Communication Style Check-in
By Jen Ferguson
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” James 1:19, ESV
So many times, I have heard the whisper, “Don’t say it. Don’t say it!” But of course, in several instances, I have left the warning unheeded and the words tumbled out of my mouth, often resulting in reactions that ranged anywhere from an eye-roll to relational disaster.
Most of us have heard of the different communication styles: passive, aggressive, and passive-aggressive. They are not usual cast in the best light, nor are they considered healthy. Why do we continually choose one of these three options, when there is a better way?
Usually, due to fear. We are often afraid of the truth. Sometimes we’re afraid of our feelings, our needs, of being abandoned or rejected. Our fear motivates us to hide and because of that, we often end up communicating things ineffectively, in a confusing manner, and sometimes, even falsely.
Here are some quick snapshots of each communication style:
Passive: This communication style attempts to keep external peace at the expense of their own inner turmoil. Out of self-protection, they discount any needs they may have and bend to the whims of those around them. They fear being punished for telling the truth.
Aggressive: This communication style demands his/her needs to be met and takes whatever s/he needs, no matter what the consequences are for the other person. These types feel powerless on the inside so they masquerade as powerful on the outside. They fear not having their needs met by others.
Passive-Aggressive: This communication style is just the best of the bunch (and yes, that is an example of a passive-aggressive comment). People use this style to get what they want without being fully honest about their feelings or their needs.
If we never get to the place where we are willing to not only confront our fear, but also explore the roots of its existence in our life, we will continue to communicate in ways that are damaging to our relationships. Danny Silk, in his book, Keep Your Love On, writes, “Only people who value and understand themselves can value and understand others. Only people who can communicate honestly with themselves can communicate honestly with each other.”
This not simply about choosing different words. We can do our very best out of sheer willpower to change the way we communicate, but if we don’t face the fears that motivated to communicate in unhealthy ways in the first place, we will fall back into old habits quickly.
Here are some questions to help you and your spouse determine the effectiveness of your communication:
- What would you say is the communication style you use predominantly when there is conflict in your relationship? Why do you think this is the one you choose most often? Does your spouse agree with your self-assessment?
- What communication style do you typically use when you’re hurt and/or angry?
- Why do you think this is your “go-to” style? (ex. Learned behavior, how parents communicated, afraid to vocalize needs, want to avoid conflict, etc).
A few more questions you can ask:
- Can you relate to the motivations behind your particular communication style?
- How does your spouse react when you use this communication style? How does s/he respond to it usually?
- What would you like to do differently in your communication? What would it take for you to make this change?
If aggressive, passive, and passive-aggressive communication is unhealthy, what is healthy? The answer: assertive communication. When you and your spouse communicate assertively, you both recognize that each person has power, has a voice, and that their thoughts/feelings/needs matter just as much as yours do. Assertive communication gives space for both parties to seek to understand and to be understood.
Both exploring the why behind your unhealthy communication styles and changing how you communicate doesn’t happen overnight, but with a steady commitment, this work will have a life-long impact on your marriage and numerous other relationships.
Jen Ferguson is a wife, author, and speaker who is passionate about helping couples thrive in their marriages. Jen is also a mama to two girls and two high-maintenance dogs, which is probably why she runs. A lot. Even in the Texas heat.
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