indy logo
Client communication

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.

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. 

The 4 Communication Styles

Passive Communication

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.”

Aggressive Communication

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.”

Passive-Aggressive Communication

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)

Assertive Communication

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 hear 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.

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)

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!


Share this article

Take the pain out of managing your freelance business
Indy — Easy-to-use tools to help you manage your independent business from contract creation to invoicing and getting paid, and everything in between.
Start for free
Learn more
Learn more