Improving your communication skills

Medically reviewed by April Justice
Updated January 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Humans are social creatures, and one key aspect of our overall wellness is our relational well-being. Research has demonstrated that communication skills represent a significant component of forming healthy relationships. If you would like to enhance your nonverbal and verbal communication skills and improve how you relate to others, participating in therapy to improve communication skills could be a good place to start. 

This therapy typically involves assessing your current communication style and the impact it’s having on your relationships and overall well-being. Once you and your therapist have identified areas of communication you’d like to work on, you can begin improving your skills.

The therapeutic setting can be an ideal space to practice shifting your communication techniques so that you can effectively communicate your needs to other people and allow them to do the same. This article will address how improving your skills can improve your relationships and positively impact your life by teaching you how to be an assertive communicator.

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Is your communication style impacting your relationships?

Types of communication techniques 

While some people have a preferred or default communication style that they use most often, most people typically shift in and out of different communication techniques based on the situation. For example, individuals tend to rely on both verbal and nonverbal cues during a conversation. Similarly, a person may have a passive style in one area of their life, but an aggressive style in another. 

This therapy can teach you more about different techniques and the impact of effective versus poor methods. Understanding various types may help you improve your own style, enabling you to develop more positive relationships in your life. 

Passive

The basic goal underlying a passive communication style is to appease the other person. The overarching message sent is that the other person or the other person’s ideas have more power or worth. Essentially, the passive communicator is trying to infringe on them as little as possible. Verbal cues associated with passive methods may include a softer voice, using intentionally vague or submissive language, or putting yourself down. Passive behavior’s nonverbal cues might include hunching your shoulders together, making nervous gestures, fidgeting, avoiding eye contact, and keeping your gaze cast downwards. 

When a person uses passive methods as their primary style, they may experience some negative consequences. These could include feeling as though their needs are never met, frequently feeling unheard or taken advantage of, and having consistently low self-esteem from undervaluing their own worth. They may try to communicate through nonverbal cues, which can lead to further confusion in understanding. 

Some people may shift into passive styles in certain situations such as when arguing with their spouse, for instance. This therapy can teach you to recognize the signs of passive communication, possible triggers for shifting into a passive style, and how to assert yourself in those situations. 

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Aggressive

Aggressive communication is the opposite of passive. With aggressive styles, the communicator is sending the message that their thoughts, opinions, values, and needs are more important or more valid than those of other people. Verbally aggressive styles may entail speaking at a loud volume or using language that is sarcastic, patronizing, disrespectful, insulting, hurtful, or noticeably angry. Nonverbal indications may include direct and persistent eye contact to the point of staring, pointing, invading another person’s personal space, or using threatening or dramatic gestures. 

Aggressive communication is typically an ineffective method. With aggressive styles, you may ultimately get what you want from another person, but it is typically at the cost of them meeting their own needs and may damage your relationship. People who consistently use aggressive styles may find themselves in frequent arguments with loved ones or even strangers. Their most common emotion may be anger, and they might have difficulty maintaining close relationships with others.

If you are a primarily aggressive communicator, your style may impact your ability to be vulnerable and form genuine connections with others. A therapist can work with you to address the roots of your style and how to shift your body language and verbal skills to become more approachable. 

Assertive

Assertive communication strikes the balance between passive and aggressive. Assertive communicators acknowledge that both participants in an interaction are equally worthy of respect. For example, they may avoid interrupting others, but might not allow other people to talk over them. Assertive communicators typically appear relaxed, engaging in an appropriate level of eye contact and using hand gestures that are fitting to the interaction. Their verbal cues include a firm tone of voice that is respectful, direct, confident, relaxed, and polite. Their body language may convey active listening through eye contact and a relaxed posture. They may ask open-ended questions to communicate effectively with others and attempt to understand issues by using effective listening. 

This style enables both people to communicate their needs and to address the needs of the other person. Communicating assertively may not mean you will always agree with other people, or that you will never experience conflict, but it can help ensure that conflict and disagreement stem from genuine differences in beliefs and values, not from a miscommunication. People who primarily employ an assertive style tend to have healthier relationships and higher confidence levels than those who are primarily passive or aggressive communicators. 

Learning to shift your communication style

If you would like to learn more about your own style and ways you can improve your interactions with others, reaching out to a therapist may be helpful. It might feel daunting to practice an entirely new method, particularly if you have never critically examined your techniques before. 

Online therapy could help you feel more comfortable when experimenting with new capabilities since you can talk to your therapist from the comfort of your own home. With platforms like BetterHelp, you can connect with a therapist through video chats, phone calls, or in-app messaging, depending on what feels most comfortable. This may put your mind at ease as you explore new ways of communicating with other people. Online therapy can often allow for effective methods and open up time for individuals to ask open-ended questions to their therapist from a safe environment.

How online therapy has potential to help you

Research has consistently demonstrated that online therapy can yield the same benefits as traditional in-person therapy. One study found that participants who underwent an online therapy treatment program to improve their social competency experienced comparable outcomes in skill development compared to those who experienced the same program in an in-person capacity.  

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Is your communication style impacting your relationships?

Takeaway

Communication skills, like open-ended questions and active listening, can be essential in creating and maintaining healthy relationships. Understanding the difference between assertive, aggressive, and passive styles can help you cultivate a more effective style when interacting with others. Counseling can be an effective way to assess your current style and develop new skills. 

Online therapy may be a beneficial option for those wanting to have communication skills counseling from the comfort of their home. Working with a therapist, you can come to understand the roots of your style and create positive changes that enhance the quality of your interactions with others. To begin your therapeutic journey towards healthier and more impactful communication, reach out to BetterHelp today.

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