You know how important good communication is and that it’s a skill we can never improve too much. But did you know that just like there are different personality types, there are also different communication styles? What’s more, do you know what your communication style is? Because not all communication styles are effective. That’s why it’s important to understand not just the different workplace communication styles but also what makes for an effective communication style in the workplace. 

To understand this, let’s look at the main communication styles you’ll likely encounter at work.

The Four Basic Communication Styles ( In The Workplace)

The classic definitions of the four basic communication styles are passive, passive-aggressive, aggressive, and assertive. You can probably think of someone you work with who falls under each style. 

But in case you’re wondering, here is a summary of each of the styles and how to recognize them.


Passive communicators avoid expressing their feelings and opinions. Instead, they let others speak freely and without challenge. 

Common signs that someone has a passive communication style include :

  • Letting others have their way
  • avoiding confrontation
  • struggling to say no
  • Lack of eye contact 
  • Not reacting to anger or hurtful remarks
  • seeming indifferent 
  • Trying to keep the peace
  • Eyes looking down/ lack of eye contact
  • With this list, it’s easy to see how having a passive communication style can lead to internal frustration, pain, or even pent-up anger. And for others, it can also be difficult since you never really know what the passive communicator is thinking, feeling, or what they want. 

If you have a passive communication style at work, you are less likely to speak up about your ideas. It also means not challenging others, even when you know they’re wrong, not letting people know about your achievements, and not throwing your hat in the ring when you know you would do a great job.

Ultimately, a passive communication style can lead to being passed over for projects and promotions and not getting the recognition you deserve! For all these reasons, passive communication is not one of the effective communication styles in the workplace. 


While you might find it hard to spot the passive communicator because they’ll be hiding in the background, the aggressive communicator is the complete opposite. 

If there’s anyone in your life that has an aggressive communication style, then you definitely would have experienced the commanding and dominating nature of this style of communication. 

Aggressive communicators can be hard to bear since their approach can be very much “my way or the highway,” and they don’t listen to or consider others’ views and perspectives.

Signs that someone has an aggressive communication style include;

  • Being emotionally charged
  • Denying others an opinion 
  • Not having consideration or empathy for others
  • Being insulting 
  • Criticizing, intimidating, or attacking others 
  • Having a win-at-all-costs attitude 
  • Dominating conversations and not letting other people have a say
  • Ordering people to do things in a manner that comes across as dictatorial
  • Being disrespectful of others 
  • Being rude.
  • Intense or even scary eye contact ( Shudder!) 

If you’re a competitive person, then you might be wondering what’s wrong with wanting to win! After all, who doesn’t like winning? But the issue with aggressive communication is that it’s a one-way street. It’s all about telling, not discussing and commanding, not asking.

Aggressive communicators can damage other people’s self-esteem, and since they won’t allow others a say, decisions they make are often unilateral, not considering other perspectives, which can cause all manner of issues down the line, especially in a work environment.

Even if you don’t have a naturally passive communication style when you work with someone who has an extremely aggressive style, you might find that you decide to let them have their way just to avoid all the headaches. On the flip side, you might find yourself constantly having heated arguments and getting angry when this isn’t in your nature either. Neither of which is good. 

But wait…

People with aggressive communication styles can be seen as leaders and be placed into senior roles. Since they can command respect- or be it through fear and can get the job done, even if that means bulldozing through others. But while an aggressive communication style might get you so far, the reality is that people won’t necessarily have any loyalty or real respect for you if you don’t treat them in the right way. 

So, is an aggressive style an effective communication style at work or not? Well, if you don’t care about trampling on a few people to get to where you’re going then an aggressive communication style is what you need, but if you want to get the best out of people, whether it’s your team or your peers then this style of communication is not effective long term.


If being passive makes you a potential doormat and subject to being taken advantage of, and being aggressive makes you a monster, then perhaps being passive-aggressive is good in between. Wrong! 

In the book, The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools, and Workplaces, “passive aggression” is defined as a deliberate and masked way of expressing covert feelings of anger (Long, Long & Whitson, 2008). 

Passive-aggressive communicators struggle to communicate their anger. On the surface of it, they might appear to be corporative or fine with things, but deep down their seething. 

But unlike your passive friend or colleague who likely won’t do anything about it, if you’ve got under the skin of someone who’s passive-aggressive, then make no mistake, they’ll take action. It just might not be as immediately obvious how. 

While they won’t get visibly angry, people who have a passive-aggressive communication style will show their anger in other ways. 

Here are some of the signs that you might be dealing with a passive-aggressive communicator:

  • Muttering things under their breath rather than having an open dialogue 
  • Being nice to your face and then spreading rumors behind your back
  • Sabotaging other people’s efforts 
  • Giving backhanded compliments
  • Being insulting or sarcastic and passing it off as a joke
  • Saying they’ll do things when they don’t want to, then dig their heels in and procrastinate 
  • Giving the silent treatment 

Anything horrible that you can think of? Dealing with someone who has a passive-aggressive style can be downright frustrating because it’s not always obvious what they’re doing. Worse still, confronting them about it is unlikely to help matters. They’ll simply get defensive or say you’re being crazy and that they don’t know what you’re on about. AARRGH! 

The verdict, a passive-aggressive style of communication is NOT effective.


The assertive communication style is the holy grail of great communication and is the most effective style of communication ( as defined by these four classic styles). If you have an assertive communication style, you are well on your way to success! You’re able to voice your thoughts and opinions while respecting the thoughts and opinions of others. 

As an assertive communicator, you always aim for balance, whether this means having a win-win in a negotiation or simply making sure that everyone gets their say. 

And when it comes to feelings and emotions, where the aggressive communicator is highly charged, focused on attacking and blaming the other person, you take ownership of your emotions 

Some of the signs of an assertive workplace communication style include:

  • Good eye contact ( not the staring you down kind! ) 
  • Being able to say no ( something we can all do with getting better at)!
  • Listening to others 
  • Being able to voice your needs, views, and opinions in a confident yet respectful manner 
  • Recognizing when you might be wrong
  • So, there you have it, the four classic communication styles. You’ll deal with them all at some point or another in your career or personal life. At least now you can be armed and ready because you know what to expect and what to look out for. 

But that’s not all where communication styles are concerned. Just like personality is complex, communication styles are too, and that’s why there are other ways that different communication styles can be defined. 

Another way to define communication styles in the workplace

The Research of Mark Murphy and his team looks at and defines different communication styles in another way. This approach shows that different styles of communication will be less or more effective in different situations. So really, the most effective communication style in the workplace will depend on what the circumstances are.

The research found that there were four different styles; however, these were analytical, functional, intuitive, and personal. Where these four styles are concerned, what’s classed as an effective communication style in the workplace will depend on the specific situation and whose involved. 

The analytical one

The analytical communicator loves the detail. More specifically, people with an analytical style of communication prefer to focus on the hard facts and The data. 

If you’re an analytical communicator, then you’ll love the nitty-gritty, and you’ll like it when things are super specific, no wishy-washy ness for you! The more specific, the better. 

Benefits of an Analytical communication style

There are lots of advantages to being an analytical communicator. Since analytical communicators are focused on data and hard facts, an analytical communication style will make it easier to remain objective and keep the emotion out of things. This can come in handy when it comes to having difficult discussions or when you’re trying to make a case for something… like an increased training budget perhaps.

Also, If you’ve got a presentation or project to deliver, then it’s worth running things past the analytical person in the team since they could spot any missing gaps in the facts and figures. 

The functional one

If you’re a functional communicator, then it’s highly likely that you’re a master of process. Like other functional communicators, you love the step-by-step, and like the analytical communicator, the facts are important to you, but more than that, you love the process! 

Benefits of a functional communication style

If you want a process mapped, then you need a functional communicator on your team. 

Functional communicators want to make sure everything is crystal clear, which has numerous benefits. 

The Intuitive one

According to the intuitive communicator, you can definitely have too much detail. 

If you have an intuitive communication style, you probably prefer the big picture, the high-level view. You don’t need the data, the detail, and the linear process. Just the broad brush strokes will do. 

Benefits of an Intuitive communication style

If you have an intuitive communication style, one of the biggest benefits is that you can see the bigger picture. Where some might get bogged down in the minutia, you are able to see and communicate things from a birdseye view.

This can be inspiring and can also help to keep people focused on what’s most important long term.

The one that keeps things personal.

If you often find yourself thinking, enough with all the data, facts, and details; what about the people involved? Then you’re most probably a personal communicator. 

As the name suggests, if you’re a personal communicator, you’re just as concerned with the person giving (or receiving) the information as you are with the information itself. 

Benefits of a personal communication style

If you’ve seen things get heated and colleagues lose their heads, you know firsthand why it’s important to have at least one person with a personal touch in any team. While business decisions need to be based on facts and data-driven when communicating, for example, during times of change, forgetting the human element can lead to all sorts of avoidable issues and stress for all parties concerned.

To Conclude

As you can see, there are plenty of things to consider when it comes to having an effective communication style in the workplace. 

The most important thing to be aware of is that different people have different preferred natural styles of communicating. By knowing that these different styles exist and what to expect from each one, you’ll be able to work with different types of people much more successfully. 

Whether that means tailoring your style or approach to suit someone in your team or picking the right person for the job where a project is concerned.

And when it comes to your communication style, if you’ve read something here that concerned or shocked you, then it’s never too late to turn a new leaf and start learning to communicate in a way that’s more effective and conducive to better relationships at work and in other areas of your life.

Now check out these 5 simple tips for improving communication at work.

Or check out the workplace communication hub.