What is Passive Communication?

Passive Communication Can Worsen Your Social Anxiety

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Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is extremely common and can be a hindrance in your daily life. One of the key areas that may be impacted is communication. If you have social anxiety, your communication skills can weaken because you are anxious about social gatherings, meeting new people and confrontation. Many people with social anxiety end up using passive communication, a style where you avoid directly saying what you think or want and often includes exhibiting uncomfortable body language.


Passive Communication Examples

Passive communication can be shown in many different ways. Some passive communicators beat around the bush, such as saying "I wish someone would remember to take out the trash" rather than just asking a family member to take out the trash. Hints like this often go unnoticed, making the passive communicator irritated and the family member who missed the hint bewildered. 

Others will just let people override their thoughts and feelings. For instance, if you are a vegetarian and your coworkers decide to meet at a steakhouse, you may opt to avoid saying anything or suggest another option out of fear of being viewed as difficult or picky.

Some passive communicators will speak very softly or apologetically, apologizing ahead of time for their opinions or qualifying their statements. For example, if called upon in a meeting, a passive communicator may say, "This could be a stupid question, but have you considered the problem from this angle?"This derives from a lack of confidence and anxiety about being seen as opinionated or harsh.


The Problems with Passive Communication and Social Anxiety

If you have social anxiety and avoid conflict, passive communication can cause more discomfort and hurt. Because you do not address conflicts when they happen and allow grievances to go unnoticed, your irritation can grow. Eventually, you will need to express these feelings, but because they have mounted for so long, it may come out explosively and damage your relationships.

Afterwards, you may feel tremendously guilty, causing you to be more passive in the future. This can lead to even more social anxiety when interacting with others or trying to assert yourself. 

Passive Communication Versus Assertive Communication

For many with social anxiety, low self-esteem and poor confidence leads to passive communication styles. This can cause a cycle where passive communication leads to your needs going unmet, which makes you feel more anxious and then makes you even more passive. This cycle can be extremely hard to break and often needs professional intervention. 

By contrast, assertive communication is where you speak clearly about your opinions, needs and feelings without violating others' needs. Assertive communication is achieved through strong self-esteem and confidence. Assertive communicators advocate for themselves and their own interests, without apologizing for it. 

A therapist specializing in social anxiety can help you work through your anxiety issues as well as help you communicate more assertively and confidently.

It is not something that can happen overnight, but a good healthcare provider  with a background in cognitive behavioral therapy can help improve your comfort in social settings and empower you to advocate for yourself. 


Antony, M. The Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook, 2010. 

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