Which ‘ear’ do you use more often?

It is no brainer that communication is the mortar that holds together a relationship. Cracks appear in relationships when conversations dry out, when feelings are not expressed or misinterpreted and voice voids are filled with sighs.


What does a healthy conversation look like? And how can you improve communication in a romantic relationship?


“We speak not only to tell other people what we think, but to tell ourselves what we think. Speech is a part of thought.”
-Oliver Sacks


In his Four-Sides model of communication, Friedemann Schulz von Thun a German psychologist and expert in interpersonal communication and intrapersonal communication say that every message has four facets to it:


Four-Sides model of communication


  1. Fact: What I inform about (data, facts, statements)
  2. Self-revealing: What I reveal about myself (information about the sender)
  3. Relationship: What I think about you (information about how we get along)
  4. Appeal: What I want to make you do (an attempt to influence the receiver)


There is never the same emphasis put on each of the four facets, and the emphasis can be meant and understood differently. The difference is the result of conditioning – of our personality (introvert or extrovert), our family background or also our circumstances.


For example, when the wife saying that “there are so many new restaurants around” may be less about the fact that the new restaurants, but a prompt for the husband to take her out more often.


Complications arise, when as a receiver we tend to have one of the four “ears” specifically trained.


Complications Arises

Complications arise, when as a receiver we tend to have one of the four “ears” (factual ear, relationship ear, self-revelation ear or appeal ear) specifically trained. So if the husband’s relationship ear is well trained, he may decode the sentence as that he is being told that he is not paying enough attention to the wife’s interests. He may retaliate with, “Why don’t you cook rather than speak about spending unnecessarily at restaurants?” This communication pattern leads to stress that can plague even the healthiest relationships.


It is important to understand that what we hear may not be what the other person was trying to get across. Think about it: which one is your best developed “ear”? For instance, do you tend to hear an appeal in every sentence? Or do you often feel questioned (hence you are listening with your relationship “ear”)?


To establish a healthy communication pattern, we need to understand deeply the four facets. And the next time you feel uncomfortable, or questioned – rewind to the original statement and think about the four facts. How else could you have understood the message?

Pay attention to the actual facts of the message and use questions to clarify whether you understood what the other person was trying to get across to you.