The four-sides model (communication square or four-ears model) is a communication model created by a German psychologist F. Schulz von Thun. According to this model every message has four facets: fact (factual information), self-revelation, relation between sender and receiver and the appeal or wish of the sender. The emphasis on the four layers can be meant differently and also be understood differently. So the sender can stress the appeal of the statement and the receiver can mainly receive the relationship part of the message. This is one of the main reasons for misunderstandings.
- The factual information contains statements which are data and facts of the message.
- The self-revealing level - conscious or unintended - reveals something about the speaker, its motives, attitudes, values, emotions…
- The relationship layer shows how the sender gets along with the receiver. It reveals what the sender is thinking about the receiver and how they relate to each other. It expresses the sender’s position towards the receiver of the message.
- The appeal or wish contains the desire, the advice, instruction and possibly the effects which the speaker is seeking.
Every layer of a message can be misunderstood by itself.
The classic example of Schulz von Thun is the front-seat passenger (sender) who tells to the driver (receiver): "Hey, the traffic lights are green!”
=> The message that the driver (receiver) will understand depends on the ear with which he will hear, and thus, will react accordingly:
- Factual level: The "fact" that the traffic lights are green.
- Appeal: Come on, drive!
- Relationship: I want to help you!
- Self-revelation: I am in a hurry!