4 Styles of Communicating Anger

Anger. The “secondary emotion” as some people refer to it. Regardless if it is secondary or primary, we all have different ways of communicating it. Through my work with patients in my private practice I have helped to identify and discuss four styles of communicating anger.

  • Passive

“Accepting or allowing what happens, or what others do, without active response or resistance”

This is the type of person that does not seem to have any anger. They walk away from conflict. They agree with another as soon as there is a hint of conflict. They constantly assure those around them that they are “OK” with everything that is going on around them. The consequence of this communication style is that this is not truly an absence of anger, but rather a suppression of it. The underlying reasons for the suppression are what need to be explored in psychotherapy. The passive communication style can lead a person to feel unimportant and devalued thus creating more passivity in future conflict.

  • Passive-Aggressive

“The indirect expression of hostility through procrastination, controlling, stubbornness, sullen behavior or deliberate or repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is responsible”

This style of anger is a manipulative form of communication. This is an expression of anger that is communicated indirectly. The anger is there, and the person does feel it; however they do not do this directly and therefore, not concretely identifiable, and can be denied. The consequence here is that there is no movement towards conflict resolution and in fact, tends to increase rather than decrease hostility.

Both passive and passive aggressive are avoidant styles of communication. Clients are unable or unwilling to openly admit and/or express their anger and end up losing the opportunity to have open communication and possibly resolution.

  • Aggressive

“Ready or likely to attack or confront; characterized by or resulting from aggression”

This is the person who comes at another full force. They tend to be confrontational, intimidating and overwhelming. The anger is overly expressed and often used to shut the other person down. This is someone who could have been suppressing anger (as above) and eventually explodes (passive to aggressive) or it can be someone who has difficulty regulating emotions and controlling impulses. This type of communication is usually one-sided as the aggressor does not allow for a two-way conversation. Eventually there are feelings of frustration and increased feeling of hostility thus ending the conversation and failing to reach resolution.

The above three communication styles are in a n effort to avoid. Avoid the discomfort of conflict, avoid the subject of the conflict, or avoid the possible projected outcome of the conflict. The irony is that in an effort to avoid – more anger and hostility can be created. The goal of conflict is to move towards conflict resolution. I believe generally people would like to resolve conflict and not walk around with the discomfort of anger or hostility – they just may not know how.

  • Assertive

“Having or showing a confident and forceful personality”

This style of communicating anger is the most effective. This is a way to have your voice heard, to have a two-way conversation, and to practice active listening while also receiving some validation for your experience. Those who are assertive tend to have the ability to set boundaries, demand a certain level of respect and can articulate their emotions in a concise and understandable fashion. Because there is a two-way path of communication, conflict resolution is more likely than not.

Remember it takes TWO to tango, right? You can only BE heard if you are also willing to listen.