Inside, you know you’re a badass. You know what you want and you’ll go after it. In your mind, anyway. In real life… you’re a wimp. Your passive communication style means people see you as the person to dump their extra work onto.  Everyone knows you’ll smile and say “sure, I’d be happy to do that for you”, even though you’re screaming curse words on the inside. 

You’re staying late, working weekends and feeling used and abused. 

Passive communication is a career killer. Whether you are one, or you just work with one, if you’re not careful it can impact your career.

Characteristics of a passive communicator

Passive communicators usually want to avoid confrontation. They might have strong opinions, but they won’t share them. Instead, they might communicate their thoughts by their body language. Things like a lack of eye contact, drooping shoulders and shutting down.

You might also notice they:

  • Are afraid to speak up at a meeting
  • Avoid confrontation
  • Begin statements with the words “I’m sorry” or other apologetic language 
  • Look down when you speak to them
  • Seem anxious or distracted often
  • They’ll smile and take on extra work, while feeling angry inside.

If this is you, you risk falling through the cracks in the organization. While you might have amazing talent, no one will notice. You’re afraid to put yourself out there and others are taking credit for your ideas and wins. Not to mention you can look like the company doormat. And that’s definitely not the image you want if your goal is career growth.

A passive communication isn’t a sign of incompetence. But as a communication style it’s ineffective – and you can’t get ahead in your career with ineffective communication. 

How To Overcome Your Passive Communication Style

  1. Start at home. It’s always easier to take risks with your friends and family. The next time someone says what movie should we rent tonight, SPEAK UP. Take a stand for what you want. It’s a fast way to begin to build those muscles.
  2. At work, practice saying no. Start small. No, you don’t want to cover for someone on call this weekend. No, you don’t want to finish that paper for your colleague. Each day you should try to say no at least five times. 
  3. Set boundaries. People will treat you in the way you give them permission to. There are times when accepting extra work or going above is fine. As long as they recognize you for the work. And as long as it is helping you in some way too. But when it’s happening because you’re too nice (or passive) to say no… it’s wrong. Identify for yourself how much “extra” work you’re willing to do, and for whom. When someone asks you to do something outside those boundaries, say no. (you can do it)

But what if it’s not you?

What if it’s your co-worker that’s a passive communicator? How can this hurt your career? 

Think about it. Your passive co-worker doesn’t make waves. They avoid confrontation. They’ll always get you out of a bind. And they’ll do exemplary work quietly and in the background.

It’s easy to let this person become your secret weapon. Suddenly you never miss a deadline because your passive co-worker stayed late and finished your work. She’s even added some great ideas to the project, and you know she’ll never speak up at the meeting. And she’d be embarrassed if you gave her credit for the ideas in front of others.

You rationalize that taking credit for her work is actually a kind gesture on your part.  But people notice. And taking advantage of a passive co-worker makes you look bad. No matter how easy they make it, no matter how busy you are, it’s a bad idea. The small amount of time you gain by passing off a task, or the hint of recognition you get when you take the credit, isn’t worth it. You’re picking up a negative reputation.

The fact is, stepping on a co-worker is NOT cool. Instead, your goal should be to make everyone feel important and valued. That’s leadership. 

Here’s how to get the most out of a passive communicator co-worker

  1. Communicate in writing. When you want their opinions or input, ask for it in written form. They will be more comfortable answering in that way.
  2. Ask them a lot of questions. A passive communicator often has trouble expressing their ideas. The communication itself is the problem. It’s not that they don’t have the information. So you’ll need to dig more.
  3. Always acknowledge their input. Thank them for contributing and recognize their value. This will help build trust and make them more likely to be an active member of the team moving forward.
  4. Don’t put them in the position of biting off more than they can chew. Remember, it’s hard for them to say no. If something is not their job to do, be kind, and don’t ask them to do it. 

Communication matters. Pay attention to how you’re communicating every day. Work on your communication skills regularly. It should be part of your high payoff activities, and actively in your awareness for the day. 

Observe how others communicate, and be aware of how you do. Whether you’re on a Zoom call or in a conference room, you can gain a ton of knowledge by observing how people communicate. It’s an essential leadership skill.

I’ll be covering the three other communication styles in upcoming blogs! Sign up for my newsletter so you can get the latest content delivered right to your inbox.

Looking for a career transition or to create a bigger impact in your current career? Speaker and coach Cynthia Corsetti can guide you in Executive Leadership, Career Transition and Interview Skills. Connect with her on InstagramLinkedIn. and Facebook