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Passive, Aggressive, and Assertive Communication

Father yelling at his adult son, who has covered his ears

Passive Communication

During passive communication, a person prioritises the needs, wants, and feelings of others, even at their own expense. The person doesn't express their own needs or stand up for them which can lead to being taken advantage of.

Common signs of passive communication include:

  • Quiet/softly spoken

  • Allows others to take advantage

  • Poor eye contact / looks down or away

  • Lacks confidence

Aggressive Communication

Through aggressive communication, a person expresses that only their own needs, wants, and feelings matter. The other person feels bullied and their needs are ignored.

Signs of aggressive communication include:

  • Speaks in a loud or overbearing way

  • Wants their own way

  • Frequently interrupts or does not listen

  • Use of criticism, humiliation, and domination

Assertive Communication

Assertive communication emphasises the importance of both peoples’ needs.

Assertive communication looks like:

  • Willingness to compromise

  • Confident tone / body language

  • Good eye contact

  • Listens and does not interrupt

Practice Helps

Communication challenges are very common between the person using substances and their family/friends. It is unlikely that they will be capable of changing their communication style in the short term, but if you can work on improving yours, you may be able to improve your overall communication and relationship.

If you are struggling to communicate with your loved one, you might find it helpful to look at the scenarios below and consider what a passive vs aggressive vs assertive response from yourself or your loved on might look like for each of those scenarios.

Once you have identified which style/s are more likely to be used by yourself and your loved one, you could think about common situations you find yourself in, and practice responding in an assertive manner so you are able to draw on that practice when you find yourself in the heat of the moment.

Example Scenario

A friend asks to borrow your lawn mower. You need this each weekend.

Passive: I don’t know, I guess its ok. When do you need it?

Aggressive: No! Don’t be stupid. Get one of your own.

Assertive: I need the mower at the weekends but you could borrow it during the week.

Practice Scenario 1

Your daughter stays out late. She never turns up to meals.




Practice Scenario 2

Your partner left a mess in the house, and you’re worried about what you have found.




Practice Scenario 3

When you go out your partner always drinks more than others,




Practice Scenario 4

A person showed up at your house uninvited to see your son. You’re suspicious about his motives.





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