The 4 Sides of a Message



The Common Problem

Communication is a tricky subject. Everyone does it but not many do it consciously. Most just talk and write without considering the impact of their message. But all your Outer Potential is defined by the skills you have in this area.

In another blog post about The Power of Communication I talk about the “Sender–Receiver Model”. I am sure you had one of those experiences. You said something and the other person gave it an entirely different meaning. As a consequence the whole conversation turns into a one big misunderstanding.

You just wonder, “Where [the hell] does this come from? What I meant was absolutely clear.”

Well, it was clear for you. You have to understand, that nothing is good or bad or has any other meaning but the one we give it. Whether you are at the sending or receiving end, it is You who gives the message its meaning.


As soon as I understood the power of our words I wanted to learn more about how to be most effective with what I say. So I studied communication extensively and when I started my career as a project manager I could use what I had learned in real life and it helped me tremendously. In the rough environment of the construction industry and being involved in major projects it was crucially important that everyone understood exactly what they had to do. Technical drawings and work assignments had to be precise and clear.


The German psychologist Friedemann Schulz von Thun created a model that visualizes extremely well what happens when something is said.

It may sound a bit theoretical and scientific to talk about “models” in communication but once you have read this article you will see, it is easy to understand, simple to apply and you will be able to improve the results of your communication immediately.


The 4 Sides of a Message (The Communication Square)

Basically there are four sides to every message:

–          The Information – or ‘What I want to inform about’

–          The Self-Revelation – or ‘What I tell about myself’

–          The Relationship – or ‘What I think about you and how we relate to one another’

–          The Demand – or ‘What I want you to do’


The 4 Sides of a Message


In general all four sides are equivalent but consciously or subconsciously you choose one over the others. However, most of the times, the misunderstanding is created at the receiving end of the line. Many people are more sensitive to one side than to the others. However, which side is used in any given moment depends on the emotional state the person is in.

Based on this state this person interprets the message and decides which meaning to give it. This is how the meaning suddenly can turn 180 degrees and cause those big misunderstandings.


The 4 Sides of a Message in Real Life

Imagine, a concerned mother wants to provide her daughter with important information by saying, “It is cold outside.” But the girl again feels being told what to wear (again) and replies in a harsh tone of voice, “I don’t need a jacket!”

The information of a message is the data – the facts. Depending on your interpretation every message will make you think, feel or react in a certain way.


Based on a real-life example I explain the four sides of a message in detail in another blog post. Click here.


Your Assignment

From now on pay attention to the four sides of a message. Investigate which one you focus on the most and which one you tend to use in which situation when sending and which one you are very sensitive to and focus on when being on the receiving end.

This model has helped me a lot to communicate better – i.e. to be more effective in bringing my message across, to understand others faster, and to avoid misunderstandings.

Now it is your turn. There is no right or wrong. Just play with the four sides of a message, try it and see what results you get. I bet you will have some revelations.

Have fun.

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– Miteinander Reden 1, Friedemann Schulz von Thun, 2003

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