Over the next few posts, we are going to be discussing coaching, assessing, and observing; the best way to start is to do a communication style assessment of the people you lead.

So much of what we do as Safety Managers has to do with communication, both verbal and written.  But have you ever stopped to think about whether or not you’re being understood.

What is Good Communication

Communication has several parts to it:

  1. The communicator – the person expressing an idea or thought
  2. The message – the words, symbols, and analogies used
  3. The receiver – the person receiving the message
  4. The response – the verbal or nonverbal reply to the message

As a communicator, you know if and how well your message was received by the response.  If you don’t get a response, you cannot be sure the message was received (as any parent of a teenager would know).

But the response can also indicate how the person understands the message.  Many times we think we are being clear in our communication, but the receiver hears it differently.

Communication Can Be Like a Game of Telephone

When you were a kid, remember sitting in a row and the first person sends a message and they repeat it to the person next to them.  As it goes down the line the message is changed. By the end, it is unrecognizable.

This can happen with your safety message.

Everyone’s brain interprets information differently.  Our past experiences, our education, and our culture place differences into words, phrases, and anecdotes.  Even slight differences can have an impact on how a message is received.

Add into that we are emotional beings, and that leaves a whole other level of ways that messages can get scrambled.

You can never know another person’s thoughts.  As you are communicating a message to them, their thoughts are going faster than you are speaking.  They can be interfering.

This is why active listening is a skill – to actively listen, you have to quiet those thoughts and pay attention.  Not many people do that.

Why They Don’t Listen to Safety

Now that you understand all the jumbled mess that communication can be, it’s no wonder that when you are talking about safety, you feel like they aren’t always listening.

But, what we are sharing can mean life or death, pain or happiness.  Being a good communicator is necessary to keep people safe.

To improve your communication skills, the first thing you need to know is that everyone receives information differently.  If you can craft your message to match how they best receive it, you will have a better response.

Getting Your Safety Message Heard Using a Communication Style Assessment

The starting point is conducting a communication style assessment of the people you lead.  There are four major communication styles and when you know what style the person you are speaking to is, it is much easier to get your message across.

How to do a Communication Style Assessment

This doesn’t have to be like a safety audit, inspection, or survey.  A communication style assessment is simply being knowledgeable of the different styles and observing your employees objectively.

Once you understand what to look for, start having normal conversations with your people.  Afterwards, ask yourself “What communication style is that person?”

You can make a list of the people you lead and make notes of the style.  Keep in mind that we change our communication style based on the current situation (we can all be passive aggressive at times).

So one conversation won’t be the definitive answer.  But, when you do this enough you will get a sense of the style that person uses the most.

The Four Major Communication Styles

Let’s break down the four major communication styles and tips on how to talk to them effectively.


These are people that are very agreeable.  They go with the crowd and usually yield to any suggestions. They keep to themselves, rarely offering suggestions, and generally stay calm during hurtful or angry situations.  However, all this pent up emotion can explode when it gets to a tipping point.

They speak softly and apologetically.  They will have an inward body language with shoulders slumped forward.  They don’t make good eye contact and they rarely volunteer for new assignments.

How to speak to a Passive Communicator:

  • You need to ask them directly what they think about your message
  • Keep your mouth shut and allow them time to answer; increase the quiet space between the questions and answers.
  • Give them time to ponder it and go back to them later
  • Take your style down a notch and soften your language
  • Give them information they will need ahead of time (handouts a day before the training, email with pre-work or a list of topics to be discussed).
  • One-on-one conversations work best; after a training, speak to your passive people individually to see if they understand.


These people are very vocal about what their needs are to the point that they’ll disregard others.  They speak loud and take over a crowd.

They come across as demanding, threatening, criticizing, or attacking. They interrupt often and don’t listen well.

They have a domineering body language that takes up more space than needed.  Very strong eye contact and dominating language. Their way of communicating can earn the respect of those around them at times.

You may think that aggressive communicators are not helpful, but their challenging demeanor can keep you on your toes.  They help point out anything you may have missed.

How to speak to an Aggressive Communicator:

  • Be brief and to the point; no drawn out stories or cliches
  • Never attack them personally
  • Allow them to be heard, but not take over.
  • Acknowledge their concern and be transparent about your actions
  • Ask them to repeat back how they understood you.
  • Ask for their help before presenting to the group; if you are working on a new program, they are perfect to give input.


This communication style is defined as being outwardly amicable, but inwardly hostile.  They communicate very subtly, but behind the scenes they are aggressive.

You may see them muttering to themselves or having an angered facial expression.  Their body language may be aggressive, while they are verbally passive. Eye contact is good, but responsiveness is weak.

They can be very sarcastic and deny that there is a problem; but there is truth in their jokes so listen closely – those are their concerns.

These are the people that like to gossip, spread rumors, and make snide comments in the back of the safety training room.

How to speak to a Passive-Aggressive Communicator:

  • Be very transparent about your actions
  • Directly ask them for their opinion first, before they have the chance to comment
  • Never attack them personally
  • Build relationships with them, ask about their lives outside of work, show you care.
  • Express the value they bring to the organization.


This communication style is believed to be the most effective.  These communicators are clear and upfront about their opinions and beliefs while not being overbearing.

They value the opinions of others and are willing to listen and change their own opinions.

They communicate their needs, wants, goals openly and freely, while understanding that others needs are just as important.  They are good at the win-win results. They’re open to compromise.

They listen well with good eye contact and a relaxed posture. They express confidence and competence.  They generally get along well with others.

How to speak to an Assertive Communicator:

  • Be prepared.  They will have questions and they expect you to know the answers
  • They want to hear all the information.
  • Don’t take what they say personally, they don’t
  • Show them respect by listening to their concerns.
  • Repeat to them what you heard
  • Give them options
  • Don’t micromanage them.  They got this.

What is Your Communication Style Assessment

So now that you know the four styles, which one are you.  Identifying your own is probably the easiest, but we also don’t see ourselves the same as others.

The best way to know for sure is to ask your closest friends.  Show them this post and ask what they think your style is.  

Did you find that you related to more than one style?  Most people do. Keep in mind that your people will have multiple styles as well.

How to Use a Communication Styles Assessment

Once you have identified the communication styles in your team, you can start crafting your message to fit the styles and ensure your message is received by everyone.

The key is you must change your style.  You can’t expect your employees to change theirs.  Even your Aggressive Communicators – don’t ask them to change.

When you focus on changing your communication style to fit the receiver, you will have greater success in getting your message across.

Transparency, inclusion, and questions tend to flow through all the styles.  You can mix up your message for all of them.

For example – last month we talked about Stretching Programs:

  1. Include your aggressive people in the development of the stretching program.
  2. Prior to the kickoff send out information about it (passive) with the first paragraph being straight to the point (assertive).
  3. Take time to review your information and make a list of every possible question and objection.  Prepare your answers (assertive, aggressive, & passive-aggressive)
  4. In the middle of your presentation, stop and call out your passive-agressives to see if they have any questions “You looked like you had a question”
  5. Open it up to questions
    1. Answer all of them quickly and clearly (assertive)
    2. Ask them to tell you how they are understanding it (aggressive)
    3. Acknowledge their concerns and explain your thinking (aggressive)
    4. Be willing to listen and compromise (assertive)
  6. Following the training, go see your passives and passive-aggressives one-on-one and address any concerns.

More Tips to Make Sure They Understand You

  • Repeat your message several times, with different phrasing.
  • Ask if they understand.
  • Ask them to tell you how they understand it.
  • Observe them after the communication to verify they understood you.


Start a communication style assessment of your people.  It can be a simple list with P, PA, AG, & A written next to their names.

Also, consider how you can change your communication style to match what would work best for your receivers.  Small tweaks can make a world of difference.


I have to know!!  What is your communication style? I am assertive with a little bit of aggressive.  Honestly, people who don’t do their jobs really pull the aggressive out in me.

Comment below and tell me your style.

Hi, I'm Brye (rhymes with sky)!  I am a self-proclaimed safety geek with two decades of general industry safety experience.  Specializing in bringing safety programs to a world-class level and building a safety culture, I have trained and coached many safety managers, just like you, on how to effectively manage workplace safety in the real world.   I would love to help you too.

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