It’s More Than What You Say

April 5, 2022 By The Siren Of Support

It’s that time of year in Wisconsin when you can feel Spring weather approaching. It’s still a bit chilly and the ground is wet. The robins are snatching up worms to take back to their nests. Yesterday my son, myself and all three cats watched as mama bird picked out the best slimy delicacies to return home with. This morning the road was just as damp, yet there were no birds and no worms. My son says to me, “Where are all the worms today?” Because I don’t know, and I don’t have a good answer I tell him to make up a worm call and see if it works. Of course what comes out of his mouth can only be described as an extremely loud shriek that had more chance of attracting the turkey vulture that was soaring overhead than the worms he sought. No worms surfaced as expected, yet instead of being disappointed he tells me that worms don’t have ears so they can’t hear anyways. Thankfully the bus showed up right on time. 

As I trekked down the slippery hill it occurred to me that his failed attempt at worm communication wasn’t destined to fail. He just chose the wrong method. I don’t have a solution for him and I’m not going to search the web to find out how to summon worms. I am clearly not a worm expert. However, I am well versed in human communication. Here we will take a look at the forms of communication that are viewed as negative. 

Negative Communication

The Passive Communicator

Your boss tells you that you need to stay an extra hour to catch up. You don’t want to stay late because you had plans to fix your car after work. You have to replace your radiator and have planned on getting it done this evening. Instead of telling your boss that you can’t stay late today, you change your plans and move the repair day to tomorrow. 

A passive communicator will avoid conflict, lack confidence, speak quietly, seek approval and fail to express their own needs. Often they remain silent in meetings and appear easy going and shy. 

How to manage passive communicators:

  1. Make them feel safe: Create a safe place for people to express themselves without judgment. Remove the fear of articulation by ensuring that any employee, especially the passive communicator will not face negative consequences for voicing their opinions. 
  2. One-on-one: Passive communicators often feel more comfortable when in a private setting. Provide the opportunity to meet 1:1 or in smaller groups. 
  3. Allow for alternate modes of communication: Follow up with an email or a message if able. Make sure that you are getting the entire team’s input and not just the vocal ones. 


The Aggressive Communicator

Your teammate sold the wrong part for the application. The company has now lost money on freight costs, has an upset customer and product that is in limbo while it awaits return. You approach yelling at the teammate, “You idiot! What is your problem! Now I have to fix your mistake! Can’t you do anything right?”

An aggressive communicator will disregard the thoughts and feelings of others. They are generally seen as intimidating, speak loudly, and will personally attack or name call when trying to be heard. They will be persistent and dominate the conversation.

How to manage aggressive communicators:

  1. Set clear boundaries: Enforce the rules of engagement during meetings. Do not allow for the aggressor to interrupt others. Call them out on the negative behavior at the onset. 
  2. Provide tools: Acknowledge and discuss with the aggressive communicator how their actions affect the rest of the team. They may be unaware of the impact or be oblivious that they are communicating aggressively. 
  3. Record and replay: Whether it be in a meeting or on a recording call with the customer provide the aggressor the opportunity to hear themselves. Often a cringe worthy moment may seem like nothing to the person speaking until they are able to hear it from another’s perspective. 


The Passive-Aggressive Communicator

Your co-worker has fallen behind and asks for help with the workload. “{Sigh} Of course I will help, that’s what I do best, you can’t help it that you’re not as efficient as me.” After helping the co-worker you wander three cubicles over and tell another work mate just how frustrated you are and that the other person must be stupid. 

Passive-aggressive communicators will seem outgoing, helpful and friendly. It is common that their tone of voice will not match their words. Misalignment is also evident in their body language and facial expressions. 

How to manage Passive-aggressive communicators: 

  1. Point them in the right direction: If you are on the receiving side of the venting session, redirect the person back to the involved party. “Have you spoken to them about it?” Encourage the person to address the issue directly with the other. 
  2. Stay cool: The passive aggressive communicator is likely trying to push your buttons. If you give into the aggressiveness they become the victim and will flaunt it far and wide. Do not express the anger that they are unable to express. 
  3. Address the situation: Use “I” statements. “I don’t like it when I ask for your help and you discuss it with others after. If you do not want to help then please just say no.” The passive-aggressive communicator will feel attacked and shut down if you address the issue as if it is a fault of theirs. Keep the walls down but explain how it affects you or the team. 

While the above communication styles are not ideal, they are better than no communication at all. I suggest that you keep your door open and continue to grow with and lead your teams to become confident, effective communicators. 

I suppose tomorrow I will suggest a more assertive communication style to beckon the worms to the surface rather than the torturous howl.