#05 Communication – Back to the basics


While hack #4 focuses on thoughtful communication in a virtual space, this hack adds a useful tool for it. You might have heard if this good old friend, whom we help to make a comeback here:

„Four-sides modes“ by Friedemann Schulz von Thun.


The core statement of the model is that whenever people communicate with each other, four aspects are involved simultaneously:

The sender of a message expresses these levels explicitly; the recipient hears the message „with four ears“.

Misunderstandings arise from the fact that in everyday life not all four aspects are expressed clearly, but also non-verbally or even completely hidden.

It is difficult to influence which side(s) of the message the other person hears. For example, you may believe you have passed on information in a factual way and your conversation partner hears an insult on the relationship level.

Therefore, it is very important that you express the things that you want to tell the other person explicitly (in words). You must be aware which messages you actually want to send on which level.

This is even more important when communicating virtually, because here complementary information, such as facial expressions, gestures or context is limited.

Guidelines can be derived from the model:

– Present the content on the factual level in a clear, understandable and comprehensible way

– Be honest, credible and authentic on the self-revealing level

– Actively send messages of appreciation and partnership on the relationship level

– On the appeal level, be especially careful to explain what exactly you want to achieve or what your expectations are

An example: „Thomas, I am under extreme pressure right now (self-revealing level). This document needs a done quality-check by 6 pm (factual level). I know that you work very carefully and that I can always rely on you (relationship level), so I ask you to take on this task and send me the document by 6 pm (appeal level)“. A clear and not misleading message does not take much time, but is, especially in the virtual world, much more effective than: „Thomas, please do the quality-check of this document and send it back to me by 6 pm“.


Remember that you are not only sending messages … also prick up your four ears and listen carefully to what you receive on the four levels:

– Factual level: Be attentive and concentrated, if necessary, summarize what you have understood

– Self-revealing level: Try to understand your conversation partner emotionally. How is he/she? What does he/she reveal about him-/herself and his/her condition?

– Relationship level: Pay attention on how the relationship is build. How does the other person feel about you in this regard?

– Appeal level: Be attentive and explore what your conversation partner wants to achieve.

And when you are listening to someone speak openly about irritations … Imagination and acting based on interpretation help.

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