Say what you mean and mean what you say, we’re often told. But, depending on your communication style, what you say isn’t always what people hear. This is especially true of communication between family members.
While conflict is inevitable in all families, the ways we communicate with our family can be effective and productive, creating intimate bonds with one another and building trust. But they can also be toxic and have unintended consequences, from lowered self esteem to severed relationships.
With the holiday season in full swing this month, it’s worth getting in touch with yourself to better understand what your own communication style is and how it fits into your family portrait.
Below are five common communication styles and how they affect family dynamics. When you can identify your own communication style, you will be better at managing your own energy. By getting to know all five styles, you can also gain a deeper understanding of what makes your family members tick, allowing for smoother interactions with them.
The 5 Family Communication Styles
You are confident and don’t take things personally. You believe your needs and desires are valid and you respect other’s feelings and needs as well. This is the healthiest and easiest form of communication to deal with.
You state your feelings or requests clearly and directly. Saying to your son, for example, “I want you to do your homework at the table, then set the table for dinner when your homework is finished,” leaves no room for confusion, sets clearly defined goals and gives structure to the desired actions that lends a sense of security to the relationship.
You are in touch with your feelings, but often feel fearful or insecure about trusting others to value your viewpoint or validate your needs.
You express your thoughts but in a timid, self-deprecating way and are not emotionally honest. Saying things like, “I want to go to the movies, but I know you probably would rather do something else, without me,” makes it easy for others to disregard your needs, not to mention how infuriating it can be to have to guess behind the words what someone really is asking of you.
You stand up for your personal rights and easily express your thoughts, feelings and beliefs in an emotionally honest way, yet you are often inappropriate or in violations of the rights of others. Aggressive behavior is similar to assertive behavior, but has some important differences.
While aggressive communication clearly and directly states personal feelings and thoughts, there is an element of accusation, dominance or superiority to it. Statements such as, “You never do anything right,” instead of, “I am disappointed that you forgot my birthday,” is one of the most destructive forms of communication.
4. Passive Aggressive
You express your needs and feelings in unclear ways because , while you may think you know what you want, you tend to be out of touch with your real feelings or fear negative consequences for stating them out loud.
Snarky remarks, sarcasm, teasing and insinuations, all are the hallmarks of passive aggressive behavior. Usually, people who are afraid to say what they are really feeling or thinking use passive aggressive communication, often without meaning to say it aloud. It’s that tightly held tongue that suddenly slips out sideways that gets us in the most trouble.
Saying to your spouse, for example, “I had to take out the garbage and was late for work, thanks to someone who didn’t do it first,” expresses anger in a confusing way and puts the receiver on the defensive. Communication has broken down before it has begun.
You have low confidence and, because masked types tend to feel insecure about having their own rights and needs met, you have difficulty considering the needs and rights of others. This style is sprinkled with passive aggression.
People who mask their communication throw out statements that are very unclear as to what they’re talking about and to whom the message is intended. Take the example of a father who wanted his son to wash the car last weekend. Instead of using direct and clear communication like, “I am surprised and disappointed to see that you didn’t wash the car, is there a reason?” says instead, “Youth have no pride in things,” or, “Kids today think everything should be handed to them!” This type of masked communication is common in unhealthy family relationships.
We all exhibit a mix of communication behaviors depending upon the balance of power within the relationship to the person we are interacting with. Our communication might be masked with an elderly relative we rarely see, for example. We might be outright aggressive with a spouse or child with whom we have more emotional context, but also a higher level of intimacy.
Use these communication styles as a guideline for checking your own behavior at your next family gathering. Experiment with more positive language and phrasing to see what kind of responses you get. Over time, you can change the energy of any relationship!