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How to communicate well

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What is communication?

Communication means making yourself understood with someone else. However, the term does not only refer to the linguistic level or to words that you exchange with your counterpart, for example when you talk to your work colleagues or neighbors about the latest gossip, talk about problems or ask about the mood of the other person inquire.

Facial expressions, gestures and posture also play an important part in communication. This includes, for example, your facial expression – whether you look laughing, skeptical or angry – and how you use your hands – whether you cross them in front of your body or clap them over your head. Even with a crooked or upright posture, you say something about yourself and thus communicate with your counterpart. But that’s not all – there are many other areas of communication. You can read about them in the next section.

What types of communication are there?

Paul Watzlawick, psychotherapist and communication scientist, coined the famous sentence: “We cannot not communicate”. He meant that when you interact with another human being, you are communicating. As briefly described above, this can take place at various levels – one speaks of verbal and non-verbal communication.

verbal communication

Verbal communication includes all areas that you convey to your counterpart with the help of language – this includes, for example, the choice of words, the pitch, the volume or the intonation. For example, if you say to your work colleague “What a great day today is again”, he can tell from the way you emphasize the sentence and the tone in which you speak whether you mean the sentence ironically or seriously.

Nonverbal communication

Non-verbal communication includes facial expressions, gestures and posture. For the understanding of a statement it plays an important role which emotions you express in your face or which posture you adopt.

So, sticking with the example above where you say to your co-worker, “What a great day today is again.” If your facial expression is happy and your posture is upright, your counterpart will probably interpret the sentence in such a way that you really think the day is great. However, if you have an annoyed, tired facial expression and a hunched posture, your counterpart will probably understand that you mean the sentence ironically. Communication becomes more difficult when you write messages via messenger services, in a chat or by e-mail – non-verbal communication and parts of verbal communication are often omitted, which can lead to significantly more misunderstandings.

People with autism have particular difficulties understanding verbal and non-verbal signals and sending them correctly. For example, they cannot understand irony and correctly interpret facial expressions or eye contact. For example, if someone said to them in an annoyed tone, “What a great day today is,” autistic people would take the statement seriously. In addition, they themselves often convey different signals than they actually intended through voices that are too quiet or loud, hardly any eye contact or too much or too little distance.

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How does communication work

There are many different communication models that try to explain how communication works. Why it matters, for example, how you say something – i.e. how a sentence is stressed, at what volume or in what tone of voice it is conveyed. Why some people react differently to the same sentence than others and why it is important to reflect and question our reactions. We describe this using the four-ears model of the communication scientist and psychologist Friedemann Schulz von Thun.

Each sentence contains four important messages

Suppose your partner says to you, “You’re going to be home late today.” According to the four-ears model, this utterance can now contain the following four messages, which must be observed in order not to misunderstand the sentence:

1. Content

Each statement contains information that is to be transmitted to the recipient, in this case you. The sentence “You’re coming home late today” is intended to convey the information that you’re coming home late.

2. Self-disclosure

Self-disclosure describes what the sender, in this case your partner, reveals about himself with the statement “But you’re coming home late today” – i.e. how he feels about it, what his opinion is about it or what wishes and needs he has. Your partner might mean something like, “I was worried.” But it could also be that he enjoyed the time he spent alone and thinks “I finally had some time for myself”. The self-disclosure is often not expressed directly and in this case only resonates with the statement “But you’re coming home late today”. This means that there is a lot of room for interpretation and misunderstandings if you don’t ask what your partner actually means by that.

3. relationship

Each statement also contains information about the relationship between the sender and the receiver. It can be a relationship based on partnership, a parent-child relationship or a relationship between supervisor and employee. Depending on how you relate to each other, statements can also have different meanings. For example, the phrase “You’re coming home late today” can have a different meaning when it comes from your partner than when a parent says it to you. Non-verbal signals play an important role here – for example, the tone in which someone speaks or the facial expression someone shows.

So if your partner gives you a reproachful look when he says, “You’re going to be home late today,” the message could be, “I’ve told you so many times how much this bothers me. I’m disappointed that we spend so little time together.” If he has a friendly expression on his face and welcomes you warmly, he might want to say: “I’m glad you respect my wish for more distance”. Your parents, on the other hand, could mean when they say: “We always have to wait for you to eat”.

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4. Appeal

Statements often also contain information about what the sender, in this case your partner, wants you to do as the recipient of the statement or what he wants to achieve with it. With the sentence “But you’re coming home late today” he might want to get you to come home earlier next time. But he could also think that next time you’re welcome to come home that late so that he has more time for himself. However, not every statement contains all four levels described – it could therefore also be that your partner does not want to achieve anything special with the statement.

This is how misunderstandings arise in communication

The four-ears model described above shows that misunderstandings can easily occur in communication. Because it depends on how the recipient understands what is said. This depends, among other things, on their expectations, previous experiences or fears.

For example, when your partner says, “You’ll be home late today,” he may mean that he’s glad he had more time to himself, while you take it as a reproach. This may be because your partner has often complained that you were late. Or you relate the statement to yourself and think: “I never do anything right”. For example, if you have a guilty conscience because you did something that you don’t want your partner to know about, you might also fear that the statement has made you aware of it, although this may not be the case at all.

Note the different living environments

So there are countless ways of interpreting statements. An important step is to become aware of the four levels and to consider what the other person might have meant by them before reacting. What is important to my counterpart, what are his attitudes and values ​​and what experiences has the person already had.

Ask if anything is unclear

Think about the extent to which you are reading things into the message that were not intended by the sender. Maybe your partner just realizes, without any ulterior motive, that you came home late today. In any case, it is important to ask questions if you are not sure what the person you are talking to is trying to tell you. For example, with the question “What do you mean? Were you worried?” clear up any misunderstandings.

personality types in communication

Everyone has different listening habits and thus a preferred “ear” on which they prefer to receive the news. Of course, this is related to different experiences or relationship experiences that each of us has had. However, some people are particularly sensitive in one ear – Schulz von Thun distinguishes between four different personality types:

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Subject-sensitive personality type

If you prefer to hear news on the factual level, you would respond to a statement from your partner, “The apartment is so chaotic again”, “Yes, you’re right, a real mess”. Because in this case you only hear the content of the message and are deaf to the allusion that the partner could mean that you are responsible for the chaos and should perhaps pay attention to a little more order.


If you are a stranger, you are a specialist in hearing what the other person is saying about yourself. You are good at understanding and empathizing with other people, but resist criticism. If you were told that the apartment was messy, you would say something like, “I know, honey, you love it when it’s tidy.” The criticism of you that you might cause a little less chaos in the future is skilfully ignored.

Relational personality type

If you are a person who is dependent on relationships, you tend to relate things to yourself and are easily attacked and offended. If your partner says to you, “The apartment is so chaotic again,” you would say, “It’s not my fault, I’ve hardly been at home the last few days.”


If you are one of the apostles of appeal, you want to please everyone and even live up to the unspoken expectations of those around you. However, your own wishes are hardly noticed and represented, which means that you tend to be dependent. If your partner told you that he found the apartment very chaotic, you would say, for example, “Yes, you’re right, sweetheart, I’ll clean up the mess right away,” even though you didn’t cause the mess at all.

Good communication can be learned

Even if you haven’t paid much attention to your communication, good communication skills can be learned. The tips above are already very helpful. However, be sure to read our 8 tips for successful communication and our 6 exercises to consciously perceive your communication.

With the information from all three articles you will be able to communicate much better in the future. You will be better understood and can prevent misunderstandings. You will resolve conflicts more successfully, strengthen your bond with people around you, and be able to communicate better with difficult people. The latter is especially important, because if YOU can communicate well, that doesn’t mean that other people do the same.

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