Our relationships at work are complex.
Things often end up in confusion, misunderstandings, fights and gossip. Not to mention added stress.
We all face conflict in the workplace and everyone has their own way of dealing with it. You probably have a go-to style of your own.
Perhaps you frequently end up getting angry. Or maybe you keep saying “Yes” even when you feel like saying “No.” Maybe you choose to simply keep your thoughts and opinions to yourself, and not share them with your colleagues.
But here’s the catch:
With the wrong style of communication, even a petty issue can ruin a friendship. On the other hand, the right style can ensure your needs are met.
So, what are the 6 good and bad communication styles in the workplace?
Assertiveness is all about balance: An assertive person is neither a bully nor a pushover.
For a long time, I didn’t understand what it really meant to be assertive. So I think it would be helpful to spell out what it is and what it isn’t.
Being assertive means that you care about your needs. But it doesn’t mean that you walk all over the other person.
Similarly, being assertive requires you to stand up for yourself. But it doesn’t guarantee that things will always go your way.
Ultimately, assertiveness is an expression of your self-esteem and respect for your colleagues. It’s rooted in the philosophy of Win-Win.
Assertiveness in Action
Imagine a situation where a team member has been regularly late for meetings.
Here is an example of an assertive way of dealing with the situation: “You have been late for the last 5 meetings. I feel it’s disrespectful towards your teammates. Can you please be on time from now on?”
Don’t Be Aggressive
A lot of people confuse being assertive with being aggressive.
When you are being aggressive you resort to verbal attacks, name-calling, cutting others off, biased monologues and speaking in absolutes.
Clearly, this is a Win-Lose approach and is disastrous for your relationships with your co-workers. Aggression will not help you resolve the underlying issues and they will keep coming up again and again.
If you happen to find yourself uncontrollably angry, it’s best to take a timeout to cool off. And once you’re back in control of your behaviour, you can return to an assertive dialogue about the issue.
Aggression in Action
Here is an example of an aggressive way of dealing with a team member who is constantly late for meetings: “You’re always late! Is this what we are paying you for?”
To be expressive means exactly that—You are willing to express the facts of the matter, along with your thought process and feelings.
The opposite of being expressive is to assume that everyone around you is a mindreader. Sadly, most people are not mindreaders. Your conclusions may be blindingly obvious to you, but others may see things differently.
The best at communication, are able to speak their minds frankly and remain completely respectful at the same time. With practice, you can learn to do it too.
It would be helpful to remember that the goal of being expressive isn’t to force a particular outcome. It is simply to say what is on your mind.
Expressiveness in Action
Here is an example of an expressive way of dealing with a team member who is constantly late for meetings: “You have been late for the last 5 meetings. I worry that you may be missing out on important discussions and updates. Plus, it sets a bad example for your colleagues. I want you to be on time from now on.”
Don’t Be a People-Pleaser
People-pleasers know all about the pain caused by anger and aggression. And they have come to the desperate conclusion that all conflict is bad.
A people-pleaser would go to any length to be liked by everyone—including sacrificing their personality and values. This makes them say “Yes” to every request and never voice their true opinion about anything.
It eventually leads them to resentment and one-sided relationships. (I know because I’ve been there.)
The truth is that there is nothing evil about conflicts. They are a natural part of all relationships. We can resolve our conflicts in a constructive way by being assertive and expressive.
People-Pleasing in Action
When faced with a team member who is constantly late, a people-pleaser will probably not say anything at all. They would keep their concerns to themselves until the problem gets too severe to ignore any longer.
Here is one of the basic concepts of social psychology: We often don’t know why people do what they do.
That’s why empathy is so helpful. To be empathetic all we need to do is invite the other person to share their point of view.
Sure, their views may be wildly different from our own but that’s okay. The intention here is to understand why they are acting the way they are. We don’t necessarily have to agree with them.
Keep in mind, that people will only share their views if they are feeling safe. If they feel threatened, however, they will either become aggressive or withdraw from the conversation.
Empathy in Action
Here is an example of an empathetic way of dealing with a team member who is constantly late for meetings: “You have been late for the last 5 meetings. I am worried about you. Is everything alright?”
Don’t Be Passive-Aggressive
Passive-aggressive behaviour includes the silent treatment, sarcasm, sulking, backbiting and mild insults. It can also include not delivering on your promises and being sloppy with your work.
Acting in this way will never lead to change or a positive outcome. You will only make the people around you confused and hurt.
A people-pleasing habit can, in time, lead to passive-aggression. As resentment starts to build, you will start to show your unhappiness in indirect ways.
As you are aware by now, the antidote to being passive-aggressive is to be assertive, expressive and empathetic instead.
Passive-Aggression in Action
Here is an example of a passive-aggressive way of dealing with a team member who is constantly late for meetings: “Wow! You’re only ten minutes late today.”
Over to You…
Don’t worry if you find yourself using bad styles of communication from time to time. We all make mistakes when it comes to difficult conversations.
The point is to be aware of the mistakes we are making so that we can do better in the future.
So, one last time, here are the 3 good communication styles in the workplace: be assertive, be expressive and be empathetic.