Student Wellness

Drop Shadow

Four Styles of Interpersonal Communication

Maintaining a quality relationship requires effective communication. Partners need to express positive feelings, negative feelings, complaints, needs, and above all, affection.


  • This type of behavior involves verbally attacking someone else, being controlling, provoking, and maybe even physically intimidating or violent.  Its consequences could be destructive to others, property, as well as yourself.
    • “What the hell is wrong with you?  All you ever think about is yourself!”


  • The person feels angry as a result of an issue but rather express their feelings directly s/he retaliates in an indirect manner.  This type of behavior can cause confusion.  The person on the receiving end feels “stung” but can’t be exactly sure how or why.  The person behaving passive-aggressively can act like s/he has done nothing at all and is likely to imply that the other person is just “too sensitive.”
    • A guy who is angry with his girlfriend because she forgot to call him yesterday, tells her he will pick her up for their weekly date at 7pm.  He shows up at 8pm acting like nothing happened.


  • The person withdraws in an attempt to avoid confrontation.  S/he is likely to appear anxious or “shut down.”  Passive people let others think for them, make decisions for them, and tell them what to do.
    • A woman is being treated poorly in class by her instructor.  She feels he doesn’t like her despite the fact that she is on time for class and has turned in all her assignments.  She feels resentful but doesn’t express it.  She thinks that it is useless: either she doesn’t deserve any better or he is not going to listen to her concerns anyway.  She is likely to feel down, perhaps even depressed, but is unlikely to deal with the situation.


  • This behavior involves knowing what you feel and what you want.  It also involves expressing your feelings and needs directly and honestly without violating the rights of others.  At all times you are accepting responsibility for your feelings and actions.
    • “I was angry when you didn’t show up for our meeting.  I know that your time is as valuable to you as my time is to me.  I would appreciate it if in the future you would call me if you know you can’t make an appointment or if you are going to be late.”

Relationship Skill Set

Feel ->React -> Think
Feel -> Think -> Act

Which do you think is best and why? 

A key difference is being able to act based on your feelings and thoughts versus reacting based on your feelings and then thinking about it after the fact.

Styles of Communication

Dr. John Gottman has been studying couples for over 30 years and he has discovered four negative communication behaviors and failed repair attempts that predict with over 96% accuracy whether a relationship will continue or end. (Gottman, 1994)

He calls these The Four Horsemen: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling.

  •  Stonewalling: shutting down communication by leaving, ignoring, giving the silent treatment, etc.
  • Contempt: using sarcasm or eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, or hostile humor to demean the partner or his or her concerns. The amount of contempt found in stable, happy relationships was essentially zero.
  • Defensiveness: using excuses, blaming, counterattacking or other ways to avoid taking responsibility for a problem (e.g., “You do it too!”). This fuels the flames of conflict because it says that the other party is the guilty party.
  • Criticism: verbally accusing or putting down your partner. This includes yelling, name-calling (e.g., “What’s wrong with you?”, “you always”, and “you never”).

Repair Attempts:

The repair attempts can be almost anything, including a smile, use of humor, a comment on the communication itself, or some way the couples find to support and soothe one another. Couples who were consistently unsuccessful at repair attempts were more likely to end the relationship.

Gottman found that the presence of the Four Horsemen could allow his team to predict the end of a relationship with 85% accuracy. When they included whether repair attempts were successful, the rate of accuracy went up to 96% accuracy.