Why Indy
Free Resources
indy university
Start for free

The 4 Communication Styles: How to Connect with Clients Effectively 

Oct 15, 2020
(updated: Dec 1, 2022)
Max 5 min read

Understanding Communication Styles

Freelancing = communicating. As a freelancer, your business depends on effective communication with clients. You need to be able to clearly communicate with them about expectations, what they’re looking for, deliverables, and timeframes, especially when the relationship is primarily built online or over the phone. 

If you’ve ever had difficulty connecting with a client or it seems as if your communication breaks down, it’s possible that you’re using a different communication style than your client. Most people fall within 4 communication styles:

  1. Passive
  2. Passive-Aggressive 
  3. Aggressive
  4. Assertive

What is a Communication Style?

Simply put, communication styles are the different ways people communicate with each other. 

It’s important to learn where you fall on the communication spectrum since your communication style will determine how you interact with others, especially your clients. Plus, once you have a better understanding of your own communication style, you can drastically improve your relationships and how you handle difficult conversations in the workplace and at home.

In this article, we’ll touch on the 4 different communication styles, what defines each one, and how to improve your communication as a freelancer. Read on to determine which style of communication you most commonly use, and learn ways to more effectively communicate within every conversation you have.

communication style

Connection is Key 

It’s been proven that people who feel connected are less depressed, anxious, and even live longer. As a freelancer, often working from home in your own little bubble, it’s more important than ever to create meaningful connections through your conversations. 

How Do You Communicate?

The Wallflowers: Passive Communication Style

Passive communicators avoid expressing their feelings and fail to assert themselves. They have a hard time making eye contact, often say no, and usually have a go-with-the-flow attitude. 

Common phrases that Passive Communicators Use:

“People never think about me.”

“I just want to keep the peace.”

The Loud Ones: Aggressive Communication Style

On the other end of the spectrum are the aggressive communicators. They often dominate the conversation making it all about them, tend to talk over people, and don’t listen when others are speaking.

Common Phrases that Aggressive Communicators Use:

“I usually get my way.”

“I know what’s best.”

“I’m right and you’re wrong.”

The Snarks: Passive-Aggressive Communication Style

With this style, individuals appear passive on the surface but carry a deeper resentment that comes out in indirect and often subtle ways. These people tend to be extremely sarcastic, use facial expressions that are the opposite of their true feelings, and mutter to themselves rather than speaking directly to an individual.

Common Phrases that Passive Aggressive Communicators Use:

“Fine, I don’t really care.”

“C’mon, it was a joke.” (after making a rude or sarcastic remark)

The Confident Chatters: Assertive Communication Style

Often seen as one of the healthiest communication styles, assertive communicators assert their needs clearly, listen when others are talking, speak using “I” statements (ex: I feel annoyed when you’re not on time to meetings), and show respect for others.

Common Phrases that Assertive Communicators Use:

“I know I can’t control others, but I can control myself.”

“I respect the rights and choices of others.”

“I’m in charge of my own well-being and happiness.”

The first 3 communication styles mentioned above could cause some trouble with clients, which is why we encourage you to try to communicate assertively! In fact, most great leaders and bosses practice an assertive communication style -- they are open to hearing others’ opinions and are respectful, but also know exactly where they stand.

It’s important to note that communication styles can change depending on who you’re speaking to. With one client, you might lean more toward a passive-aggressive style, while speaking with another client you tend to be more passive. Even more important, our communication styles can evolve as we learn and grow over time.

communicate with clients

Improve Your Communication Style to Succeed at Work

With practice, you can learn to improve your communication style. This is especially helpful if you find it difficult to communicate with certain clients. Pay attention to how you speak to your different clients, so you can start to understand your own communication style better. Make mental notes or write down when you’re communicating in a passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive manner.

The healthiest communication comes from assertive communicators. They are able to be open and honest -- clearly stating their needs, without ever being aggressive. This is how we should all aim to communicate!

It’s absolutely OKAY if you’re not an assertive communicator (hi!). Remember, this is a learning process! As you learn where you fall on the communication spectrum, the more you’ll be able to understand yourself and your relationship with others. The more you understand, the easier it will be for you to improve.

Learn How to Communicate More Effectively

Once you’ve taken stock of where you’re at in the communication department, you can work on improving your communication. To communicate more assertively with clients, try some of these tactics:

  • Be confident when expressing needs and wants (even if it feels weird)
  • Practice using “I” statements (Ex: I feel frustrated when you don’t respond to my request until days later.)
  • Maintain eye contact when speaking
  • Listen and keep an open mind when others are speaking
  • Learn to say no (this is a big one)

When to Ignore the 4 Communication Styles

Knowing when to ignore the four communication styles is possibly just as important as knowing what they are in the first place. Think about it:

Someone is talking to you. Listen to them.

All the different communication styles have one thing in common: someone is talking to you. Let's look at how to get the most out of your encounters with each one.

Draw Out and Dig In: Passive Communication Style Tips

The passive communicator has valuable things to say, they just struggle to say them sometimes. They may worry about a few things:

  • Your response,
  • Their position in the group
  • being dominated by those with a louder voice

These worries stop them from speaking up in a more assertive way.

Here's how you can help.

  1. If you're the passive communicator. Passive communicators should consider what they want and then say it in a measured way. You don't have to challenge yourself to be super loud or brash. Instead, just ask, "What do I want here?" Then, try to express that desire in your own preferred style.
  2. If you work with the wallflowers. 'Wallflowers' isn't a derogatory term. Flowers are beautiful, just like the people who adopt a passive communication style. Draw them out by asking direct questions and giving them time to answer. If they use vague language, then dig in a little by asking gentle but pointed questions.

Learning how to connect with passive communicators could open a whole new world for you. Many of these quiet ones can build deep personal relationships when they have time and space.

communication style

Learn to End with a Question: Coping with Aggressive Communication

The aggressive communication style seems like the hardest one to deal with sometimes. An aggressive communicator can belittle or control the people around them. Their communication generally hits a raw nerve and people feel steamrolled, offended, or disenfranchised.

Here's what to do with this assertive style:

  1. If you're the aggressive communicator. First, if you recognize yourself as the aggressive communicator, you're already winning. Most don't. Now that you know, here's what to do. Add a simple question at the end of one of your statements. Ask, "What do you think?" Then, try to listen carefully to the answer.
  2. If you work with the loud ones. Effective communication is possible, but you have to use some very specific language. I recommend learning to ask a few questions. For example, you can ask, "May I explain myself now?" This will give you time to speak. You could ask the other person, "Which points do we agree on?" Building a connection point can reduce tension.

The aggressive communicator may intimate others with their body language. Intense eye contact and reduced personal space are common.

Don't let their personal style stitch you up. Learn how to ask questions as a way of controlling the conversation, or at least giving you space to participate on an equal footing.

Ask Clarifying Questions: Engaging the Passive-Aggressive Communication Style

Of all the different communication styles, the passive-aggressive style has the most power to hurt your team and relationships. This is because it creates doubt and insecurity. Most passive-aggressive communicators do not say what they really mean. A passive-aggressive communicator says one thing, "Yes, I'm happy to join this project." With their body language, they show reluctance or irritation.

To work with this style, you should focus on asking clarifying questions and dealing really directly with what you see. Honest dialogue will bring out all the details and help everyone feel confident in the numerous relationships on your team.

Here are two more tips about this one communication style:

  1. If you're the passive-aggressive one. If you recognize your personal communication style is passive-aggressive, then you can ask yourself clarifying questions. In your own mind, ask, "Is that what I really think?" If you are giving outward communication that doesn't match your inner view, then find a simple way of going back to express your honest thoughts.
  2. If you work with the snarky ones. Develop a functional communication style with them by asking for all the details they feel comfortable giving. They may have difficulty dealing with full honesty and are typically concerned with committing themselves. Give them space to explain and permission to disagree or interject a fresh opinion.

With some practice, you will develop an intuitive communication style that switches between responding to each of the other basic communication styles as needed.

Everything Happens Through Conversation

It might take some time to figure out your own communication style and how to communicate more effectively, but we encourage you to invest in this! Trust us, your clients will thank you. 

Judith Glaser puts it best in her book, Conversational Intelligence: “To get to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of our culture, which depends on the quality of our relationships, which depends on the quality of our conversations. Everything happens through conversation.”  

Remember Judith’s words, “everything happens through conversation”. Better communication really does have the power to change your life!


Get started today!

Get the tools to manage your entire freelance business, free online courses to accelerate your growth, and join a community of freelancers just like you.
Mail icon
Join our
affiliate program
Get 90% commission for Indy Pro sign-ups via your affiliate link!
Want more freelance tips?
Crush freelance struggles with weekly tips delivered to your inbox.