The art of misunderstanding.

There is no freedom without mutual understanding

Albert Camus

In our increasingly complex world, it can be difficult to gain a comprehensive overview.

The truth is that nobody has perfect, strictly objective information about a situation. Even seemingly contradictory information can be valid, it may simply come from a different perspective.

This is not only the case for complex situations. Even a single statement between two people allows various interpretations on the speaker's and listener's side.

This can be well illustrated using Schulz von Thun's four-sides model (also known as four-ears model or communication square).

According to this, each message has 4 levels, each of which may be interpreted differently by the speaker and recipient.

Let´s suppose I tell you:


"I have a lot to do right now."


  • On a factual level, I express that I have a lot to do right now (easy, right?)
  • On a relationship level, I may want to say "I know you understand me"
  • On the self-revealing level, I might tell you: "I'm overwhelmed, I need help"
  • At the appeal level, I might say to you, "Please support me"


You on the other hand, may hear something quite different:


  • On a factual level, you hear the words I said, "I have a lot to do right now"
  • But on the relationship level you hear: "You're disturbing, you're not important enough for me"
  • At the self-revealing level, you hear "I'm impatient"
  • At the appeal level, you might interpret my message as "Get out!"


Thus there is a big potential for misunderstandings. Even if we communicate on the same level, different assumptions and experiences lead to a completely different interpretation as we have seen in the example above.

You may now ask yourself: Well, how can I best communicate then?

A proven aid to promoting mutual understanding, can be the one provided by Marshal B. Rosenberg developed non-violent communication (GFK). Rosenberg founded the Center for Non-violent Communication (CNVC), whose trainers implement workshops and training programs worldwide and are officially deployed in conflicts in crisis areas.

Find out more in our next post Speak Peace: How to Communicate Successfully.