We want you to think back on a recent heated discussion or disagreement you and your partner had with each other. What sorts of things did you say to try and get your point across? How did you try and express how you were feeling? Was it effective?
There are three main types of communication we use in these situations: Aggressive, Passive, and Assertive. As we talk about each type, think about which one best describes you.
The Three Types of Communication
Aggressive communication, as its name suggests, occurs when one person uses language that disregards their partner’s feelings or thoughts, and instead solely focuses on their own. Aggressive communication is used to try and dominate the conversation. Someone that uses aggressive communication often blames the other, tries to interrupt, can be seen as impulsive, loud, or overbearing. Aggressive communicators focus on their own needs.
As you might have guessed, passive communication reveals itself as almost the exact opposite of aggressive communication. Passive communicators typically fail to express how they are feelings and avoid sharing their opinions. Because of this, they may feel out of control, unheard, and ignored. Passive communication may even lead to explosive outbursts that are exaggerated compared to the actual topic if the individual continues to keep their emotions internal. Passive communicators give in to only their partner’s needs.
Assertive communication occurs when an individual states their wants and needs directly and respectfully. They remain calm and composed and allow their partner to speak, but also do not let others manipulate them. They use “I” statements and have good active listening skills. Assertive communication is born from high self-esteem and high emotional intelligence. Assertive communicators care that both their and their partner’s needs are met.
The goal with each conversation is for you and your partner to both use assertive communication. But, that is a lot easier to say than to do. Depending on our personalities, we are all usually skewed on one side of the spectrum. So, one of the most important parts of communication is identifying what type is being is used by you and your partner, and then adjusting your language to try and be more “assertive”.
So, let’s look at some example.
You don’t have to be in an argument for these traits to reveal themselves. Sometimes, they can be shown in routine, everyday conversation. For example, let’s say you both are trying to decide where you want to eat dinner. Here are a few different responses you may use:
“We’re going to Italian. I’m in the mood for spaghetti and none of your suggestions sounded very good.”
“Let’s just go wherever you want. I don’t really mind. I’m sure I could just find something I like wherever you want to go.”
“I’m feeling Italian, but I want to make sure we find a place where we both get something we like. What you hungry for? Maybe we can find a restaurant where we can get what we each like.”
Can you identify which statement was aggressive, passive, and assertive? Notice how the last statement (the assertive one), still states that person’s needs, but it also takes into consideration their partner’s needs.
Here’s another. Let’s say you ask your partner to pick up something important you need from the store. You’d would get it but you have to work late and you know your partner is getting off early. When you get home, you are saddened to see that your partner forgot to pick that item up. Here are some options for your response:
“You didn’t pick it up? Oh, that’s okay, I can just get it tomorrow on my lunch.”
“You always do this. You never think about me. Why can’t you remember to pick up just one thing for me?”
“I’m feeling a little frustrated. I don’t feel appreciated or listened to. Can we talk about why you forgot?”
Again, the third option is assertive. Being assertive doesn’t mean that you have to avoid the conflict, but it also doesn’t mean you have to talk down to your partner. With the third option, you are clearly expressing your emotions and how your partner’s actions affect how you feel, but you are also showing your partner enough respect to talk about the situation without immediately blaming them.
Which communication type are you skewed towards? What things can you do to become more assertive with your feelings?