Spotlight: Four-Sides-Model


The Model

During my studies in psychology, I had the honor to visit the lecture of the German psychologist Friedemann Schulz von Thun. He was the first one in a row of experts to influence my perception and thinking of human communication. Schulz von Thun developed the Four-Sides-Model which had a huge impact on my view on inter- and intrapersonal communication since then.

The Four-Sides-Model states that communication consists of a sender (sending a message), a receiver (receiving a message), and a the message. The message itself has one additional layer that can be divided into four sides:

  1. Factual Information: A purely factual statement.
  2. Appeal: The message is used to appeal to the recipient to do something and thus influence him.
  3. Relationship: The message conveys the relationship between speaker and recipient.
  4. Self-revelation: Depending on the relationship between the two, the recipient can derive appreciation or contempt from the sender’s message, which is further emphasized by facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice.

The interesting part is that the main intent from the speaker might differ from what the receiver is actually hearing. Schulz von Thun speaks in this context from four beaks (sender’s side) and ears (receiver’s side):


Two people standing with the car at a red traffic light.

What the sender says: “The traffic light is green.”
Factual Information: The traffic light is green.
Appeal layer: Start driving.
Relationship layer: I will help you if you are distracted.
Self-revealing layer: I am in a hurry.

What the receiver hears:
Factual Information: The traffic light is green.
Appeal layer: I should hurry up.
Relationship layer: He/She thinks I am a bad driver.
Self-revealing layer: He/She really wants to get to the theater quickly.

Two Truths

The sender’s message has an intention that is (usually) hidden/implicit within. This intention is the sender’s truth. The received information is analyzed and interpreted by the receiver. The results of this analysis becomes the receiver’s truth.As a consequence, the sender’s and receiver’s truth might not match but true at the same time.

What are the implications for you?

Communication is imprecise and you should always consider that every message you hear will have two truths. Hence, you should do your best to make sure that you understood the message as the sender intended. Here is a list of actions you can use in your everyday life to improve the communication with the people around you:

  1. Ask if you understood the message correctly by paraphrasing or giving an example
  2. Make implicit information explicit: Tell the other person how you interpreted what you just heard but make clear that this is just your current interpretation
  3. Check with which beaks the message was sent and which ears you were using dominantly
  4. Check if there is another possibility to understand the message by looking at it from a different side of the Four-Sides-Model

    When working in a team:
  5. Share the Four-Sides-Model within the team to raise awareness
  6. Check with which ears you and your employee are listening to the message of each other

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