When I ask couples why they have come to see me they almost all the time say, communication. When I dig a little further I find out that what that means is: ‘we fight too much and neither one of us thinks the other understands our point of view’. What I help them to ultimately learn is that they are using the wrong style of communication and it’s having a bad impact on their relationship.
Most folks don’t realize that there are four different styles of communication and that each style has a consequence.
Passive – this is the doormat style. When being passive you may want to say something, but you don’t. Or, you may want to say no, but you say yes instead. Most often this style is about avoiding conflict by putting other peoples’ needs, desires and opinions before your own.
Aggressive – this is the breathing fire style. I know you’re familiar with this style both on the giving and receiving end. This is when you get angry, blame, point the finger, put another down, and try to force your point of view.
Passive-Aggressive – this is the overcoat flasher style. When you use this style the communication appears normal, but has a hidden aggressive jab. You know that person who says something kind of mean and then says ‘I was just joking’. That’s passive-aggressive.
Assertive – this is the trusted friend style. When you are assertive you are doing a good job of stating your own opinions, view, needs, and wants, while honoring and validating the other person’s point of view as well.
I like to think of these styles in terms of power.
Passive = I lose, you win
Aggressive = I win, you lose
Passive-Aggressive = I win, you lose (but it’s under the covers)
Assertive = I win, you win too
Certainly all four styles have times when they are needed and effective. Can you imagine using a passive style when you come home to find a burglar in your house? No! You would get aggressive pretty darn quick and that would be the most effective thing to do.
But the thing is you use the wrong communication style all the time.
Let’s say you’re having a discussion with your loved one and he says something you disagree with. If you use the passive style, then maybe you just say nothing because you don’t want to start a fight. What then happens is that all those unsaid things get bottled up and explode in some aggressive volcanic way later.
If you use an aggressive style, then you might tell him he is wrong, or even worse, stupid. There’s a good chance your loved one will then feel the need to defend himself from your attack, and so he will create an argument for why he is right, and maybe will attack you back. And, the fight is on! You are both working hard to win and be right.
If you respond passive-aggressively, then you might say something like, ‘well you did only graduate from high school, so I guess you can’t be expected to know a lot about that topic’. See the jab? Those jabs build up until your loved one feels diminished by you, which can result in many things like: distance in the relationship, feelings of distrust, fights and anger, or jabs back.
If you use the assertive style then you would clearly say that you disagree with your loved one’s point of view, but that you can see how he may see things that way. With this style you validate the other’s position (this doesn’t mean you agree, just that you can imagine why or how they think this), and are clear about your own point of view. This is the win win. Neither of you have to give yourself up and neither of you is put down for being wrong or bad.
The assertive style is one of the common ways to get off the Drama Triangle.
Which style do you use most often? What are the consequences?