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The 5 Types of Communication Styles in the Workplace & How to Identify Them

Mile Živković Mile Živković Last Updated:

What separates humans from animals? Besides being able to solve complex problems, our ability to communicate is what makes us the exceptional beings that we are. And while every person is unique, there are a few distinct patterns that we use to communicate in and out of the workplace.

Understanding what those five different communication styles are is key if you want to be able to successfully navigate relationships with people who embody each of those different styles. So, here’s how to identify and deal with each communication style, as well as which ones to hire or avoid.

TL; DR — Key Takeaways

  • A communication style is the way someone expresses themselves and interacts with other people.

  • There are five main communication styles: passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, assertive, and manipulative.

  • Out of all the communication styles, you (typically) want to hire assertive communicators. However, understanding the strengths of each type of communicator can help you hire the right people for the right positions.

  • To identify communication styles, you can use tests such as True Colors, Myers-Briggs, DISC, and general skills tests.

Try a communication skills test

What is a communication style?

A communication style is a way that someone expresses themselves and interacts with others. In the workplace, a communication style can include a range of verbal and non-verbal behaviors, such as tone of voice, body language, facial expressions, and more.

A communication style is shaped by various factors, namely…

🎭 Personality

👶 Upbringing

🎓 Education

🎨 Personal preferences

🏛️ Culture

In the modern workplace, communication is one of the most sought-after skills, as 73% of employers want to hire people with great written communication skills. This comes as no surprise since the average employee spends 20 hours per week using digital communication tools in written and other forms.

As more and more employers today adopt remote and hybrid work models, the need for great communicators is at an all-time high. For example, the same research shows that 45% of people feel more connected to their team because of digital communications.

In short, the ideal employee of the future will have to learn how to communicate well if they want a seat at the table in modern businesses.

Top tips to enlarge those brains Top tip:

Communication is one of the most sought-after power skills of any ideal new hire. Power skills are essential traits that are vital for effective teamwork, problem-solving, and communication.
These skills are increasingly valuable in the workplace as employers seek candidates who can communicate effectively, collaborate with others, think critically, and solve problems.

5 main types of communication styles in the workplace

Up until recently, there were only four major communication styles recognized in the workplace. Recently, experts added the fifth, manipulative communication style. Here’s a brief breakdown of all five of them, including what they are and how to recognize them in the workplace.

5 main types of communication styles in the workplace

1. Passive communication style

The passive communicator prefers soaking up the communication around them rather than voicing their own opinion. They don’t speak up as much and may have issues speaking their minds or setting boundaries. Instead of leading the conversation, they’d much rather participate. 

Signs of a passive communication style in the workplace

A passive communicator doesn’t strike up new conversations with colleagues and often just goes with the flow instead of trying to form new interpersonal relationships.

To an inexperienced observer, passive communicators may appear submissive or disinterested. In the office, they might appear distant or cold. Someone who uses a passive communication style tends to avoid eye contact.

That doesn’t mean they can’t communicate effectively, though! It simply means they’re likely more introverted and prefer not to “rock the boat.”

How to work with a passive communicator

Passive communicators require a bit more work than the other types to really improve communication and establish healthy relationships (both at home and in the workplace). You need to show patience and understanding and not hold the same standard of communication for them. Give them an outlet to express themselves in written form, if possible.

They should have a safe space to voice their opinion without fear of being criticized. Ask them open-ended questions to avoid simple, one-word answers. Practice active listening and pay attention to their verbal and non-verbal cues.

2. Aggressive communication style

The aggressive communicator is the exact opposite. They’re very confident about their point of view, and they have no qualms about sharing it with others. Their very aggressive communication style may appear rude, as they have a hard time listening to alternative opinions, and they have no issues interrupting others as they speak.

Signs of an aggressive communication style in the workplace

Unlike others, an aggressive communication style is easy to spot, as an aggressive communicator will not avoid eye contact. In fact, aggressive communicators will most often maintain direct eye contact while bringing their own ideas to a conversation.

Someone who prefers aggressive communication usually has a hard time listening to points of view differing from theirs, making them seem, well, more aggressive than others with different communication styles. Aggressive communicators don’t shy away from telling you that you’re wrong.

How to work with an aggressive communicator

The first course of action is to remain calm and collected and not let aggressive communicators provoke an outburst on your end — aggressive communication, like other types of communication styles, is rarely personal; it’s just how someone was raised or taught.

You should try to listen to them actively and try to get their point of view without being confrontational. Avoid escalating the situation and turning discussions into arguments.

Focus on the matter at hand rather than attacking them as a person and try to find a common ground that you can agree on. Be assertive but not aggressive, and set clear boundaries for what you can and cannot tolerate.

3. Passive-aggressive communication style

The passive-aggressive communicator often sends mixed signals. They’re telling you one thing, but their non-verbal cues are giving off the opposite vibe, which can make them difficult to communicate with. Sometimes they might appear to be aggressive communicators, and others, they use passive communication to suit their narrative.

Signs of a passive-aggressive communication style in the workplace

This person will have behavior that contradicts what they’re saying. For example, they may say that they love an idea while slouching their shoulders, rolling their eyes, and pouting in disbelief.

They know that their opinion might not get along with the global majority of the workplace, so they avoid speaking their mind freely, which results in mixed signals that are often very obvious. Often, if you can’t understand whether someone is using passive or aggressive communication, it’s probably both.

How to work with a passive-aggressive communicator

If you notice that someone with this communication style starts to use aggressive communication styles with colleagues to demean or threaten others, address the issue head-on and ask them to clarify why they are behaving in such a way.

Point out how they are behaving and try to avoid an emotional reaction to this behavior. Tell them that you’re open to feedback and addressing any possible issues that they may have, and encourage them to communicate in a more open way.

However, set boundaries and explain that this kind of behavior is not accepted in your workplace. Ensure they understand how their passive-aggressive communication style affects others and help them find ways to use a less aggressive style to speak with everybody in the workplace.

4. Assertive communication style

Someone who uses the assertive communication style is not afraid to voice their opinion and explain what they want and why. Besides their own perspective, they understand the perspectives of others and advocate for them.

Don’t get them confused with aggressive communicators, though, as workers with an assertive communication style show respect for others’ needs. That’s not usually the case with aggressive communication.

Signs of an assertive communication style in the workplace

People with an assertive communication style are confident and express themselves clearly. They display confident body language and don’t refrain from eye contact, which is part of what makes this the most effective communication style to look for when hiring.

They share their own thoughts, but they have clear boundaries for what they can and cannot accept. They handle criticism well. If their hard skills are good, too, you’ve found an amazing addition to your team.

How to work with an assertive communicator

Compared to other communication styles, an assertive communicator is generally easier to work with. Acknowledge their perspective and appreciate their contribution to the conversation.

Be direct and clear, and don’t layer your ideas or feedback, as those who employ an assertive communication style prefer being direct.

Tell them what you need and set crystal clear goals and expectations. Try to understand their point of view and keep the communication short and efficient without wasting unnecessary time.

5. Manipulative communication style

Perhaps the least desirable of the five communication styles, the manipulative style, is all about using deception for personal gain. These people want to control or exploit others, and they should be approached with caution.

Signs of a manipulative communication style in the workplace

A manipulative communicator uses flattery and charm to persuade others to side with them. They share information selectively, disclosing only what benefits them. They use lies and deceptive tactics to distort the truth and often play the victim in workplace situations.

How to work with a manipulative communicator

Be aware of manipulative tactics, such as flattery, and recognize them when they happen. Avoid involving emotions, be it when accepting compliments or getting upset about recognizing manipulation.

Set very clear boundaries about what you want to tolerate (which is honestly a great tip for fostering effective communication within any workplace, regardless of the personal style of each worker).

Avoid sharing too much personal information with them, and if possible, ask them to communicate with you in writing to have a written record of your communication. Ask them to clarify and verify the information they provide you to avoid misinterpretation.

What’s the best communication style?

There’s no correct answer here, as every communication style has its pros and cons. However, the assertive communicator is the best all-rounder as they’re very confident communicators who don’t try to monopolize conversations.

They’re usually very respectful, and their contributions to a conversation result in a more productive environment. They’re polite and voice their opinion without stepping on anyone’s toes.

How to identify communication styles when hiring

There’s no one way that provides you with a definite answer to someone’s communication style. To best understand the way someone communicates, you need a combination of skills testing and in-person interviews.

Soft skills vs. hard skills vs. personality traits

This lets you kill two birds with one stone — you can assess their range of soft skills as well as analytical communication skills. Be it an in-person or video interview, you can learn more about:

  • Their body language

  • The way they express their thoughts

  • Their verbal communication

  • Their non-verbal communication 

  • The way they react to your interview questions and situations

Below, we’ve listed a few of the most common ways to assess communication skills in potential hires.

True Colors Assessment

Founded by Don Lowry and Bonnie Taylor, the True Colors Assessment categorizes personality types based on four colors: blue, gold, green, and orange.

This type of test is commonly used for team building and leadership development, but it can also be used for hiring and assessing communication styles. The four colors all have a unique set of characteristics, but let’s focus on communication styles only.

Blue: Encouraging, supportive, and expressive

Gold: Systematic and practical, focused on details

Green: Factual, logical, and precise

Orange: Persuasive and playful, immediate

This type of test has various benefits, such as increasing self-awareness in candidates and improving conflict resolution.

But when it comes to hiring and assessing communication styles, it’s not overly reliable as it leads the person(s) testing to generalization, biases, and stereotypes. Also, it’s not great at predicting future behavior.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

The Myers-Briggs-Type Indicator (MBTI) is one of the most common personality tests for organizational settings and personal development, as well as hiring.

The Myers-Briggs test has four different dimensions:

  • Extraversion vs. Introversion

  • Sensing vs. Intuition

  • Thinking vs. Feeling

  • Judging vs. Perceiving

Based on the results of the test, the person doing the assessment is categorized into one of the 16 personality types, such as INFJ or ENFP.

Each dimension reflects on the way someone communicates in and out of the workplace. Here’s what you can glean from each person’s personality type according to the Myers-Briggs test.

  • Extraversion: Communicates more openly and gets energy from communicating with others

  • Introversion: Prefers communicating in written form or one-on-one; these people take more time to formulate their thoughts and need breaks from interaction

  • Sensing: Communicates based on facts and specific details and loves getting clear instructions

  • Intuition: Communicates in abstract notions and prefers talking about potential situations

  • Thinking: They like to analyze data and often communicate in a logical way; they make their decisions based on reason

  • Feeling: These people communicate based on how they feel and how their words impact those around them; they’re less confrontational and prefer harmony in their relationships at work

  • Judging: They communicate in a very clear and structured way and prefer goal-oriented conversations

  • Perceiving: They communicate in a more flexible way, and they’re more open to new possibilities and changing their plans

While this isn’t the most accurate way of assessing candidates, their personality type, according to Myers-Briggs, can give you some insights into the way they communicate, collaborate, and think. And since the communication test is so commonplace, there’s a good chance they’ve already done the test before, so they can just tell you their results.

The Myers-Briggs 16 Personalities

DISC Assessment

The DISC assessment is more than a century old — it was founded by William Moulton Marston in the 1920s. While there are many different versions and iterations of this test, it boils down to classifying the test taker into different profiles based on four key personality traits. 

What are the components of DiSC_

Here is how the candidate is going to communicate if one of the four traits is dominant.

Dominance: Direct communication, to the point, focused on solving goals.

Influence: Expressive and focused on building relationships with people through influence.

Steadiness: Communicates in a steady, cooperative way and aims to instill harmony.

Conscientiousness: Communicates in a precise, methodical way and values accuracy.

The DISC test is most often used for leadership development and team building, but it can be used for hiring purposes as well. It’s not the ideal tool for the job, but it can get the job done.

General Skills Testing

Testing for job-specific and general skills can also help you assess how adept a job candidate is at communicating in the workplace. For example, if someone is doing a skills test for a project manager role, you can assess their:

  • Written and verbal communication

  • Active listening skills

  • Conflict resolution

  • Assertiveness

  • Adaptability

  • Giving and receiving feedback

The best part? You can assess job-specific skills as well as a host of hard skills related to this role.

Toggl Hire Skills Test Example

The beauty of modern skills assessment tools such as Toggl Hire is that you can test for hard or soft skills in isolation or combine everything into a comprehensive test that is custom-tailored for your business and the kind of person you want to hire.

Use skills tests to hire the right communicators

While aiming to hire assertive communicators should be the end goal of every business, having other employees with different communication styles can be useful in certain positions, too.

It’s important to know how to recognize each communication style and effectively communicate with these people to ensure your team is productive and happy — learning how to avoid manipulative communicators is a nice extra.

To find out the communication style of your potential hire, there are plenty of tests available. However, if you want one that you can use for hiring, our communication skills test is an excellent starting point. Try it out today, completely free!

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Mile Živković

Mile is a B2B content marketer specializing in HR, martech and data analytics. Ask him about thoughts on reducing hiring bias, the role of AI in modern recruitment, or how to immediately spot red flags in a job ad.

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