Communication is a constant back-and-forth, sending and receiving messages. This often leads to misunderstandings and quarrels, because certain statements are not formulated clearly enough or misunderstood.
The one is talking, the other is listening, actually a simple system – it is believed – but the pitfalls are varied and often unnoticeable on a conscious level. This is where the four-ear model comes into play.
The German psychologist Friedrich Schulz von Thun assumes that each message has four different pages or levels:
- the factual level (factual information, about which I inform),
- the relationship level (what I think about you, how I feel about you) and
- the self-revelation level (what I reveal from myself),
- the appeal level (what I want to achieve with you).
A typical example for understanding the four-ear model is the sentence “there’s green at the front”. A woman is sitting behind the wheel of the car and her husband, the passenger, alerts them that the traffic light is “green”.
1) At the substantive level, the focus is on factual information, it is about data, facts, facts. The factual information is verifiable to truth (is the statement true or false), 2) Relevance (are the facts important or unimportant) and 3) Sufficiency (are the factual indications for the subject sufficient or not).
Our driver understands and reacts on the matter level, looks at her briefly and nods when the traffic light turns green or contradicts when the traffic light is not green.
On the relationship side, the type of formulation, tone, facial expression and posture are crucial factors for understanding. How I talk to someone shows how I stand with him and what I think about him. In each utterance, there is a relational hint, especially for those who have a hypersensitive relational ear. The receiver now asks himself the questions “How do I feel by the way the other person talks to me?” And “What does the other person think of me, how does he relate to me?”
At the level of relationships, the woman perceives the phrase “there’s green in front” quite differently than on the factual level. For example, she thinks her husband wants to tell her how to drive, or he knows better how to drive a car and she needs his help. Depending on her temperament and self-assessment, she will accept his “help” or protest against “patronizing”.
Each statement contains a self-revelation, an indication of what is going on in me, what I stand for, how I see myself. This can be done explicitly – in the form of an I-message – or implicitly. Of the
Receiver will learn more about the transmitter here: What is the one for? How is he right? What is he thinking?
For example, when the driver perceives her husband’s statement “Green at the front” on the level of self-disclosure, she understands that he sees more than she does and feels that she needs to help drive her to keep her orientation.
On the appeal level, it is openly or covertly about wishes, appeals, advice and instructions. When I communicate with someone, I usually want to achieve something specific, to influence. The woman at the helm listening on the call level understands a command: Her husband wants well that she drives faster and she should hurry.
The four-eared model shows how quickly and unintentionally misunderstandings can arise, which often escalate and can only be clarified with hindsight, once all participants have calmed down again. Therefore, it is important to communicate as accurately and clearly as possible and to be clear on which of the four ears one hears the most and is the most sensitive.