Communication skills

Communication can either break down or improve relationships.  Coming from a counselling perspective, here I will try to focus on how to communicate feelings, healthy communication, unhealthy communication and general communication skills.



We communicate daily, with partners, children, friends, family and work colleagues and sometimes even strangers. We develop styles and patterns of communication from childhood.  Teenagers are famous for their ‘stroppy’ me me me and sulky style of interaction, although there are many emotionally intelligent teens that do not follow this stereotype; but communication can change with age as will emotional intelligence.  We change our communication with our children to suit their needs age appropriate as well as with different types of people we come across.

If you are around critical people when growing up, you may learn to criticise or even the opposite end of the spectrum, people please.  If you experienced a lot of shouting in childhood, you may learn to shout, or shut down and be extremely passive or anywhere in between.  Around healthy communication children may learn to utilise communication skills well.  Your environment will influence you, but there is no set way that it will shape you, it can shape you in many ways.  Your character may also play a part in your communication style.

Some people talk a lot and some not very much and some when they feel there is a need.  Often in counselling, people can feel nervous initially and talk a lot, but not cover anything of too much significance initially, like a ‘skirting around’ type of dynamic, due to feeling nervous.

How we feel affects our communication, if we feel shy and insecure it can impact on our style of delivery when communicating and the same applies for people who feel confident.  I am confident in my work yet outside of work I can be more introvert.

Life changes and stages of life affect how we communicate.  I mentioned in earlier blogs the people who hold jobs and have positions of power, how they can develop authoritarian styles of communication.  The following link is an experiment which shows evidence to support this:  

So we are a person first and foremost and communication is simply a tool we use to project who we are as a person to connect with others.  Sometimes those projections can get altered and misguided.  As you can see, many factors will influence how we communicate.

The person we are communicating with, will either test our ability to communicate or enhance it.  I know I can think of examples of people who test my ability to communicate and those that enhance it, can you?

Sometimes people do not want to communicate and find solutions, they want to criticise and abuse or fuel conflict, that will make communication difficult. We are responsible for how we react to any situation.  For me, no contact is often best unless that dynamic changes.

Ok let us get to the important part, how to communicate effectively.  There are three main styles of communication; passive, aggressive and assertive.

Passive                                                     Assertive                                                       Aggressive

Passive: This is where you may feel afraid to speak openly and can tend to keep thoughts and feelings private, to yourself.  You may have a volatile person in your life and adopt this style in order to try to keep them settled.  Passive people can sometimes turn anger inwards and feel very uncomfortable with displaying anger.  They may have been conditioned as children not to show anger, or could have experienced aggression from others and try hard not to be like the aggressors that had a negative impact on them in the past. 

Passive people may experience low self-esteem and could be unable to set boundaries and standards.  One downside to this approach is that some may think they are able to maintain peaceful relationships with such an approach, but instead could be putting themselves at risk of becoming invisible, with their needs not being met and although it may suit some to do that to keep another happy it will not always work that way.  There may be times when passive and assertive types work well together, but at times it could lead to problems.  

More selfish parents may not always see their children as separate with their own individual needs, they can see them as an extension of themselves and expect their children to adapt to what suits the parent and not the individual need of the child.  So children can learn that their needs do not matter and could be at risk of thinking that is ‘normal’ for them, that is how their parents taught them, so they could go into relationships where they feel their needs do not matter.  For some they may only know how to fit around someone else’s needs?  Again just some examples. 

Aggressive: The next unhealthy communication style is aggression.  So we are looking at one extreme to another right now.  Aggression mainly shuts down communication.  The minute you show aggression, the other person is likely to immediately put defences up, so nothing you communicate is likely to be heard.  Think of the examples of the young men in the criminal justice system, they had severe consequences if they displayed aggression.  So a persons aggression can be used against them, if someone decides to ‘press their buttons’ so to speak.  Therefore a more unusual perspective, but aggressive people can be susceptible to being controlled.  Aggressors usually feel a need to control, so they may display shouting, physical violence, gas lighting, smear campaigns, silent treatment, mockery and so on.  There is such a thing as passive aggressive.  This is where an aggressor will deliver aggression in a less obvious way.  Anger is a healthy emotion, it is how we express it that can be healthy or dysfunctional.  Some abusers may provoke anger deliberately, in order to control a person, so aggression can be an act of a victim or perpetrator, for different reasons and motives.  There is a difference I feel between someone displaying aggression and someone displaying abusive behaviours.  Is one an unhealthy reaction and the other an unhealthy act maybe?



Passive                                                   Aggressive                                                Assertive



Assertion: Both the above approaches could be damaging for relationships.  Assertion is the middle ground, the balance and the best communication tool to enhance your relationships usually.  It is about delivering honesty respectfully, being willing to listen to the other person and consider their perspective.  It is about being willing to stand up for what you feel to be right and equally being ready to be able to admit that maybe you have been wrong.  It is about knowing yourself and understanding your feelings and communicating that to another or being open to hear new perspectives. Rather than attacking the other person’s character, it is about addressing certain behaviours. Behaviours are what a person chooses, and by addressing the behaviour, you are dealing with the issue without attacking character.  It is sharing who you are with another, that is what a relationship needs, you need to have an identity to be seen and loved or accepted.  If you go along with others constantly and have no mind of your own, no ideas to assert, then are you likely to stand out enough to be loved or will you be at risk of simply being easy to be around; is that love?  If you aggressively assert yourself, you will also remain unseen, due to the likely defences your partner will naturally apply.

More often than not, if someone appears angry, it is likely there will be hurt behind the anger.  Often we find sitting with anger much easier than it is to sit with hurt. People can tend to avoid feelings of hurt, by holding on to anger.  If someone was to ignore you, or speak badly of you, or even speak badly to you, your natural response may be to hold onto anger/resentment, rather than allow yourself to feel the hurt that those behaviours may provoke.

Communicating feelings, including hurt, is important in healthy communication.  It is also important to realise that with some you can have healthy communication, but with others it will not be possible, no matter how hard you try.  As frustrating as that can be, acceptance will help you deal with difficult people better.

Usually when we are functioning at our best, we are authentic, genuine, and asserting ourselves whilst respecting others and living our life with integrity.  We are simply being our true selves.


Be honest with yourself, do you identify areas that could improve?  We all have aspects of ourselves that can benefit from some time and focus and change.  It is likely we can go in and out of the passive, aggressive and assertive styles at different times, so awareness is important.

Thoughts and opinions are my own, to offer a general sense of personal development topics and insights to available support.  

Angela Neild

Manchester Counselling

For support in the Uk:

If you feel in crisis, please contact your local Accident and Emergency Service.



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