Develop Your Teen’s Communication Style

One of the most important skills any of us can have is good communication. Our ability to communicate certainly impacts our family, friends, and other close relationships. It also significantly impacts our ability to be successful in the workplace. Good communication is one of the most requested skills by employers, and also one that current employers complain is lacking in graduating students.

There are three main communication styles: passive, aggressive and assertive. Parents should take the time to explain each of these communication styles to their teen and discuss why the assertive style is most preferred.

Here is an explanation of each type to share with your teen:

Assertive. Assertive communication is the style most commonly associated with leaders and other high self-esteem individuals – confident, clear and concise. An assertive communicator doesn’t hesitate to speak his mind, yet is empathetic enough to not hurt others’ feelings. They actively protect their own rights, but are mindful of not trampling on the rights of others. An assertive communicator is precise and polite when speaking, but firm in their requests.

Aggressive. The aggressive communication style is a much more hostile approach. These communicators tend to be argumentative and demanding and can even become bullying or threatening. This style frequently alienates a lot of people and negatively affects relationships, both personal and professional. Aggressive communicators often seem to care more about “winning” than about other people. They tend to have loud voices, intrude on people’s personal space, use sarcasm, and display angry facial expressions.

Passive. The passive communication style is fixated on avoiding conflict and responsibilities. Passive communicators are willing to take orders, hesitant to express their true feelings, apologetic for their own behavior, indecisive, and reserved in social settings. These communicators often speak with quiet, soft, or high pitched voices and frequently use verbal fillers, such as “um.” They tend to defer to everyone else’s opinions or interests.

Once you have explained these communication styles, ask your teen to evaluate themselves and determine which style they use most often (recognize that almost everyone uses some of all three communication styles in different situations). If your teen realizes that they use passive or aggressive styles the most, ask them how they might be able to change their style to be more assertive. If they are not sure, offer an example and then ask them to come up with an example. Learning good communication takes time, but it is well worth the effort.

Role-Modeling the Assertive Style

Role modeling is a parent’s greatest influencer in their child’s life. Your teen will naturally develop a communication style by watching you when you’re communicating with others. So, be sure that you are demonstrating an assertive style by:

  • identifying your feelings (out loud to your children),
  • speaking to others directly and honestly but with respect (keep your statements short and to the point, providing facts and specifics rather than vague hints),
  • projecting confident body language (good posture, strong eye contact, expressive and open hand movements, an even and pleasant voice etc.),
  • using “I” statements (“I feel angry when you speak to me like that,” instead of, “you make me so mad!”),
  • using polite manners (please, sorry, thank you, etc.)
  • sharing your opinion,
  • standing firm in decisions that are important to you, and
  • avoiding judgmental statements.


Teach Your Teen to Express Feelings in a Positive Way

Learning how to tell someone how you feel in a calm, positive way is a valuable skill that will help your teen improve their relationships throughout their lifetime. This skill takes practice, and teens need help from adults to learn how to speak up in a respectful way. If your teen is upset at someone, try to coach him/her through some ideas for what to say before they confront the other person. Here are ideas for parents to use to help their teen:

  • If your teen tends to be aggressive, either verbally or physically, explain that name calling or pushing are completely unacceptable. Pick some real examples from when you have seen them react inappropriately to a friend or sibling and brainstorm some different ideas for how they could have handled the situation in a more appropriate way. Explain that you want them to stand up for themselves, but the way they do it must be more respectful.
  • If your teen tends to be passive, try to point out some of those behaviors to him or her from real examples. If you see your teen saying, “I don’t care,” every time her friends ask her what she wants to do, have a conversation with her (later, when you’re alone) about speaking up and sharing her opinion.
  • Encourage your teen to begin her sentences with “I” instead of “you” when expressing a concern to someone else. It’s a subtle difference, but makes a huge impact in communication. Messages that start with “I feel…” are better received than those that begin with “You make me…”. For example, teach your teen to say, “I feel angry when you don’t show up on time,” rather than, “You don’t care about me at all because you never show up when you say you will.”
  • Advise your teen to avoid judgments. They should stick to the facts when they are explaining their problem. A fact is “your shirt has some stains on it.” A judgment is “you look sloppy.” Judgments make people feel defensive.
  • Advise your teen to avoid exaggerations. Explain that using “always” or “never” in statements backfires, because they make the other person feel too defensive to hear your viewpoint. Statements such as “you always forget to clean my clothes” or “you never want to do anything fun” are untrue and hurtful.
  • Remind your teen to keep their focus on solving the problem they are having, rather than accusing or blaming the other person. Your teen shouldn’t be trying to “win” a fight, but rather working together with the other person to develop a reasonable solution to a problem.


Final Thoughts…

Assertiveness comes to some people more naturally than to others. If your teen has generally been passive or a people pleaser most of their life, being assertive can be really tough. Try to counter their guilty feelings by explaining that assertiveness is actually vital to each person’s well-being – they are taking care of themselves! If your teen has generally been aggressive most of their life, it can be difficult to tone down their style. Be patient and praise your teen anytime you see them communicating in an assertive style.

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