Do you know the famous quote


by Paul Watzlawick? What he wants to say is that communication happens all the time – also if we are not say anything at all. If you don’t believe it, try it out yourself! During your next conversation with your friend or partner just stop talking – it will be harder than you expect to keep up the silence for more than five or ten seconds, it will be awkward and the person you were having a conversation with will most possibly be confused. This shows that you communicated something – whether that was a lack of interest, ignorance or something else. I am sure that you have also made the following experience: A person is entering the climbing gym and you already know that he or she is in a bad mood before you have even talked a word with him or her.

But why am I writing a post about communication on my sport psychology blog? The answer is simple: communication is a big part of our life. It is a very important component among athletes, between athletes and coaches within a training, before and also during a competition, and between athletes and their parents. Good (or bad) communication will influence you in getting what you want or need to succeed in sports, everyday life and to reach your goals.


To get a good picture of the process of communication, I will explain the 4 sides-model, also known as four-ears model or communication square. It was developed by Friedmann Schulz von Thun, a German psychologist, professor and an expert in communication. The model implies that communicating with a person includes more than the words and facts themselves. A message, sent by a sender (the speaker) includes four components as well as the ears of the receiver (the listener): factual information, appeal, relationship and self-revelation. Both, the sender and the receiver of the message, are responsible for a successful communication.


The factual side includes facts, data and statements and whether they are true or not, relevant or irrelevant and satisfying or not.


The appeal side of the message is supposed to trigger an action and influence the receiver. What do I want you to do or not do? “Do/ think/ feel this!” or “don’t do/ think/ feel…!” These messages can be either clear and obvious or nicely hidden by the sender.


The self-revealing side represents information which the speaker is consciously or unconsciously sending to the listener. The message includes for example information about the sender’s personality or mood. 


The relationship side is the fourth side of the communication square and discloses the relationship between the sender and the receiver. It includes what the sender thinks about the receiver and the quality of their relationship. Features of the relationship side are intonation, body language, facial expression and gesturing and how a sentence is formulated. The sender can convey e.g. distress, acceptance, contempt or hatred. As a result, the receiver will feel either happy, sad, angry, guilty or accepted.

Let’s support the theory with some examples. After the first attempt to climb a new route, a climber tells the coach: “This route is really hard!”

The sender might mean the following:

  • Factual Information: The route is hard.
  • Appeal side: Set an easier course! / Help me to succeed!
  • Self-revealing side: I am tired today. I am disappointed with myself.
  • Relationship layer: You should know that I am not strong enough to climb this route. You are shit at your job because you can't even choose an appropriate route for me.

The receiver might hear the following:

  • Factual information:  The route is hard.
  • Appeal side: I should let you succeed. /I set a too hard/wrong route.
  • Self-revealing side: You don’t like to fail.
  • Relationship layer: You think that I want you to fail.

This is just an example and the answers can obviously be quite different. It should illustrate that communication can include a lot of problems like assumptions, misunderstandings and ambiguous information. A lot of times the non-verbal communication is more information than the facts. If the verbal and non-verbal communication is supporting each other the message is clear and harmonious and so-called "congruent". If the non-verbal and verbal communication is contradicting each other, it is called an "incongruent message". For example, your teammate tells you the following after winning a competition,” I am very happy for your victory!” If the teammate is making eye contact with you, smiles, uses a loud and clear intonation in an upright posture the message seems authentic and real. If the teammate stares at the ground, doesn’t look excited and speaks quietly he or she might be jealous and actually sad and may pretend to be happy for you. Congruent messages will prevent misunderstandings, wrong assumptions and support a successful communication.

There are more tools to prevent conflicts, frustration and Schulz von Thun doesn’t tell us how to communicate but he provides us tools for a successful communication.

Here is an illustration of the 4-ear model to better understand what we just learnt:

4 ear model.png


The sender’s "truth" includes whatever he or she intends to tell the receiver. It can be clear or well hidden. The receiver analyses the information and compares it with his or her beliefs, values and experiences. This often happens very fast and unconsciously. The result is the receiver’s truth and doesn’t have to match the sender’s truth. Transferred onto the 4-ear model, this means that – based on our values, beliefs and past experiences – we tend to send or listen to information with "one ear" more than with the other ears. Here is an everyday life example that some of you might have experienced yourself – an experience that might influence with which ear you will more carefully listen in the future... Your partner says "The dishwasher isn't done." He/ She might not mean this on a factual level... but on an appeal level: "Do the dishwasher!" Or course, the more often we make experiences like this, the more likely we will listen with our "appeal" ear also in other situations... 

It is therefore very important to send a clear message in order to have matching truths. It will prevent misunderstandings and the sender will be able to communicate whatever he or she needs or wants.


  1. Become aware of the communication square in the role of a sender and of a receiver. Give it a try and be conscious about what you intend to send and what message you are actually sending, what you want to hear and what the speaker intends to say. Are the messages matching or are they different?
  2. Figure out if you are sending/ receiving messages using all four sides. Do you tend to skip one or two sides or do you focus on one too much?
  3. After getting to know the strengths and weaknesses of your different "ears", try to use your weak side/ ear more often to strengthen it.
  4. Another good skill training is to observe other people’s communication styles. Which side/ ears do people around you tend to use or ignore?

How was your experience and what did you figure out? Is one side/ ear easier/ harder to use and is one side/ ear more helpful for effective communication? Write a comment to let me know!

Schulz von Thun chose the shape of his communication model on purpose. The square with four sides of equal length makes it obvious that all four sides are equally important for an effective communication style. Naturally, people focus on the facts they want to transfer and are often not aware that how they say something often matters more than what they try to communicate. Incorporating all four sides will improve your communication and as a result, you will be able to reach goals faster.

madeleine eppensteiner