Behavioral communication

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Communicative behaviors is defined as a psychological construct which influences individual differences in the expression of feelings, needs, and thoughts as a substitute for more direct and open communication.[1] Specifically, it refers to people's tendency to express feelings, needs, and thoughts by means of indirect messages and behavioral impacts.[2] It can be argued that much of our communication is, in fact, non-verbal.

Any behavior (or its absence when one is expected) may be judged as communicative if it has the intent to convey a message. For example, an expressive hairstyle, a show of a certain emotion, or simply doing (or not doing) the dishes all can be means by which people may convey messages to each other.

The construct of behavioral communication is conceived as a variable of Individual differences. This means that some people, more than others, tend to engage in indirect or behavioral communication, whether consciously doing so, unconsciously doing so, in spite of the different alternatives of using verbal communication.[1] An individual's behavioral style greatly affects their verbal and nonverbal communication. It is rare that someone utilizes all one behavioral communication style, all of the time.[3] Being able to identify one's own behavioral style requires a high level of self-awareness.[3]

Different types of communication behavior[edit]

There are four different types of communication behavior: aggressive, assertive, passive, and passive-aggressive.


Aggression is defined as an unplanned act of anger in which the aggressor intends to hurt someone or something.[4] Aggressive communicators typically create avoidable conflict by engaging in personal attacks and put-downs.[5] Aggressive communicators create a win-lose situation and use intimidation to get their own needs met, often at the expense of others.[6] Aggressive communicators typically feel a strong sense of inadequacy, have a lack of empathy, and believe the only way to get their needs met is through power and control.[6] Aggressive communicators are usually close-minded, are poor listeners, and tend to monopolize others.[3]

Behaviors often seen during aggressive communication include: putting others down, overpowering others, not showing appreciation, rushing others unnecessarily, ignoring others, not considering other's feelings, intimidating others, and speaking in a condescending manner.[3][7] Nonverbal behaviors exhibited during aggressive communication include: frowning, critical glares, rigid posture, trying to stand over others, using a loud voice and fast speech.[3]

While engaging in this type of communications, individuals typically feel anger, superiority, frustration, and impatience.[3] Aggressive communication often results in counter aggression, alienation, and the creation of resistance or defiance.[3] Additionally, individuals on the receiving end of aggressive communication typically feel: resentful, defensive, humiliated, hurt, and or afraid.[8]

There are times when aggressive communication is pertinent, however. The aggressive communication style is essential during emergencies or when decisions have to be quickly made.[3]


Assertiveness is described as the ability to appropriately express one's own wants and feelings.[7] Assertive communication is thought to be the halfway point between passive communication and aggressive communication.[7] Assertive communication is based on the belief that each individual is responsible for his or her own problems; therefore they are responsible for directly communicating these problems to the other party involved.[6] Assertive communication is a direct form of communication that respects both the communicator's and the receiver's rights and opinions.[6] Assertive communication is direct without being argumentative.[6] Engaging in assertive communication helps individuals avoid conflict, maintain relationships, and usually ends in a compromise.[9] Assertive communication is the communication style that is least utilized, however.[8]

Individuals who engage in assertive communication are open to hearing the opinions of others, without criticizing their opinions, and feel comfortable enough to express their own opinions as well.[6] Assertive communicators generally have high self-esteem, as they have the confidence to effectively communicate with others without getting offended or being manipulative.[8] While engaging in conversation, assertive communicators will state limits and expectations, state observations without judgment, be an active listener, and check on others feelings.[3] Essential problem solving skills that assertive communicators acquire include negotiations, confronting problems as soon as they arise, and not letting negative feelings build up.[3]

Behaviors that may be present when an individual is engaging in assertive communication include: being open when expressing their thoughts and feelings, encouraging others to openly express their own opinions and feelings, listening to other's opinions and appropriately responding to them, accepting responsibilities, being action-orientated, being able to admit mistakes, setting realistic goal, maintaining self-control, and acting as an equal to those whom are on the receiving end of the communication,.[7][3]

There are many nonverbal behaviors that represent assertive communication as well. Individuals engaging in assertive communication convey an open and receptive body language, with upright posture and movements that are relaxed.[6] Assertive communicators have a clear tone of voice and make appropriate eye contact.[6] Assertive communicators typically feel more confident and self-respecting while engaging in this type of communication.[7] People on the receiving end of assertive communication typically feel as though they can believe the communicator, know where they stand with the communicator, and possess a sense of respect for the communicator.[8]

Assertive communication has positive effects on both the communicator and the receiver. Some positive effects include: the communicator feels connected to others, the communicator feels in control of their lives, the communicator is able to grow as an individual because they address and solve issues as they come up, and creating a respectful environment for others.[10]


Passive communication involves not expressing one's own thoughts or feelings and putting their needs last in an attempt to keep others happy.[9] Passive communicators will internalize their discomfort in order to avoid conflict and to be liked by others.[6] This communication style is typically exhibited when individuals feel as if their needs do not matter and that if they voice their concerns they will be rejected.[6] Individuals who exhibit a predominately passive communication style usually have low self-esteem and may not be able to effectively recognize their own needs.[6] They tend to trust others but they do not trust themselves.[3]

There are many behavioral characteristics identified with this communication style. These behavioral characteristics include, but are not limited to: actively avoiding confrontation, difficulty taking responsibilities or making decisions, agreeing with someone else's preferences, refusing compliments, sighing a lot, asking permission unnecessarily, and blaming others.[8] There are also many non-verbal behaviors that reflect passive communication. Typically, individuals engaging in a passive communication style have a soft voice, speak hesitantly, and make themselves very small.[8] They also tend to fidget and avoid eye contact.[8]

Passive communicators elicit numerous feelings in themselves as well as in others. They typically possess feelings of anxiety, depression, resentfulness, feelings of powerlessness, and confusion.[10] They feel anxious because their life seems to be out of their control and they acquire depressive feelings from a perceived sense of hopelessness.[10] Passive communicators may become resentful because they feel as if their own needs are not being met and may become confused because they cannot identify their own feelings.[10] People on the receiving end of passive communication typically feel frustrated, guilty, and may discount the passive communicator for not knowing what they want.[8] While engaging in this type of communication, passive individuals typically feel anxious during the conversation and hurt or angry later.[8]

Passive communicators tend to build dependency relationships, often do not know where they stand in situations, and will over-promote others, all resulting in depletion of their self-esteem.[3] Passive communicators do not regularly respond to hurtful situations, but instead let their discomfort build until they have an explosive outburst.[10] This outburst causes shame and confusion, leading the individual back into a passive communication style.[10]

There are, however, numerous instances in which passive communication is necessary. A few situations may include: when an issue is minor, when the problems caused by the conflict are worse than the actual conflict, and when emotions are running high.[3]


The Passive-Aggressive style incorporates aspects of both passive and aggressive communication styles. Individuals utilizing this style appear passive, but act out their anger in indirect ways.[8] People who develop this style of communication usually feel powerless, resentful, and/or stuck.[10] A passive-aggressive individual exposes their anger through means of procrastination, being exaggeratedly forgetful, and or being intentionally inefficient, among other things.[6]

There are many behavioral characteristics that are identified with this communication style. These behavioral characteristics include, but are not limited to sarcasm, being unreliable, frequent complaining, sulking, patronizing, and gossiping.[8] Non-verbal behaviors, such as posture or facial expression, can also reflect passive-aggressive communication.

Typically, individuals engaging in passive-aggressive communication have asymmetrical posture and display jerky or quick gestures.[8] They may also have an innocent facial expression and act excessively friendly to conceal their anger or frustration.[8] People on the receiving end of passive-aggressive communication are usually left confused, angry, and hurt.[8] They tend to be alienated from others because they elicit these unpleasant feelings.[10] A passive-aggressive communication style does not address and properly deal with the pertinent issues or problems. This maladaptive problem-solving style keeps passive-aggressive communicators in a state of powerlessness, resulting in continued passive-aggression.[10]

Examples of Passive-Aggressive Language/Behavior include wistful statements, backhanded compliments, purposefully ignoring or saying nothing, leaving someone out, sabotaging someone, and muttering to oneself instead of confronting the issue.[11]


  1. ^ a b Ivanov, M. (n.d.). Behavioral Communication Debrief. Retrieved July 1, 2015, from
  2. ^ Ivanov, Michael; Werner, Paul D. (2010). "Behavioral communication: Individual differences in communication style". Personality and Individual Differences. 49: 19–23. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2010.02.033.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Sherman, R. (n.d.). Understanding Your Communication Style. Retrieved July 1, 2015, from
  4. ^ Whitson, S. (2014, June 1). Passive Aggressive vs. Assertive Behavior in Relationships. Retrieved from
  5. ^ Adubato, S. (2014). Assertive versus aggressive communication. Retrieved from
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Hennessy, K. (n.d.). Assertive Communication. Retrieved July 1, 2015, from
  7. ^ a b c d e (2015). Assertiveness - An Introduction. Retrieved from
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Newton, C. (n.d.). The Five Communication Styles. Retrieved July 1, 2015, from
  9. ^ a b ReachOut.Com. (2013, October 8). Communication styles. Retrieved from
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i Benedict, C. (n.d.). Assertiveness and the Four Styles of Communication. Retrieved July 1, 2015, from
  11. ^ Burton, N. (2015, April 14). Don't fool yourself: Seven signs that you're being passive-aggressive

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