The four things we reveal in every act of communication

There is a model of communication called the four-sides model. It was developed by Friedemann Schulz von Thun, a German psychologist.


In simple terms what the four-sides model says is that in every act of communication, we are communicating four things (or four sides):


1. certain facts (factual information)

2. something about ourselves (self-revelation)

3. something about how we view the person we are communicating with and the nature of the relationship between us (relationship)

4. what we want the person we are communicating with to feel, think or do (appeal)


This model is more profound than it first appears to be. It allows us to frame probing questions about how we interact with others and how they interact with us. Here are a few:


1. How conscious are we of which side we are emphasising when sending a message?

2. How conscious should we be?

3. How conscious are we of which side is being emphasised when we receive a message?

4. If someone is only concerned with the self-revelation side of the four sides, do they have narcissistic tendencies?

5. And is their self-revelation a revelation about their true selves or a revelation about how they would like the receiver to perceive them (e.g., a puffed-up, constructed self).

6. On the other hand, we are typically very bad at hearing the self-revelation side, whether it is a true or constructed self. Why is this?

7. Besides the factual information side of a message, we typically communicate the other sides implicitly. Why is this? Why don’t we just make our self-revelation, our comment on the relationship and our appeal explicit?


And one last rather random point to contemplate: as more channels of communication have opened, as sending a message to another is easier than ever, I feel more effort is spent on the self-revelation and relationship sides of communication. When sending a message was expensive (think telegram), we gave more focus to the factual information and appeal sides of communication.


And as I end this post, besides its factual content, you might be wondering what I am revealing about myself. I’m not sure – I hadn’t thought about that till now.

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