Counselling Twickenham - Communication styles

What is an Aggressive Communication Style?

At Counselling Twickenham and Teddington, I offer couples the chance to explore each other's communication styles. And the opportunity to learn new ways of engaging in communication without always having to resort to conflict.

Aggressive communication is seen as a means of expressing individual needs and desires in a coercive and demanding manner. Such communication does not take in to account the needs and rights of others. It is a way of communicating which can be controlling or intrusive. However, rather than characterise your partner as an 'aggressive communicator', it is better to reflect back your partner's behaviour and respond to it as it happens. It is easy to attach labels to loved ones and demonise them by stereotyping their behaviour as aggressive.

That is not to say aggressive communication is acceptable, or you should put up with it, only that you risk escalating tensions. On the contrary, where there is violence or the threat of it - you need to assert your boundaries. And if those boundaries are not being respected, you need to consider the consequences of leaving your partner.

Equally, it is not helpful in relationships label your partner as aggressive, just because they express themselves emotionally. They may feel shutdown and alienated. When someone is shutdown every time they express themselves, they may even feel controlled. Rather, it is helpful to understand that most of us use aggressive communication at some point in our lives.

In fact aggressive communication is sometimes a necessary means of protecting or standing up for ourselves in genuine situations of unavoidable conflict. People who may use an aggressive communicating style are often unaware of their impact on others and get easily caught up in the moment with impulsive emotions and behaviours. This cannot excuse their behaviour, but explains why it often seems out of control.

Why do people communicate aggressively?

People who are communicating in an aggressive manner are generally perceived as selfish and unwilling to compromise. They may believe their own interests and needs outweigh those of others. An aggressive communication style is usually linked to a desire to win the argument, dominate others or defend against a perceived threat.

It is not an effective means of communicating because the other party is often ignored or excluded from participation in any dialogue. this leads to a breakdown in trust and mutual respect. Examples of this are that aggressive communication may be expressed as a means of attacking or controlling the other person instead of expressing a need: "You never spend any time with me" versus "I need to spend more time with you" or "You cannot possibly understand me" versus "I want to tell you how I feel". These issues can be addressed through couples counselling and anger management.

Couples who are communicating aggressively may also become abusive verbally and/or physically. Aggressive communication is often born of low self-esteem (caused by past experiences of physical or emotional abuse) and feelings of shame around expressing vulnerability. These emotional wounds may go unhealed or feelings of powerlessness.

Are they doing it because they hate me?

Often the aggressive communicator is not consciously aware that they are violating the rights of others, but are responding to an internalised fear - such as a fantasy that their own rights are about to be violated. Or they may be based on traumatic memories of the past. These may include memories of their own helplessness in the face of abusive parents or family members, which are then projected onto new relationships, "as if" it were happening in the present moment. This creates a constant expectation of aggression from others and may involve pre-emptive strikes before others can attack them.

Aggressive communication, can therefore be a style of communicating in which individuals express their feelings and opinions, or advocate their needs in a way that violates the rights of others. Among couples this will lead to conflict and couples to express anger in destructive ways. Although not always intentional, it can sometimes be expressed in a more hostile manner and usually involves alienating or blaming messages such as ‘you-statements’ (in which the other person is blamed for being wrong or at fault).

This means labelling or even demonising others. In addition, the person’s tone of voice and facial expressions may become angry or contorted. The assumption behind aggressive communication between couples is that "my needs matter more than yours". Or "I win, you lose". This can be very destructive in any relationship and may lead to violence, manipulation or partners being controlled.

Characteristics of Aggressive Communication

Definition:

You stand up for your personal rights and express your thoughts, feelings and beliefs in a way that is inappropriate and often impinges upon the rights of others. People often feel devastated and overwhelmed by an encounter with an aggressive communicator. Superiority is maintained at the expense of others by dominating the conversation or putting others down. When threatened you attack, though usually from a defensive position in which the attacker perceives themselves to be under attack.

Characteristic mind-sets and behaviours of aggressive communication:

Close minded

Poor listeners

Has difficulty seeing the other person's point of view

Interrupts

Monopolizing

Characteristics

Achieves goals, often at others' expense

Domineering, bullying

Patronizing

Condescending, sarcastic

Puts others down

Doesn't ever think they are wrong

Can be bossy and domineering

Moves into people's space, overpowers others

Pushes other people around

Know-it-all attitude

Doesn't show appreciation for others

Verbal characteristics:

Tone sarcastic, cold, harsh

Using prejudicial or abusive remarks

Fluent monologue with very few hesitations

Often hostile, abrupt or clipped tone of voice

Angry, sarcastic or condescending voice tone

Emphasising blaming words and long lists of grievances

Often fast paced voice, without interruption for long, articulate monologues which are full of blame

Aggressive verbal interaction such as shouting, screaming or rising to a high-pitch at the end of sentences

Use of emotional or physical threats, e.g., “You’d better watch out” or “If you don’t...”

Verbal put downs, e.g., “You’ve got to be crazy...” “You’re being hysterical” or “Don’t be so stupid”

Judgemental or critical comments, emphasising black and white thinking e.g. “you should”, “bad”, “ought to”

Boastfulness, conceited or arrogant remarks e.g. “I haven’t got problems like yours”

Opinions expressed as fact without any room for questioning or evaluating another’s point of view e.g. “Everybody knows that…” or “That’s a useless way to do it”

Threatening or critical questions, e.g., “Haven’t you finished that yet?” or “Why on earth did you do it like that?”

Nonverbal characteristics:

Intruding into the other person’s space

Staring at the other person without blinking

Gestures such as pointing, fist clenching or shouting at the sky

Striding around impatiently as if they were trapped

Leaning forward or over into another’s space

Crossing arms (unapproachable)

Smile may become sneering

Narrowing eyes critically

Scowling when angry

Jaws set firm

Rigid posture

Feelings:

Anger

Hostility

Frustration

Impatience

Behaviours:

Provokes counter-aggression and alienation from others

Wastes time and energy over-supervising others

Confrontation rather than Problem Solving

Must win arguments or blame others

Physical violence or intimidation

Operates from win/lose position

Shouting or screaming

Mottos and Beliefs:

"Everyone should be like me."

"I am never wrong."

"I've got rights, but I ignore yours."

Thinking style:

“I’ll get you before you have a chance of getting me”

“I’m out for number one”

“The world is a battle ground and I am out to win”

“You must see things my way”

Payoffs:

You get others to fulfil your needs without making any affort yourself

You enjoy the fantasy of being in control

Things tend to go your way

You feel less vulnerable

Release of tension

You feel powerful

Price:

Aggressive communication fosters resistance, defiance, sabotage, striking back, denial or covering up

If you are always trying to control others it can be difficult for you to relax (as you trigger anxiety and in others)

Your relationships will tend to be based on negative emotions and may become more unstable or confrontational

Aggressive communication means people tend to feel inferior deep down and lack self-esteem. They try to compensate for this by putting others down

Your behaviour will create enemies and resentment in those around you

This can result in a sense of paranoia and fear for those close to you

Decreasing self-confidence and self esteem

Pays high price in human relationships

Forces compliance with resentment

Feelings of guilt, paranoia and shame

 

You can seek help for aggressive communication at Couples Counselling in Teddington (Counselling Twickenham)