their statements are logically sound and their conclusions are based on evidence.
An example of this would be a lawyer presenting a case built on solid evidence, logical reasoning, and legal precedents. Despite its strengths, this style may come off as unemotional and dismissive of others’ feelings (Steinberg, 2007).
Empathetic communication is characterized by understanding and sharing the feelings of others. This style is indicated by active listening and the acknowledgment of others’ emotions (Paxson, 2018).
Empathetic communicators often use verbal and nonverbal feedback to show understanding and concern.
For instance, a counselor talking to a client would make use of empathetic communication, validating the client’s feelings, and offering understanding without judgment. The drawback to this style is that empathetic communicators may sacrifice their own needs or feelings to maintain harmony (McDougall & Pollard, 2019).
Narrative communicators utilize stories and narratives to express ideas, engage listeners and make topics more relatable (Steinberg, 2007).
These communicators often rely on anecdotes, metaphors, or personal experiences to make their point.
An example would be a motivational speaker who uses personal experiences to inspire and captivate their audience. While this style can make messages more engaging and memorable, it can also become distracting if it veers too far off topic (Long et al., 2021).
The precise communication style is characterized by its accuracy, clarity, and attention to detail (McDougall & Pollard, 2019).
These communicators favor facts and concrete data over emotions, aim to express their thoughts with exact accuracy, and avoid vague or ambiguous terms.
For instance, a software engineer explaining coding issues with specific details and exact language is utilizing this style. Its pitfall is that it can come across as rigid or even intimidating, especially when communicating with non-experts (Watson & Hill, 2015).
Brief communication is characterized by its conciseness and directness (Paxson, 2018).
A brief communicator aims to get their point across quickly, efficiently, and without unnecessary details.
An example is a CEO giving a company-wide directive in a brief, straightforward email. While this style can be efficient in terms of time, it may risk leaving out essential details or context (Steinberg, 2007).
Long-winded communication involves giving more information than necessary, often due to the speaker’s desire to cover all aspects or considerations of a topic in detail (Long et al., 2021).
These individuals, in their communication, tend to use long sentences and extensive details.
Consider a professor who provides extensive information on a topic, potentially overwhelming students with too much information. This style can provide thorough insight but may result in diminished audience attention or comprehension due to its verbosity (Paxson, 2018).
With indirect communication, the speaker relies on context, nonverbal cues, or roundabout expressions to get their point across rather than stating it outright (Steinberg, 2007).
This style is often associated with cultures where open disagreement or direct confrontations are discouraged.
A real-world example could be an employee subtly highlighting a problem by commenting on the challenges of a task, rather than directly stating the concern. While indirect communication can help maintain harmony, it can easily result in misunderstandings if the indirect cues are not interpreted correctly (Long et al., 2021).
Non-verbal communication is the transmission of messages through non-linguistic means, including body language, facial expressions, and gestures (Watson & Hill, 2015).
An important part of communication, nonverbal cues can convey powerful messages and reinforce or contradict verbal communication.
An example is a speaker emphasizing a point using hand gestures, or an interviewer showing interest through eye contact and active listening posture. Misinterpretation can occur, however, as non-verbal cues are highly dependent on cultural interpretations (Paxson, 2018).
Visual communication involves using visual elements, such as graphics, diagrams, or colors, to supplement or replace verbal communication (Long et al., 2021).
Visual communicators prioritize clarity and simplicity and reduce complex messages to visual representations.
For instance, a business analyst might use charts and diagrams to present trends and data. While this approach can simplify complex information, dependence solely on it may exclude nuances explicit in verbal or written communication (McDougall & Pollard, 2019).
Auditory communication involves the use of sound, tone, and language to share and interpret information (Steinberg, 2007).
Auditory communicators are most effective in their communication when they can discuss issues out loud and verbally process their thoughts.
A typical scenario would be an employee best understanding a new task through verbal explanation as opposed to written instructions. Though effective in many instances, this style may not be as accessible for visual learners, or in communication scenarios where visual aids are necessary for comprehension (Watson & Hill, 2015).
Kinesthetic communication uses physical interaction, movement, and touch as a part of the communication process (Paxson, 2018).
This includes not just body language, but interactive activities as a means of communicating or emphasizing points.
For example, a sports coach demonstrating a technique to a player would use kinesthetic communication. However, cultural norms and individual comfort need to be respected, as this style may not be suitable or welcomed in every setting (McDougall & Pollard, 2019).
Diplomatic communication involves choosing words carefully to manage relationships and maintain harmony without compromising on effectively conveying the intended message (Long et al., 2021).
Often associated with business, politics, and conflict management, diplomatic communicators are tactful, respectful, and considerate in their communication.
Consider an office manager addressing a conflict between coworkers while trying to preserve their professional relationships. While diplomatic communication can prevent misunderstandings and conflicts, it needs to be blended with honesty to avoid excessive “sugar-coating” (Watson & Hill, 2015).
See Also: List of Diplomatic Skills
Reflective communication style is characterized by thinking before speaking and deliberately considering others’ points of view before formulating a response (Steinberg, 2007).
Reflective communicators tend to take time to process information and may seem more quiet or reserved.
A therapist listening attentively to a client and then responding thoughtfully is an example of reflective communication. While this style fosters deep understanding, it’s important that reflective communicators communicate their need for thoughtful consideration to prevent misunderstanding their silence as disinterest (Paxson, 2018).
Formal communication is professional and respectful, and it typically follows established conventions and protocols (Long et al., 2021).
Formal communicators use direct organization, complete sentences, respectful address, and avoid slang or informal language.
For instance, a corporate lawyer addressing a board meeting would adhere to a formal communication style. While this style is appropriate in numerous professional settings, it can be perceived as distant in more intimate or casual contexts (McDougall & Pollard, 2019).
Informal communication is more casual and relaxed, often characterized by the use of slang and colloquial expressions (Watson & Hill, 2015).
It’s the most common communication style in relaxed or intimate settings among friends, family, and close colleagues.
An example is friends chatting about their weekends—the communication may shift topics fluidly, with more interruptions and less adherence to strict conversation rules. While informal can foster closeness, it’s not appropriate or professional in formal or public settings (Steinberg, 2007).
Best Communication Styles in the Workplace
Choosing the best communication style in the workplace depends on various factors, such as the particular situation, the people involved, and the nature of the message being conveyed (Paxson, 2018).
There isn’t a “one size fits all” scenario. For example, in situations that require quick decision-making, a directive or task-oriented style that prioritizes efficiency and clarity can be beneficial. In contrast, when dealing with conflict resolution or team-building activities, it might be better to opt for an empathetic or people-oriented style that emphasizes understanding and maintaining harmony among team members.
Understanding and respecting individual communication styles is also key to successful workplace communication (Long et al., 2021). In diverse work environments, individuals bring a host of different communication styles that reflect their personalities and cultural backgrounds.
For example, some people might lean towards an assertive style, whilst others prefer a more passive approach. Recognizing these differences and adapting one’s communication style accordingly can enhance mutual understanding and cooperation. Creative conflict, a constructive disagreement for finding a third solution, can only arise when communication is optimized.
Effective communication in the workplace also often requires striking a balance between different styles.
Best Communication Styles for Leaders
Effective leadership requires a blend of communication styles, adapted to various scenarios and dependent on the collective characteristics of team members (Paxson, 2018).
In particular, leaders can benefit from adopting people-oriented and diplomatic styles. The people-oriented style is ideal for leaders as it builds trust and rapport, fostering a positive work environment and boosting teamwork and morale.
This style involves demonstrating genuine interest in team members’ lives, listening effectively, and encouraging open discussions. A leader practicing this style might regularly check on their team’s well-being and motivate them through recognition and appreciation (Long et al., 2021).
Meanwhile, a diplomatic communication style enables leaders to navigate tricky situations smoothly, especially in environments where diverse opinions and personalities coexist.
Diplomatic leaders articulate their viewpoints tactfully, negotiate effectively, and manage conflicts by seeking common ground. By focusing on what unites their teams rather than what divides, diplomatic leaders can foster a harmonious and cooperative workplace (Steinberg, 2007).
Furthermore, the best leaders often display versatility in communication, switching between styles as per the situation. For instance, while the people-oriented style is beneficial in facilitating day-to-day team interaction, a more task-oriented approach might be necessary when deadlines are looming.
Similarly, while diplomacy is crucial when handling disagreements within the team, a more assertive style could be needed when advocating for the team’s needs and interests to higher management (McDougall & Pollard, 2019).
Factors that Influence Communication Styles
Contextual factors refer to the circumstances or settings surrounding a particular communication act, such as the physical environment, social relationships, and cultural norms (Gauntlett, 2015).
Certain contexts necessitate specific styles, as explored below.
The degree of formality in the context should also affect the degree of formality in how you communicate.
A formal business setting, for example, might require a careful, deliberate style (e.g. using formal language, maintaining a neutral tone, and adhering to strict protocols). For instance, in a board meeting, presenters often use a structured, formal style of communication to ensure their ideas are understood and respected.
A more relaxed, spontaneous style might be more beneficial in informal contexts (Long et al., 2021). Picture a group of friends discussing a movie they’ve just seen. Their dialogue likely includes casual language, slang, and quick interjections.
2. Cultural Context
Cultural factors likewise play a significant role in shaping communication styles (Steinberg, 2007).
Those from high-context cultures, for instance, might employ more indirect and implicit communication styles, relying on shared cultural understandings to convey messages.
In contrast, a person from a low-context culture, where messages are generally explicit, might use a more direct, straightforward communication style.
Cultural contexts may also affect communication styles that are considered taboo, frowned upon, or more warmly embraced.
For example, outward expressions of frustration are considered highly embarrassing in some Asian cultures. Similarly, overt politeness is generally considered highly important in upper-class cultural groups.
3. Temporal Context
Temporal context also impacts communication styles (McDougall & Pollard, 2019).
Take emails, for example. When urgency is high, you’re likely to be concise and straight to the point, prioritizing the quick communication of information.
In scenarios where more time is available, however, you might compose more detailed, reflective emails.
Your personality may also impact your style. Of course, personality is connected to culture, upbringing and other environmental factors.
However, at the end of the day, each individual’s personality will affect how they communicate.
A person who considers themselves laid-back might have a more informal style, even in formal contexts, for example.
Understanding and respecting differing communication styles can help to ease the process of connecting with others and pave the way for more effective communication (Paxson, 2018). In practical terms, this could mean taking the time to clarify meaning with someone who has a different style, or intentionally adapting our style to better suit the situation and the people with whom we are dealing. By developing an effective communication style, you can get more done and increase your social capital.
Gauntlett, D. (2015). Making Media Studies: The Creativity Turn in Media and Communications Studies. London: Peter Lang.
Watson, J., & Hill, A. (2015). Dictionary of Media and Communication Studies. Bloomsbury Publishing.
Long, P., Johnson, B., MacDonald, S., Bader, S. R., & Wall, T. (2021). Media Studies: Texts, Production, Context. Taylor & Francis.
McDougall, J., & Pollard, C. (2019). Media Studies: The Basics (2nd ed.). Taylor & Francis.
Paxson, P. (2018). Mass Communications and Media Studies: An Introduction. Bloomsbury Publishing.
Steinberg, S. (2007). An introduction to communication studies. New York: Juta.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]