Navigating Communication Styles & Finding the Balance  
By Kristain Abrams

Welcome back to Youth Work 101, our series dedicated to supporting youth work practitioners, educators, advocates for young people, and after-school professionals in their crucial work. In this YW101, we’re delving into the intricate realm of communication styles. In our interactions with young people, colleagues, and stakeholders, understanding communication dynamics can make all the difference in building trust, fostering growth, and resolving conflicts.


Let’s explore the spectrum of communication styles: passive, assertive, and aggressive, examining their pros and cons in the context of youth work. 

Shana Bellone, our Associate Director of Student and Family Support Services, recently conducted a Communication and Conflict Workshop with our students, addressing the challenges of implementing assertive communication techniques. One of the key hurdles we all face is the inclination to default to either passive or aggressive communication styles, often influenced by what feels comfortable or what we’ve learned from those around us. Overcoming these challenges involves taking a moment to pause and reflect on the desired outcome of the conversation. Assertive communication, which balances our needs and those of the person we’re communicating with, is instrumental in moving us closer to achieving our goals.


Passive Communication:

Passive communication is characterized by a reluctance to express one’s needs, desires, or opinions. Instead, individuals may avoid confrontation, often yielding to others’ preferences or decisions. In the youth work setting, a passive communicator might hesitate to address issues directly, potentially hindering effective collaboration and problem-solving.


– Avoids conflict: Passive communication can maintain a sense of harmony within a group, reducing tension or hostility.

– Preserves relationships: By prioritizing others’ needs over their own, passive communicators may foster goodwill and cooperation.


– Undermines personal boundaries: Constantly deferring to others’ wishes can lead to feelings of resentment or powerlessness.

– Hinders assertiveness: In youth work, passivity may impede the ability to advocate for necessary resources or support for young people.


Aggressive Communication:

Aggressive communication involves dominating or intimidating others to assert one’s needs or opinions forcefully. This style often disregards the feelings or perspectives of others, leading to conflict and resentment. In youth work, aggression can create a hostile environment that undermines trust and inhibits growth.



– Immediate impact: Aggressive communication can demand attention and prompt swift action, particularly in urgent situations.

– Asserts authority: In hierarchical settings, aggression may be perceived as a display of leadership or confidence.



– Damages relationships: Aggressive behavior can breed fear, resentment, and mistrust, undermining meaningful connections with young people and colleagues.

– Escalates conflicts: Rather than resolving issues constructively, aggression often exacerbates tensions and exacerbates power struggles.


Assertive Communication:

Assertive communication strikes a balance between passive and aggressive styles, valuing both one’s own needs and the needs of others. Assertive individuals express themselves clearly and confidently while respecting the perspectives of others. This style promotes openness, honesty, and mutual respect, laying the foundation for effective collaboration and problem-solving in youth work.



– Fosters mutual respect: Assertive communication encourages honest expression while acknowledging the perspectives of others, cultivating trust and understanding.

– Promotes problem-solving: By openly addressing concerns and sharing ideas, assertive communicators can work collaboratively to find solutions that benefit everyone involved.



– Requires practice: Developing assertive communication skills may take time and effort, especially for those accustomed to passive or aggressive styles.

– Vulnerability to misinterpretation: In certain situations, assertiveness might be perceived as aggression, requiring clarity and empathy in communication.


Shana believes wholeheartedly that assertive communication is fundamental to effective self-advocacy both interpersonally and professionally. Shana emphasized the significance of ensuring our students possess the skills to express themselves in any setting they encounter confidently. This underlines the vital role assertive communication plays in empowering individuals to make their voices heard and advocate for their needs.


Effective communication lies at the heart of all of our successful work, empowering practitioners to build meaningful connections, resolve conflicts, and support young people’s growth. By understanding the nuances of communication styles—passive, assertive, and aggressive—we can continue cultivating an environment of trust, respect, and collaboration. Embracing assertive communication, which values individual needs and collective well-being, can pave the way for positive relationships and impactful interventions in youth work. As we continue our journey in supporting young people, let’s strive to communicate with clarity, empathy, and integrity, fostering environments where all voices are heard and valued.


In addition to the workshop, Shana suggested a creative exercise to help people understand and practice assertive communication. She recommended role-playing with a friend or family member before engaging in a potentially challenging conversation. This practice allows individuals to refine their ability to articulate their perspective effectively and anticipate various reactions they may encounter, thereby boosting their confidence in navigating difficult dialogues.


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