Updated: Apr 13
There are four basic communication styles: passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive and assertive. It can useful for children and young people to know and understand their own personal relating style. This is because some children may find it difficult to relate effectively to others. This may be because their role models have inappropriate relating styles i.e. their parents, siblings or friends. This may mean that they allow others to push them around and tell them what to do or may mean that they resort to solving disputes with violence. Sometimes people may think they know themselves very well but then in fact when they discover how others see them they are shocked. A child may believe that they are simply assertive when others perceive them as aggressive or frightening. In an opposite example a child may believe they are being friendly and helpful when what they are actually doing is allowing themselves to be taken advantage of.
A person with a passive style of relating tends to do anything to avoid conflict. Such passivity is usually born of a low self-esteem. These people may give in to unreasonable demands from other people. They may go along with the actions of others, doing things they feel uncomfortable with. They will remain quiet, not giving any opinion, even when they disagree with the opinions of others. Passive people will feel uncomfortable giving criticism or negative feedback. They will also resist doing things that might attract attention or disapproval. These actions result in the passive person effectively giving over control of their life to another person regardless of whether this is what they want. There are certain situations in which relinquishing control can be quite beneficial for example if you are in a position of danger and an expert needs to lead you from that situation. However people with a passive personality hand over control on a regular basis and this can become both exhausting and frustrating. Passive communicators are likely to believe themselves less important than others and less ‘worthy’ of happiness. They will also crave the approval of others and fear rejection and feel that helping people and being always agreeable will get them liked. Passive behaviour can lead a person to feel very helpless because they do not know how to say “no” to the demands people make of them. These people may feel anxious because their life is out of their own control, depressed from a feeling of hopelessness and resentful that their own needs are never met.
Aggressive relating styles could be seen as the exact opposite of passive. Aggressive communicators advocate for their needs and push their feelings and opinions regardless of whether it is at the expense of others. They will see their own opinions, goals and requests as being more important than anyone else’s and even that others’ thoughts and opinions are insignificant and meaningless. They will try to dominate and control others and have a low tolerance for mistakes. Aggressive personalities may speak loudly, act threateningly and even rudely and interrupt and not always listen to others.
Such aggressive behaviour may be as a result of their own feelings of helplessness and of feeling threatened. However this behaviour is usually ultimately unrewarding as others around them are likely to come to resent them and even fear them. This can cause them to become very lonely and can also leave them feeling guilty and ashamed which will ultimately lower their self-esteem.
This style combines elements of both the passive and the aggressive style that allows for the person to attack others without taking any responsibility. A passive-aggressive person may feel the need to attack someone but will do so indirectly. Examples of such behaviour may include insulting people behind their backs, showing up late for appointments but always with a good excuse, doing a job badly so that someone else will be forced to take over or suddenly feeling very unwell at the time you are due at an event you do not want to go to.
Passive-aggressive behaviour allows a person to do the things they want to do without taking responsibility because they always have a plausible excuse.
People with a passive-aggressive personality may have difficulty acknowledging their anger, they may use sarcasm as a defence mechanism, their facial expressions may not always reflect their true emotions, they will keep anger inside and deny they have a problem and will purposefully make an act to cooperate whilst subtly sabotaging.
Whilst this form of behaviour can be quite successful at first, people usually come to see the person as unreliable, irresponsible, disorganised and inconsiderate. As with the aggressive style, the person concerned is likely to feel guilt and shame at their own unreliability and consequently have lowered self-esteem.
Assertive is a style in which people are able to state their opinions and feelings clearly, and stand up for their own rights and needs without violating the rights of others. They are able to make decisions, and follow them through, about what the will and will not do. Assertive people are able to listen to and assess other people’s views and decide for themselves whether they wish to go along with them. If they have a request for someone (e.g. help with a task) they will not cower away from asking but will do so in a respectful manner and will acknowledge that person’s right to decide whether of not they will do so.
An assertive person will understand that all people are entitled to honesty and respect. They will confident and happy about who they are. They will understand that it is not for them to control others but that they are able to control themselves and their own actions and are the only one responsible for getting their needs met.
Assertiveness is not a relating style which generally comes naturally to most people but it is by far the most beneficial and respectful. It allows a person to relate others with little need for conflict, anxiety or resentment. An assertive persons ability to handle situations effectively means that they are able to feel more relaxed around other people. Assertive people do not hold on to past resentments or fears about the future, which allows them to focus on the present and remain calmer. They also do not feel that they need to seek others approval or live up to others’ standards which in turn increases their feeling of self-confidence and self worth. Lastly it is the most effective relating style for being in a lasting relationship
Why is it important to encourage children to relate assertively to others?
Assertiveness does not always come naturally, for many it is a skill that needs to be learnt over time but is worth teaching. Assertive children are more likely to have higher self-esteem and self-confidence. Assertiveness can be a particularly important skill for children in situations such as bullying. Children who are assertive and believe in themselves will feel less need to bully and if an assertive child is bullied themselves, then they will be better equipped emotionally to deal with it and take care of themselves. An assertive relating style allows children confidence in themselves and a high self-esteem and it allows them to better relate to others and form stronger relationships. People who give respect are far more likely to get respect in return. Children who are more assertive are also more likely to be able to resist negative peer pressure.
In order to help a child become more assertive the first thing would be for them to understand what assertiveness is and to distinctly understand the differences between this and aggression or passive-aggression. There are then a number skills that would need to be taught through a mixture of leading by example, circle time games, discussion, role-play and puppet work and looking at ‘what if…’ cards and games.
These skills include:
· Learning how to directly ask for the things that you want.
· Understanding the importance of saying ‘No’ – the word no can be perceived as rude or unkind but there are certain situations in which it is necessary, for example if children are being pressured to do something that will get them into trouble. Children need to be directly taught how to say no and to then practice this through role-play.
· Learning to avoid getting into arguments with people by not giving them the responses they are looking for and not retaliating their insults.
· Relaxation and calming down techniques
· Valuing yourself and others
· Understanding the importance of others people wishes as well as your own