There is a space between confusion and clarity that is bridged only by clear, careful communication. As instructors, bridging that gap is essential. But communication is not always easy. Using successful communication in the classroom means both understanding the styles of communication students may use and practicing the basics of communication in your own teaching and conversation.
Styles of Communication
There are three different styles of communication: Passive, Aggressive, and Assertive. These styles affect how a person, be that student or instructor, interacts with the world around them. Recognizing a student’s communication style will impact how you, as an instructor, connect with them.
Passive Communication: In many ways, passive communication doesn’t look like communication at all. Why? Because a passive communicator often leaves communication in the other player’s court. A passive communicator won’t express their needs out loud and will defer to others.
What does this look like in the classroom? A passive communicator will not speak up during classroom discussions. They will also be unlikely to take the lead in group work or projects and may hesitate to participate equally.
Passive communicators will benefit from specific requests to participate in non-pressured environments and recognition of their attempts.
Aggressive Communication: There’s no such thing as being wrong, at least not to an aggressive communicator. Aggressive communicators are inclined to take communication into their own hands, often at the expense of the other party.
What does this look like in the classroom? An aggressive communicator will be willing to speak up in class but will struggle to accept that they may not have all the answers. Group work will have a “my way or the highway” mindset.
Aggressive communicators will benefit from kindly imposed limitations and acknowledgment of the contributions they’ve made.
Assertive Communication: Direct, non-abrasive communication can be hard to master, but that’s what assertive communication is. Assertive communication is confident, but without stepping on the toes of the other communicating parties.
What does this look like in the classroom? An assertive communicator will participate in class but will recognize when it’s time to let others speak. Group work will have them doing their part and requesting that others do theirs as well.
Assertive communicators will benefit from opportunities to participate and appreciation for their involvement.
Basic Practices for Communication
As an instructor, assertive communication is a goal to be aspired to. While some people are inherently talented or naturally inclined in the field of communication, it is also a skill that can be learned.
Here are just a few things that can be done to improve communication between instructors and students.
Practice Active Listening: Active listening is more than just listening to the words being said, it’s about listening for the context and meaning behind those words. Active listening can help determine the difference between assertiveness and aggression or between disinterest and lack of confidence. Accurately making these determinations can influence how you respond.
Practice Patience: Communication is a vital skill, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is often a frustrating endeavor. As an instructor, where possible, allow for passive communicators to take their time answering questions. On the opposite side, set limits for aggressive communicators to ensure that they are not steamrolling over any other parties involved, be that other students or yourself.
Practice Awareness: How does the conversation make you feel? How does the conversation make your communication partner feel? Are the two of you connecting? Are your emotions affecting your communication? These are just a few of the questions that you should ask yourself while communicating. Communication is an active process; the answers to these questions may require that you make active changes in how you are communicating in order to communicate more successfully.
Communication is a constant in life, especially in the life of an instructor. It may never become easy, but successful communication will always be worth it.
Palmer, Meg. 2023. “Types of Communication Styles and How to Identify Them.” Southern New Hampshire University. November 7, 2023.
“Understanding Your Communication Style.” Princeton University. 2019.
Tate, Karisa. 2022. “The 4 Communication Styles: How to Connect with Clients Effectively.” Indy University. November 18, 2022