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Modern Communication Styles For a Diverse Workforce

In a world filled with diverse perspectives and personalities, effective communication is the glue that brings us together. We all have a distinctive communication style that reflects our upbringing, experiences, and inherent traits. Understanding different types of communication styles can help us relate to others more deeply and respectfully so we can build stronger relationships, resolve conflicts, and thrive both personally and professionally.

What is a communication style?

A communication style is how we express ourselves and interact with others. It includes both verbal communication and nonverbal communication to convey information, ideas, or emotions.

Verbal communication includes spoken and written words and characteristics like:

  • Tone of voice
  • Volume
  • Pitch
  • Pauses
  • Punctuation

These elements can greatly influence the message’s meaning and the way people perceive it. A simple sentence can have different meanings based on tone of voice or emphasis on certain words.

Nonverbal communication refers to interpersonal communication without words. It includes:

  • Facial expressions
  • Body language
  • Gestures
  • Eye contact
  • Posture
  • Proximity
  • Touch
  • Silence

Nonverbal cues can impact communication as much as verbal expressions. Nonverbal communication provides additional context and emotional cues that can enhance or contradict verbal messages. For example, someone who says they’re fine while looking downcast and avoiding eye contact may be bothered, despite their verbal communication.

Communication styles at work

Communication styles in the workplace play a crucial role in teamwork and collaboration. The way team members interact with one another can impact the effectiveness and outcomes of collaboration. 

Communication styles influence:

Clarity and understanding – Clear interpersonal communication enhances comprehension and reduces misunderstandings. This creates a shared understanding of team goals, tasks, and expectations.

Conflict resolution – Assertive and diplomatic communication styles can help team members address conflicts openly, express their concerns, and find solutions. On the other hand, aggressive or passive-aggressive communication styles can escalate conflicts and create a hostile or unproductive work environment.

Collaboration and cooperation – Communication styles that promote openness, respect, and active engagement can encourage people to share ideas, brainstorm, and give and receive constructive feedback. 

Trust and rapport – When people communicate honestly, transparently, and with integrity, it builds trust. Conversely, communication styles characterized by dishonesty, lack of transparency, or manipulative behavior can erode trust and hinder teamwork.

Motivation and engagement – Communication styles can also influence team members’ motivation and engagement. Positive and encouraging types of communication styles can inspire and motivate team members, fostering a sense of ownership and commitment. 

Psychological safety – Communication styles that promote psychological safety create an environment where team members feel comfortable expressing ideas, opinions, and concerns without fearing judgment or retribution. This encourages open and honest communication, which can fuel innovation, collaboration, and problem-solving.

Types of communication styles

Historically, communication styles have been understood in terms of traditional frameworks with a limited number of types, such as passive communication, passive-aggressive communication, aggressive communication, and assertive communication. These lack nuances of how different cultural lenses influence our interpretations of others’ communication. Without awareness of cultural context, we risk interpreting diverse styles negatively based on things like stereotypes, for example. These address individual behavior within a single cultural context. 

“The dominant way that communication has been talked about  is evidence-based and draws on dialectical behavior therapy techniques,” said Briana Bellamy, a mental health coach supervisor at Lyra Health. “However, it’s rooted in Western norms and values, which often say direct and emotionally contained communication are the desired and effective way. That approach doesn’t work in every context and culture or with all values and communication styles.”

Traditional types of communication styles include:

Passive communication

Passive communicators tend to avoid conflict and hesitate to express their thoughts, needs, and opinions directly. People with passive communication styles may prioritize maintaining harmony or avoiding confrontation over asserting themselves.

Aggressive communication

People with an aggressive communication style may dominate conversations and express ideas forcefully without always considering others’ perspectives. They may overpower or intimidate others, leading to conflict, resentment, and limited interpersonal communication.

Passive-aggressive communication

Passive-aggressive communicators may indirectly express their dissatisfaction, opposition, or anger through sarcasm, backhanded compliments, or disguised resistance. Passive-aggressive communication tends to mask true feelings and intentions.

Assertive communication

People who use assertive communication convey their thoughts, needs, and opinions openly and honestly while considering others’ perspectives. Assertive communicators are confident in expressing their views and asserting their boundaries without infringing upon the rights of others.

A broader perspective on communication styles

A newer approach to interpersonal communication is The Intercultural Conflict Styles (ICS) inventory framework, which recognizes that conflict and communication styles often depend on cultural context and personal preferences. The ICS encourages flexibility and adapting to different cultural norms, expectations, and communication preferences. It focuses on two key elements:

  • How directly or indirectly you deal with disagreements
  • How emotionally expressive or restrained you are during conflict

Intercultural conflict types of communication styles include:

Discussion style

People with this communication style are direct but emotionally restrained. They value efficiency, rationality, and honesty.  (“I understand your point, but I have a different perspective on this. Let’s examine the facts and see if we can come to a mutually agreeable solution.”)

Engagement style

An engagement communication style is direct and expressive, meaning they’re not afraid to show how they feel about a topic. These types of communicators value authenticity, transparency, and emotional trust. (“I strongly disagree. I don’t see the evidence to support that statement. We need to resolve this before moving forward.”)

Accommodation style

People with accommodating communication styles are typically indirect and emotionally restrained. They value harmony, relationships, and compromise. (“I see what you’re saying, and I’ll take it into consideration. Maybe we can explore other options and find a compromise that works for both of us.”)

Dynamic style

Dynamic communicators are indirect and emotionally expressive. They value harmony, relationships, and preserving respectful feelings. (“Wow, your idea really excites me! I can see the potential in it, and I think it could lead to some amazing outcomes. Let’s brainstorm together and see how we can bring it to life.”)

The dominant communication styles model offers simplicity and individual focus, making it easy to understand and use in various situations. However, this model lacks cultural context and may not be right for diverse settings. On the other hand, the ICS model promotes cultural sensitivity, contextual relevance, and intercultural competence. It may be more complex and rely on generalizations, but it provides valuable insights for navigating intercultural conflicts. While the older  model still has some relevance, the ICS offers a more comprehensive and culturally sensitive approach, enabling effective communication and conflict resolution in multicultural contexts.

The ICS framework encourages people to navigate conflict by increasing awareness of their own and others’ communication styles. This encourages collaboration by fostering respect, empathy, and sensitivity. Different situations may call for different communication styles, so adaptability is key.  

How we communicate is either in sync with or different from the prevailing culture around us. People with a communication style that deviates from the dominant culture often feel they must constantly adjust in order to get by. Individuals whose communication style aligns with the dominant culture might benefit from additional assistance to recognize, understand, and respect non-dominant styles.

“Those with less dominant types of communication styles in the workplace are likely already doing a lot of adapting to try to connect with other people,” said Bellamy. “On one level those are great skills to develop, but it’s also good to recognize that it can be exhausting and to practice compassion.”

Less dominant communicators can be misinterpreted or labeled as pushovers, indecisive, or unengaged. They may feel like they can’t be themselves, and that can take a toll on their mental health. 

“People who have a dominant style of communicating because of more organizational power or their social identity and privileges can learn how to connect across that dynamic,” said Bellamy. “This will help them have more inclusive and beneficial communication and relationships.”

The older model considers passive, passive-aggressive, and aggressive as ineffective communication styles, which may sometimes be true, but there’s also a bias risk in terms of why we’re interpreting communication as passive or aggressive. For example, if someone has an expressive communication style, they may be emotionally open and passionate, which some might interpret as aggressive. If we consider the broader cultural context, we can be more inclusive and catch our biases while also improving interpersonal communication among people with different styles.

“The newer model broadens the scope of communication styles to consider context, being aware of patterns, and learning to bridge across differences rather than just labeling something as aggressive or passive,” said Bellamy.

How to develop effective communication skills 

Developing effective communication skills builds strong, respectful relationships. Here are 12 tips for improving communication:

1. Listen actively

Active listening builds empathy through curiosity and appreciation. It helps you understand the other person’s communication style isn’t wrong, it’s just different. 

  • Give others your full attention. 
  • Maintain eye contact, and avoid distractions. 
  • Show you’re engaged and interested by nodding, using verbal cues (“I see,” “Go on”), and asking clarifying questions. 

“When someone’s speaking, are you really hearing the story? Can you hear what’s happening beneath the surface? Can you make sure that person knows you understand what they’re saying?” said Bellamy.

2. Pay attention to nonverbal communication

Make sure that nonverbal cues such as your body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice align with your verbal communication. 

  • Use open and relaxed body posture.
  • Maintain appropriate eye contact.
  • Pay attention to your tone to make sure it’s appropriate for what you’re saying and who you’re saying it to.

3. Know your communication style

Reflect on your own interpersonal communication. “Many of us have a default communication style, so if you know yourself, and you know how you prefer to communicate, you can also notice what things may rub you the wrong way and escalate your own conflict,” said Bellamy.

  • Consider your strengths and areas for growth. 
  • Be open to self-improvement.
  • Make a conscious effort to practice effective communication skills. 

4. Be adaptable and flexible

Improving communication includes recognizing that different people have different communication styles and preferences. 

  • Be adaptable.
  • Adjust your approach to suit the situation and the people involved. This includes being mindful of cultural differences and adjusting your interpersonal communication accordingly in intercultural contexts. For example, some cultures consider shaking hands and direct eye contact disrespectful.

5. Express yourself clearly and concisely

  • Get curious and ask clarifying questions
  • Organize your thoughts before speaking.
  • Avoid jargon or complex terminology that may confuse others.

6. Consider other perspectives

Show empathy and acknowledge other people’s feelings and experiences. This helps build trust and encourages supportive, collaborative communication. “Using things like mindfulness, grounding yourself, and connecting to someone else’s values might bring down your stress level and help you communicate more effectively,” said Bellamy. “For example, if someone is coming off as very direct, can you appreciate that they may value clarity and efficiency?”

7. Give and ask for feedback

Seek feedback to ensure that your message has been received and understood as intended. 

  • Encourage open and honest feedback.
  • Be receptive to suggestions or areas for improvement. 
  • Ask clarifying questions when someone else’s message is unclear. 
  • Give feedback in a constructive and helpful way by using specific examples, focusing on behaviors or actions rather than personal characteristics, and offering suggestions for improvement. “Suspend judgment when receiving or giving feedback,” said Bellamy. “Keep an open and curious mind so you have something to share about the other person’s experience without judgment.”

8. Develop conflict resolution skills

Develop effective communication skills for managing conflicts constructively. 

  • Practice active listening.
  • Express your thoughts assertively but respectfully.
  • Seek mutually beneficial solutions.
  • Be open to compromise. 
  • Focus on understanding the underlying interests and concerns of everyone involved to reach a resolution. 

9. Learn new skills

Build effective communication skills by continuously learning and seeking opportunities for improvement. 

  • Attend workshops or training sessions.
  • Read books or articles on improving communication.
  • Actively seek feedback from mentors or colleagues. 

“It’s especially important for leaders to be aware of their impact on folks who are constantly having to adapt and be willing to extend a hand and get out of your comfort zone,” said Bellamy. “Bridging across different styles is a powerful way to build inclusivity and strong relationships.”

10. Use “I” statements

The use of “I statements” builds healthy, effective interpersonal communication by promoting personal responsibility, expressing emotions assertively, and minimizing defensiveness. “Express your needs with ‘I statements’ and be curious about other people,” said Bellamy. “Check for understanding by repeating back what you heard the other person say—‘If I understand correctly, you’re saying XYZ.’”

11. Recognize your emotions

Build awareness around the emotions you’re having and speak to those if necessary (“I’m noticing I’m feeling very activated right now, and I’d like to continue this conversation at another time.”). Recognize what emotions the other person may be feeling, so you can adapt interpersonal communication to be more effective if needed.

12. Set boundaries

Establishing clear boundaries is key to effective communication skills because it allows you to express needs, protect your well-being, and cultivate respectful and mutually beneficial interactions with others. “Know your own capacities and set boundaries to support yourself,” said Bellamy. “For example, if there’s aggression happening, being able to recognize your limits and take care of yourself appropriately is helpful.” 

Learn effective communication skills

Understanding different types of communication styles is essential to strong relationships, conflict resolution, and effective collaboration. Communication is a skill that you can continuously practice and refine. By improving your communication skills, you can bridge gaps, connect authentically, and achieve greater success in both your personal and professional life. 

Develop communication skills that set you up for success.

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About the reviewer
Briana Bellamy

Briana is a coach supervisor with Lyra Health where she trains and supports Lyra mental health coaches in the U.S. and globally. Briana has worked both in the U.S. and abroad and has a background in intercultural leadership, experiential education, restorative justice, and DEI with a global lens.

About the author
Sara Schapmann

Sara is a senior content writer for Lyra Health. She has over a decade of experience writing behavioral health and well-being content and holds a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Illinois.

Clinically reviewed by
Briana Bellamy
15 of August 2023 - 11 min read
Mental health at work
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