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Are you looking for ways to improve your communication patterns with family, friends, and partners?

Every family has a communication style. These communication patterns in families impact how and when we speak to others, how kids are socialized, and how we solve problems.

Understanding the type of communication style you were raised in can also offer some insight into your current relationships.

Communication Patterns Theory

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Theories might be helpful for us to show off during small talk, but the real prize is knowing ourselves and those we care about better.

Communication Patterns Theory

Ascan Koerner and Mary Ann Fitzpatrick theorized that communication patterns in families exist in two dimensions: conversational orientation and conformity orientation.

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Conversational orientation is related to the openness and frequency of communication that occurs.

  • If you grew up comfortable talking with your parents about anything, you probably grew up in a "high conversational" environment.

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Conformity orientation is all about the degree to which family members are expected to share the same values, beliefs, and attitudes as parents.

  • If you were expected to do as you were told without question, you probably grew up in a "high conformity" environment.

The two dimensions are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they interact to create 4 different family types.

Icon showing 4 individuals in conversation.


Tiffany wants to tell her mom about a boy she pushed in the hallway at school. She knows her parents hate violence, but feels that telling them might help her understand what happened. Which dimension does this scenario demonstrate?

Family Types

The 4 family communication types are:

  • Consensual

  • Pluralistic

  • Protective

  • Laissez-faire

Chart showing the 4 family communication types. It is discussed below.

1. The Consensual Communication Type

High conversational and high conformity gives us the consensual communication type. man saying,


  • Parents are interested in what kids have to say

  • Parents make the final decisions

  • Parents explain decisions and reasoning to help kids understand


  • Value is placed on family conversations

  • Children tend to adopt their parents' beliefs and values

  • Kids will most likely agree with ideas that are consistent with their parents' beliefs

2. The Pluralistic Communication Type

High conversational and low conformity gives us the pluralistic communication type.

Father telling child,


  • Open and honest conversation is encouraged

  • All family members are involved

  • Parents don't seek to control conversations or make decisions for kids

  • Kids can participate in decision making


  • Value is placed on family conversations

  • Ideas are judged based on their merit, not on who says them

  • Children learn to be independent

  • Better communication and decision-making skills for kids

3. The Protective Communication Type

Low conversational and high conformity gives us the protective communication type.

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  • Emphasis on obedience

  • Open communication is not a priority

  • Kids understand that decision-making isn't their priority

  • No need to explain rules or expectations to children


  • Less value is placed on conversations within the family

  • Children are more compliant with authority figures

  • Kids may not learn to trust their own decision-making abilities

4. The Laissez-Faire Communication Type

Low conversational and low conformity gives us the laissez-faire communication type.

A woman with drink in her hand saying,


  • Few and/or surface-level conversations

  • Parents believe family members should make their own decisions

  • Parents aren't interested in the decisions their kids make

  • Not a huge value on communicating in general


  • Little value is placed on conversations within the family

  • Families are less emotionally connected to one another

  • Kids develop independence as a survival mechanism

  • Kids may not learn to trust their own decision-making abilities

  • Kids are more easily influenced by peers and/or other outside sources


Tiffany is now an adult in a happy relationship. She's noticed that her partner Joe seems to avoid emotional conversations and conflict. What communication style(s) might he have grown up in? Select all that apply:

Take Action

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If you're unhappy with the way you communicate with the people you care about, this awareness is a great starting point for turning it around.

Understanding your own communication pattern will help you develop effective communication skills.

  • Use this knowledge to recreate the communication style your family modeled.

  • Use this knowledge to break cycles of communication patterns that don't serve you.

A few specific tasks to get you started:


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