Notes on Intercultural Communication

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Schulz von Thun’s Four Sides Model of Interpersonal Communication

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Interpersonal Communication Theory of Schulz von Thun (Four Sides Model)

Friedemann Schulz von Thun (*06.08.1944) enlarges the Watzlawick Model of communication by adding two more layers: the Self Revealing Layer and the Appeal Layer. These four Layers shape the Square of Communication (Kommunikationsquadrat):

  • Content Layer (CL) aka Sachebene (facts)

  • Relationship Layer (RL) aka Beziehungsseite (what I think of you)

  • Self Revealing Layer (SRL) aka Selbstkundgabe (who I am)

  • Appeal Layer (AL) aka Appellseite (what I want you to do)

Get his material here or download a pdf from Schulz von Thun directly here. For more information please visit his website http://www.schulz-von-thun.de/ or check his portrait at the Akademie für Konflikttransformation.

German users may refer to additional information on his website.

Deutschsprachige Besucher finden hier weiterführende Informationen.

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www.schulz-von-thun.de

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“Muender und Ohren” / Tongues and Ears – Applications of Schulz von Thun`s Theories

Schulz von Thus explicitly uses the words “Muender und Ohren” (literally Mouths and Ears) for expressing his theory about different layers of communication. The “Mouth” represents the sender, the “Ears” represent the recipient. In this translation/edition I will use the word “Tongue” instead “mouth” due to the fact, that the word “Language” derived from Latin “Lingua” – “Tongue”)
Within the same culture exists a common system of values, experiences and communication. Leaving this common ground can lead to typical misunderstandings.
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Chinese Ears and Chinese Tongues

„Words cannot express a thought completely“ noted Confucius about the I Ging. He was aware of the limitations of language. For expressing a thought, Confucius needs the impression (picture), the character (logograph) and finally adds his finding (or taking action).

Pictograph                Logographs (Shan-Mountain / Men-Door)

Chinese characters are logographs. That logographs derived from images or pictographs. Some Chinese logographs are still similar to the pictograph. Read more about Chinese and western characters at Logographs and Phonographs – Visualisation of Language

Logographs are not meant to express a thought precisely or distinguish different approaches. A single character can have different meanings, so it needs a lot of imagination, or active listening to understand a message. Sentences need to be “encoded” or interpreted by the recipient. (See E.T. Hall – High Context Cultures.) To understand the specific content it needs additional information (context).

Chinese Sender / Chinese Tongue

Content Layer (less distinct) In Chinese culture the Content layer needs additional information to understand. It is influenced by other layers more than in German culture. When the Content Layer leaves space for different interpretations (in respect of other layers), it harbors the risk of misinterpretations. Words are chosen more carefully for leaving enough space for the recipients.

Relationship Layer (highly distinct) How a content is delivered may also indicate the relationship between the sender and recipient. For making sure, that the CL is completely understood, the RL must be taken into account. The same content can have very different meanings depending on the recipient. Relationships have a long perspective (Long Term Orientation) and should be treated with priority.

Self Revealing Layer (less distinct) Harmony in Asia means a well structured hierarchical system in a “natural balance”. In order to keep this balance, a Chinese sender tends to avoid the Self Revealing Layer. Stressing the Self Revealing Layer indicates a deep gap between the sender and recipient or used as harsh critic. (It is still perilous in most parts of Asia to express personal political ideas in public.)

Appeal Layer (highly distinct) Since the Relationship Layer plays such a dominant part in communication, personal wishes are not clearly said but expressed in appeals.

Chinese Recipient / Chinese Ears

Content Layer (less distinct) The unspoken additional context leaves space for different interpretations. A Chinese recipient would not react spontaneously to certain words, but rather to situations. Words itself represent only limited information for Chinese recipients. A Chinese recipient usually adds different sources for information (body language, situation, sound,…) by himself. The Content Layer is only one layer of others and represents only a part of the message. Other layers may play a more important part in understanding a message.

Relationship Layer (highly distinct) The way the content is sent plays an important role to understand the content itself. The content depends on the estimated value for the recipient and can vary.

Self Revealing Layer (less distinct) The way the sender stresses the Self Revealing Layer points at the recipient, and not to the sender. When stressed, than for pointing at the recipient, and not to the sender.

Appeal Layer (highly distinct) The Appeal Layer is highly developed in Chinese culture. The “Chinese Appeal Ear” notices all indirect expressed wishes to balance the relationship. It helps to understand the Content Layer and corresponds with the relationship Layer. Neglecting the Appeal Layer can lead to deep conflicts in relationships.

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German Ears and German Tongue

German language is meant to express information very precisely. Grammar includes different conjugations and declinations for transporting as much information as possible in the most efficient way. It does not need additional information (context) to understand a specific message (See E.T. Hall – Low Context Cultures.)

German Sender / German Tongue

Content Layer (highly distinct) A German sender expresses himself as clearly as possible to avoid misunderstandings. In opposite to Chinese senders, language is not regarded as a source of misunderstandings. Abstract information can be expressed comparatively well defined. Clear words are regarded as honest and true. The Content Layer is also used for expressing “the unspeakable”. Criticism is widely used to show how much the sender cares.

Relationship Layer (less distinct) Relationships are shown in deeds and not in words. Being punctual or keeping promises is widely felt as a sign of sympathy, respect and honesty. Neglecting settlements can cause severe damage on a relationship.

Self Revealing Layer (highly distinct) Expressing (and/or discussing) personal thoughts and moods is often felt as “being close to someone”. It is essential for any relationship to share those personal matters. Different opinions are respected or appreciated.

Appeal Layer (less distinct) German senders usually do not respect the recipient’s situation. Messages are clear and usually do not content hidden messages. Therefore Germans are respected as trustful and honest, but also naive and awkward.

German recipient / German Ears

Content Layer (highly distinct) Germans tend to stress the Content Layer in communication. A German recipient focuses on this layer most, neglecting other layers. The content of a message can be understood without or a minimum of additional information. Small Talk is often seen as unpleasant and inefficient. Often German senders “hide” other layers within the Content Layer. Emotions or “unspeakable messages” are drawn into the Content Layer. “True and honest” words can be felt as insult, and often enough meant this way.

Relationship Layer (less distinct) The Relationship Layer is not very distinct in German culture. A relationship is often shaped on the Content Layer. Authenticity and reliability make a person trustful. Keeping settlements is a good way to show respect and/or sympathy.

Self Revealing Layer (highly distinct) German culture is highly influenced by the idea of individuality. Sharing very personal thoughts can be a good way to approach other individuals. A German recipient needs this information to establish a relationship. A person holding back personal thoughts is regarded as not trustful, hiding something or “being fishy”.

Appeal Layer (less distinct) On the Appeal Layer the German recipient is mostly numb. The ability of “active listening” is not much developed. It is hard for a German recipient to understand implicit messages. Not corresponding on the Appeal Layer is often felt as “cold” or impersonal.

(Adopted/translated from Lei Wang/Cologne, Münder und Ohren, 2008)

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Abschiedsvortrag von Schulz von Thun in Hamburg im November 2009, absolut sehenswert: http://lecture2go.uni-hamburg.de/veranstaltungen/-/v/10197 . Friedemann Schulz von Thun erzählt von seinem Leben und Wirken anhand seiner Theorien.
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Communication Model of Paul Watzlawick

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Communication Theory of Paul Watzlawick (*25.06.1925 + 31.05.2007)

Watzlawick defined 5 different Communication Postulates (Axioms)

(…)

  • One cannot not communicate. Even silence already contains a message.
  • Human being communicate both digitally and analogically.
  • Relationship has content and a relationship aspect. Facts and data is transported on the “Content Layer”. How this message should be understood is transported via the “Relationship Layer”. The relationship layer is mostly is unconsciously transported by body language (especially facial expressions), gestures or the tone. Encoding and decoding of these information plays an important part in communication.
  • The nature of a relationship depends on how the two parties punctuate the communication sequence.
  • All communication is either symmetrical or complementary. Every communication string is circular. It is an interaction between two or more partners. Behavior is a reaction on a previous situation. It also is impulse, boost or reduction of further actions. If previous behaviors or messages dominate the way we communicate, it can cause conflicts.

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(received 12.02.2014 at http://www.colorado.edu/communication/meta-discourses/Theory/watzlawick/)

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Read more about the development of Watzlawick`s ideas by Schulz von Thun here.

(reviewed 12.02.2014)

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