The 1,2,3 of being less passive as a communicator


Published: 19 Sep 2019

The 'Pure Mechanics' of Communication

Having worked with thousands of people over the past 10 years one thing I know for sure is that it can’t be easy being a passive person.

You have all of the feelings – but often suppress them.

You know deep down what would work better for you – then find your mouth saying you’ll do it anyway.

You defer to other people’s plans or let them dictate the terms.

You trust your life to fate, instead of directing your life.

You avoid committing and conflict wherever you can.

You don’t think about #1 (you), you think about everyone else first

I can train and coach people to be more assertive all day. I can bang the compassionate assertive drum until its deafening. Passive people hear me. They know what they have to do. They agree with the principles. They just don’t know how to get started. How to engage.

So, if you’re a passive communicator here’s how you change it up:

  1. Change the narrative. Passive people have their own language. Change the language and you change the results. You gain more control over what happens to you.

Your speech defines you as passive straight out of the gate in verbal, or text or email communication.

“I might be wrong but…” “If you have a minute could you….?” “Sorry to bother you but…..” Sound familiar?

If you feel challenged you will go to “Ok, I suppose that’s ok/that could be true” instead of saying what you really think.

Direct, concise communication is so alien to a passive person that once I start showing them how to change up their verbal, email and text, they have a momentary panic. They can’t imagine ‘speaking to people like that’. “What will they think?”

When I point out that not only do more assertive people NOT think anything about it, they welcome it, passives are often perplexed.

So, take out all of the ‘invisible’ language and be more direct. If it makes you feel better while you are learning to be more assertive add on what I call ‘considerations’ to the end of direct opinion or thoughts. But always start with what you really think first. This is a big switch for passives.

“I believe this will work better, what do you think?”

“The reason we do it this way is because it saves money. Did you realise that?”

I’m going to tackle it this way. Is that how you see it going?”

Get used to saying no. This will be difficult. Just try it a couple of times and see how you feel. A good start to this is being able to say.

“That doesn’t work for me – but this does.” Offering an option helps passive people transition to more assertive, instead of going to a straight no.

Get used to saying I and My. Passive people live in the ‘you’.

I think it would work better if we chose the purple version”

I believe that the first contract is a better fit for us”

My opinion is that we shouldn’t negotiate on that or it will set a precedent”

My perspective is different to that.”

I know that if we did it this way the client would be more comfortable.”


  1. Change the body language

People assume that assertive people are the easiest to spot in body language. For me, it’s passive.

Sure, the Peacocks are an easy pick. They are usually louder, taller (no matter what height they are), fill more space. Their walk is purposeful, chin up. They own it. And why wouldn’t they? I’m not a Peacock knocker. They are beautiful to behold. They have a life of ease that works for them – because they create it! They ask for it. They go out and get it.

Passive people aim to blend in, not draw attention, and yet the irony is in doing this they do – draw attention. The make themselves smaller, the very words they use change their body language and bring their neck down and in. They operate low when using hand body language, especially when talking to people they perceive as ‘more’ than them (whatever more is).

What we know for sure about body language is that it has the power to change the way you feel. So, if you walk tall, walk purposefully, and own the space you are in, you will automatically appear more confident and assertive. If your hands when used are at waist height or just above people will notice you more.

Practice rolling your shoulders back before you sit down in a meeting to give yourself height. Use the arms of a chair to make yourself wider. Face people when you are talking to them and look at them for at least 4.5 seconds in the initial greet.

I’ve watched passive people in conversations and when they have a person they perceive as more dominant or important than them in front of them their body language immediately goes limp and low. Stay up.


  1. Don’t leave your life to fate.

The only difference between you and a more assertive person is that an assertive person doesn’t believe in fate. They will ask, go get, or find whatever they need to get what they really want in life.

A simple trick is to ask yourself in every human interaction:

“Does that work for me?”

If it doesn’t, then do something about it. Speak up. State your opinion. Put your point of view.

Passive people always look at the other persons point of view or respect the other persons right above their own. But, consider this – that could make you someone else’s challenge?

My main 1-1 client base is NOT passive people wanting to know how to be more assertive.

My main 1-1 client base is assertive people wanting to know how to deal with passive people!

Managers of passive people don’t know how to encourage them to have a voice, to join in. They ‘suspect’ they might have something great to offer – but often stop asking because it is easier to just leave them to it. The sadness in this for me is that the voiceless in any company often have the best ideas, the ideas that would grow the business exponentially – but, they can’t get them out!

Assertive managers talk to me about the ‘sensitive’ people in their teams being their biggest challenge – because it is alien to them not being a direct communicator. What merely seems logical to an assertive person feels disrespectful and unfriendly to a more passive.

Assertive people dis—engage at times with passives. They put passive people in the ‘too hard’ basket. They are worried that if they communicate in their usual way that someone will get ‘emotional’ on them, cry, feel hurt – or sulk.

Partners of passive people get tired of stepping up and taking over all the time, ringing people when conflict arises, engaging on their partners behalf.

This means that neither side is being their true self.

Bottom line?

We are all unique. In an ideal world the whole world would be compassionately assertive. We are a way off that yet, in terms of the collective consciousness.

However, in just the same way you can make a small difference to the state of the planet in every individual bottle you recycle (even if it’s more inconvenient to find that bin), every flight you offset the carbon, (even if it’s more expensive). You can make a difference to the humanity of the planet. To people. By being considerate of different communication styles and by building a bridge to them instead of looking away, dis-engaging, or leaving it till later.

And always consider your own resources:

Time – irreplaceable no matter how much money you have to throw at it. If you’re in business, set a time limit on how long you talk to people for ‘free’. If it’s a friend, partner, colleague don’t enable them by listening for longer than 5 minutes to ‘problems’ without asking them “What are you going to do about it?” This is your life, your time. Is this issue, person really worth that time?

Money – Passive people lose money. They lose money by not speaking up, letting things go, not negotiating because that’s scary. Relate the money back to time. The time it will take you to recover or earn that money – and it may make a difference to the decisions you make.

Energy – Is it well invested or not? Where does your energy go? If it goes on things that will be irrelevant in a short space of time then let it go. If it’s not your business, your job description, your highest value – don’t get involved. Don’t let other people steal your time on their stuff.

If you’re in business for yourself be discerning about your clients. Don’t just assess them for the money they bring to your table in that initial phone call, meeting or email – assess them for the resources they will take from you too. This will enable you to turn down clients where you need to because they are not a good fit for you. If you have a client that chews through an hour of your time on stuff not related to the job you are doing for them, and then expects a discount, and then tells you how they want your service changed to suit them – that should be a red flag.  Get to the point quickly. Negotiate your terms on your terms. If you can’t negotiate anything then let them go. Another client who is way better, and EASIER will fill that slot.

Good Luck, I’ll be cheering you on.


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