A Simple Communication Matrix to Make You a Better Leader

Every leader fits into one of the below communication types. Which one are you? Which one is the most effective?  This post explains each communication type, identifies the most effective type, and explains a simple matrix to help you become a stronger leader through communication.

Let’s first identify the four styles of communication:

  • Passive
  • Aggressive
  • Passive Aggressive
  • Assertive

Below is a simple description of the communication types with a short example, so read the types and find out which one you are. And please be honest with yourself, otherwise this exercise will be pointless and you won’t improve your leadership communication or your team’s productivity and morale.

Passive Communicator: The passive communicator may not always tell you the truth or be straightforward with you.  He can be afraid of confrontation and will more likely make a slight comment meant as a joke but in reality has truth behind it. He cares too much about hurting your feelings or getting you upset to be too honest with you.

Example: Suppose an employee, Tom, comes in late to work regularly.  Instead of the manager, Sally, asking Tom to be on time every day, she might just make a joke such as, “Good morning Tom, did you end up on the slow train again? Ha ha.”

Aggressive Communicator: This type of communicator can be downright mean and doesn’t care about an employee’s feelings. He typically yells or makes degrading comments.

Example: Same scenario as above, except this time Sally might yell at Tom, “What the heck Tom, you’re late again! You better be on time for the next 6 months or I’m going to fire you and replace you with a monkey, who can probably be on time AND do your job better.”

Passive Aggressive Communicator: This type of communicator is typically afraid of confrontation but can also be mean spirited.  Due to a fear of confrontation he will say mean or degrading things behind others’ backs instead of talking directly to the person.  He also often keeps frustrations to himself, until one day they explode and he starts yelling at others in an aggressive way.

Example: Same scenario as above, except before Tom arrives to work Sally might complain to every body, “Geez, Tom is late again. Why can’t he make it to work like everybody else? I may just have to fire him soon.”  But the moment Tom arrives, Sally says, “Good morning Tom,” and after Tom replies that he’s sorry for being late, Sally says, “Don’t worry about it, I totally understand.”

Assertive Communicator: This type of communicator will be straightforward and honest with others but also very respectful of their feelings. He will address issues immediately in a way that explains why it’s important to the business and to their co-workers.

Example: The same scenario as above, except this is only the third time Tom is late in two weeks.  Sally asks Tom, in private, to join him for a meeting to discuss his tardiness.  The assertive manager says, “Tom, I understand it can be difficult to make the train sometimes, but since we have customers calling starting at 8am, we really need you to make it in by 8am.  It creates more work for others and it could hurt the service we promise our customers when you’re consistently late.  I understand the rare occasion, but this cannot happen on a regular basis.  I know you have a lot going on in the mornings, but hopefully you can make some adjustments.  If this continues to be a problem, I’ll have to write you up.  Thanks Tom.”

The Assertive Communicator Rules!

The best communication style for a leader, and anybody in general, is the assertive communicator.  The assertive communicator is doing what’s in the best interest of the company and the employee, making sure his team resolves issues quickly and ensures behavior changes take place.  If a manager is not happy with the job someone is doing, it’s best if the employee gets the feedback to make those changes, even if it’s difficult to take that feedback. The last thing any employee should ever experience is being fired and never understanding why. This usually happens when a manager is too afraid to have the difficult conversations along the way.

A simple tool to think about when communicating with your team is the matrix below.

Communication Matrix


If you’re a passive leader, just think to yourself, “This is a situation where I need to have a difficult conversation and I need to muster a bit of courage.” If you’re a passive communicator, you’re naturally considerate and things will turn out great the majority of the time.

If you’re an aggressive communicator, just think to yourself, “I need to be more considerate of my team’s feelings; I don’t want them getting demotivated or leaving the organization.”

If you’re a passive aggressive communicator, just think about the negativity you might project and how that has a negative impact on the team and the perception people have of you. In the end you want others to change their behavior, and the only way that’s going to happen is if you have the courage to communicate honestly with them and express some consideration for their feelings.

By following the simple rules of the matrix below, you can become a more effective leader through assertive communication.  Your team will be more productive, morale will be higher, and people will respect working with you.

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