What is the “4-Ears Model” of Communication?


According to Psychologist Friedmann Schulz von Thun, when a person talks to another person he/she is passing on four different messages. This communication model is called the “4 Ears Model” and is useful in understanding why people misunderstand each other.

Alice and Bob are both sitting in the car, Alice is driving. They are waiting at an intersection, the traffic light is red and then changes to green.

Bob: The traffic light is green.

Alice: Don’t be so impatient!

… and they start arguing. What went wrong? According to the psychologist Friedemann Schulz von Thun, a message that is passed from one person to another person carries four pieces of information:

  • The factual content of the message: The traffic light is green.
  • A plea to do something: Start driving!
  • Self-revealment: The sender of a message tells something about his or her inner state. I am impatient and I am in a hurry!
  • Information on the relationship between the people: I am the boss and you are the driver. I can tell you what to do and what not to do. I am the one who has the say here.

Maybe Bob did not mean to be insulting. The disagreement between Alice and Bob is because different people are sensitive to the different pieces of information that are encoded in the message. This can be a cause for misunderstandings.

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In so far as a scientific statement speaks about reality, it must be falsifiable; and in so far as it is not falsifiable, it does not speak about reality.

- Karl Popper -