Normal vs. Healthy Communication (Part 1 of 4): Passive Communication
Jennifer Owen, LPC, NCC
“Why won’t you just listen to me!?”
Have you ever said (or thought) that when talking to a friend, a child, a co-worker, or a spouse? I’d suggest that the majority of us have at least thought that when speaking to the ones we love. I know I have.
Unfortunately, communication- or miscommunication as it were- is a significant contributor to relationship problems. Stephen Covey, author of the book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, suggests that 90% of relationship problems could be avoided if we implemented more effective communication. Ninety percent! Could you imagine how different your interpersonal relationships would look like if they were improved by 90%? So how do we do this? How do we improve our communication with the people around us?
In an effort to answer this question, we must take a look at the different styles of communication. There are four primary styles of communication: passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive. Based on my experience working with clients over the years (and based on my own experiences), I can quickly say that the first three communication styles are fairly normal communication behaviors. However, just because these first three communication styles are “normal”, that does not mean that they are “healthy”.
Let me say that again for the people in the back.
Just because something is “normal” doesn’t mean that it is “healthy”!
For the purpose of this blog series, I am defining normal as “usual, typical, or what the majority of a population displays”. When I say “majority of a population”, this is not based on any statistics that I have run but on what I have seen during my time as a counselor. In regard to the term “healthy”, I am defining this as “promoting and cultivating positive and lasting experiences that increases the quality of one’s relationships”. Doesn’t a “healthy” relationship sound much more appealing than a “normal” relationship?
The next four blogs will take a look at each communication style, examples of how it is displayed, and ways to transform our communication from normal to health. Without further ado, let’s talk about the first communication style: passive communication.
The Passive Communicator
Passive people communicate indirectly. They are non-confrontational in order to maintain peace. Passive communicators will prioritize the needs, wants, and feelings of others before their own, even if it is at their own expense. Avoiding confrontation takes precedence over their own wants and needs. Please don’t hear me say that we shouldn’t consider the wants, needs, and feelings of others. That is not what this means. Instead, this means that passive communicators do not see their opinions as valid in comparison to others; therefore, they question themselves and assume that they are in the wrong. They often apologize for things that are not their fault.
Passive communicators allow others to “pass” right over them. Their demeanor is one that is often portrayed as anxious and indecisive. Instead of sharing how they feel, they “bottle it up” until they eventually explode. This can lead to difficulty sleeping, depression, anger, and resentment. Passive communicators are often taken advantage of, even by well-meaning people who are simply unaware of their wants and needs.
Here are some other examples of passive communication:
- Not sharing their wants with others (For example, not speaking up if a friend picks a restaurant that you don’t like.)
- Withhold feelings from others as not to create conflict (For example, not sharing with your hairdresser that you don’t like the way he/she cut your hair.)
- Have a hard time saying “no”
- Labeled as “shy” or a “push-over”
- Frequently interrupted/talked over
- Say “nothing’s wrong” or “I’m fine” when there is something wrong
- Ignoring their own personal rights
- Deferring to others for decision making
- Failure to make eye contact and/or frequently looks down or away
- Lack of confidence
- Doesn’t share their problems with others
- Assumes that they are the one in the wrong when there’s conflict
- Feel paralyzed when directly confronted with conflict
- Tends to have poor posture
- Apologizes even if they don’t believe they are wrong
Does this describe you? If so, you’re probably trying to find a way to apologize for it. But no worries! Becoming aware of our unhealthy communication patterns helps us to move in the right direction.
Here are some examples of ways in which you, as a passive communicator, can learn to change your communication to be more healthy:
- Begin to share some of your needs, wants, and feelings with people that you trust.
- Practice saying “no”, without feeling guilty (I am imagining the genie in Aladdin when he asks Aladdin to wish for the Nile. Genie responds “No Way!”) 🙂
- Be intentional on making eye contact with other people.
- Practice good posture.
- Instead of saying “I’m sorry” say “Thank you”. (For example, instead of saying, “Sorry, I forgot to do the dishes” say “Thank you for being patient with me as I am juggling a lot of tasks right now and I forgot to do the dishes”.)
- Start telling yourself daily, “My needs, wants, and feelings are just as important as others.”
- Start finding opportunities to stand up for yourself.
These are just a few ways that you can start to develop healthy communication instead of “normal” communication. Please remember, give yourself grace. Developing a different communication style does not happen overnight. Be sure to come back and read about the other communication styles and ways in which we can transform our communication from normal to health.
*** Please note, there are some people who use passive communication because they are in an abusive situation. Passive communication can often be used to keep someone safe in a dangerous situation. If you are in a domestic violence situation, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline. They can be reached via chat at thehotline.org or by phone at 1-800-799-7233.***
Covey, S. R. (1989). The seven habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character ethic. New York: Simon and Schuster.