Lesson 2: Assessing Primary Communication Modes

Graphic of individual leaning on a question mark

Name(s) of student(s):

Age and grade level:

Goal from IEP connected to lesson:

Objective from IEP connected to lesson:

Purpose of lesson: To identify a student’s primary communication mode: passive, assertive, or aggressive


“Last time we discussed the assertive communication style, which can be considered ‘speaking up’ for oneself respectfully and firmly. We contrasted the assertive communication style with the aggressive and passive communication styles. Aggressive communication is overbearing and lacks empathy and respect for others. Passive communication avoids voicing one’s opinion or downplays desires, especially if met with resistance.”

Today our goal is to identify our primary communication style when voicing our concerns and desires.”

Discussion: Communication in Context

“It’s common to voice one’s opinion assertively in some contexts and passively or aggressively in others. Ideally, we would communicate assertively in all circumstances, whether speaking with a friend, parent, child, significant other, employer, or acquaintance. It is helpful to begin by recognizing your communication style across a variety of situations.”

Exercise: My Communication Style in Varying Contexts

Instruct the students to answer each question honestly and accurately instead of providing the answer they think is the “best” one.

Think about how you would respond to these situations:

A friend offers his rave review of a new restaurant that you don’t like. He asks your opinion. Do you:

  • Tell him you like it? (Passive)
  • Kindly say you’re not a fan? (Assertive)
  • Demean him for enjoying the food? (Aggressive)

Your older brother borrows your new shirt, stains it, apologizes, and offers to replace it. You’re really upset that he ruined your shirt. Do you:

  • Tell him you’re not upset and he doesn’t need to replace it? (Passive)
  • Tell him you are upset but appreciate his apology and will consider whether to accept his offer of a replacement shirt? (Assertive)
  • Tell him he’s a slob and that he better replace the shirt today? (Aggressive)

An acquaintance asks if she can have math homework answers. You don’t agree with cheating. Do you:

  • Say yes? (Passive)
  • Tell her you’re uncomfortable with providing the answers? (Assertive)
  • Call her a cheater? (Aggressive)

You ordered chicken parmesan at a nice, sit-down restaurant, but were served shrimp scampi instead. You don’t like seafood. Do you:

  • Ignore the error and eat the dish you were served? (Passive)
  • Tell the waiter about the error and explain that you’d like to wait for the correct order? (Assertive)
  • Demand that the server correct the mistake immediately? (Aggressive)

Your new boss asks if your work environment is accessible. There are several improvements you would like to suggest. Do you:

  • Say that the accessibility is adequate? (Passive)
  • Thank her for asking and tell her that you have a few ideas that would improve accessibility? (Assertive)
  • Tell her that she needs to take care of your list of improvements immediately and imply that you can’t be expected to fulfill your work responsibilities in a place with such terrible accessibility. (Aggressive)

Your boyfriend or girlfriend answers questions on your behalf in public. You want to demonstrate your capability and confidence by addressing others directly. Do you:

  • Ignore the issue? (Passive)
  • Explain in private that you would prefer speaking for yourself? (Assertive)
  • Attack him or her in public for the behavior? (Aggressive)
  • Exercise: How Would I Respond?

“Based on similar scenarios you have experienced in real life, how do you think you would respond in the following situations?”

  • You notice others are cutting ahead of you in line.
  • While walking across the road using your cane, someone grabs your arm and says, “I will help you get where you need to go.”
  • The child you are babysitting demands to watch more television shows than his mother permits.
  • While collaborating on a project for work, you realize you need help understanding a concept.
  • You use a dog guide and are told you need to take him off the premises because dogs are not allowed.

Discussion: Personal Evaluation

Ask the students if they recognize the communication styles they generally use within various contexts.


“Today we examined how you respond under various circumstances. Did you find out you are generally passive, assertive, or aggressive with your communication style? Do you tend to exhibit different communication styles given the context of family, friends, coworkers, employers, and strangers?”

Progress notes, data collection, comments, and modifications: