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Communication models - The 7 most important at a glance

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Communication models - The 7 most important at a glance

Communication simply happens all the time. Whether we intend it to or not. So it's no wonder that misunderstandings arise again and again. What we really think and feel and what we communicate are often two different pairs of shoes. This makes it all the more difficult for you to find out what is really going through the mind of the person you are talking to. We would like to tell you more about communication models in the following.

What are communication models in general?

Communication models break down the complex topic of communication to its basic pillars. They show all the different processes and interrelationships and present them as simply as possible. In a nutshell, the aim of these models is to show how communication between two or more people works and which factors you should pay attention to so that misunderstandings do not occur again and again.

The 7 most important communication models

Countless linguists and communication scientists have now tried to create communication models. It's not easy to keep track of them all. But don't worry, we have compiled the seven most important models for you and explain what they are all about.

Communication Theories

1. the Shannon and Weaver transmitter-receiver model

Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver were actually based in a completely different field, namely mathematics. They communicated a lot over the telephone - at that time still a rather interference-prone affair. That gave them an idea. They developed communication models that quite simply illustrate the linguistic interaction between people. The result was the sender-receiver model.

The idea behind it was simple. Communication always consists of at least two sides. One side marks the sender, the other the receiver. The sender wants to convey a message to the receiver and must encode it to do so. This simply means that he must express it verbally or non-verbally.

The receiver's task is then to understand and decode this code. To do this, he must speak the same language as the sender or be able to interpret his non-verbal signals correctly. Finally, he completes the communication by giving feedback to the sender - showing him that he has understood his message - or not.

2. communication on different levels: The 4-Ears-Model by Schulz von Thun

Maybe you know the 4 ears model under the name 4 sides model or message square. Doesn't ring a bell? Then we'll give you a little tutorial. German communication scientist Friedemann Schulz von Thun differentiates every message into four levels. The first is the factual level.

Here it is a matter of filtering out facts from what is said. It becomes somewhat more profound on the level of self-revelation. With everything that the speaker says, he also reveals something of himself. Most of the time this happens unconsciously, but nevertheless he often gives the receiver an insight into his emotional world. In addition, there is information about the relationship between sender and receiver, which leads us to the third level, the relationship level.

The choice of words, the facial expressions and also the gestures often provide information about how the two feel about each other. Are they rather averse to each other, are they very close, do they value each other very much? Last but not least, we have the level of appeal. The sender does not send a message just because, but always because he wants to achieve something with it. He expects a certain reaction from the recipient, e.g. by directly asking him to do something or subliminally encouraging him to act.

3. words are not everything: the iceberg model of Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud - probably one of the most influential thinkers of the last century - also did not miss the opportunity to create communication models. We're talking about the iceberg model here. To be precise, it was actually Paul Watzlawick who transferred the whole thing into communication science.

Basically, this is an allegory.

What you can see of an iceberg above the water surface is just about 20 % of its total size. This is the part that marks the factual level, the rational information that you can extract from a message.

The remaining 80 % of the iceberg, which slumber under the water surface, correspond to the relationship level. These are experiences, feelings, simply everything that you communicate not with words, but non-verbally and often unintentionally. You see, the relationship level takes up a much larger part than the matter level. It is therefore all the more important to bring both into harmony and to communicate with your words what you say non-verbally. Otherwise misunderstandings are inevitable.

4. parents vs. children vs. adults: Eric Berne's transactional analysis

According to the American psychologist Eric Berne, the communicative behavior of every human being can be divided into three states. We have the parent ego, the adult ego and the child ego. If the parent ego is predominant, then your communication is similar to that between parents and their children. You express yourself in a caring way, but you also rebuke and correct. If the child ego is in the lead, you are often defiant, silly, and spontaneous.

The adult ego contrasts with this, because it causes you to be particularly matter-of-fact and respectful. Your communication is thoughtful and reflective.

But all this does not mean that every person is limited to one of these selves. We can all switch back and forth between them. Which ego you choose in a particular situation depends mainly on what experiences you have already had in similar circumstances and what you are feeling at the moment.

With your decision you reveal a lot about the relationship between you and your counterpart. Do you meet him on the same level or do different states collide?

One thing is clear: the fewest misunderstandings occur when you communicate on the same level. But if, for example, a child ego and an adult ego meet, it will be difficult for you to engage with each other. You will only come to a common denominator if you reconsider your ego state.

5 The Organon Model by Karl Bühler

Karl Bühler created a drawing model with his Organon model. What is that again? Signs, or more precisely linguistic signs, are everything you say and everything you hear. According to Karl Bühler, each of these signs always fulfils three functions: the expressive function, the representational function and the appeal function. By expressive function is meant nothing other than that the sender always conveys something with his linguistic signs.

This can be important information, his personal opinion or even feelings. So you say things outright, like: "I'm hungry." Now let's look at this sentence in the representational function. While you're saying it, you're looking at a food stand, and you want to show the receiver that you can buy something to eat there. In this example, you don't say it, but you hope that the other person understands your nonverbal signals and recognizes what you're trying to say.

Let us now transfer our example sentence to the appeal function. With your statement and your gaze on the snack stand, you are asking the receiver to do something and expecting an action, e.g. that you go eat there together. Of course, you could also just say directly, "Let's go eat something there." Whether you say something specifically or just hint at it, the appeal function remains. The only difference is whether the receiver has to interpret your statement or can concentrate on the wording.

6. the 5 axioms of communication by Paul Watzlawick

"You can't not communicate" - Well, does this sentence sound familiar? It comes from Paul Watzlawick and is one of his axioms. There are five of them in total and they are all part of his communication model. An axiom is basically nothing more than a rule that is generally accepted. So you assume that it is correct without investigating deeper first.

In the field of communication, these axioms are ubiquitous alongside Watzlawick's famous quote:

2. "All communication has a content aspect and a relationship aspect."

3. "Communication is always cause and effect."

4. "Human communication uses analog and digital modalities."

5. "Communication is symmetrical or complementary."

Communication always and everywhere

Let's first address Watzlawick's well-known saying and first axiom, "You can't not communicate." That doesn't make any sense to you? Oh yes it does, if you keep in mind that communication is not just words. Even when you're not speaking right now, you're communicating. With your decision not to speak, you convey to the other person, for example, that you don't want to talk right now or that you simply have nothing to say.

Communication models about content and relationships

No matter whether you communicate verbally or non-verbally, you always convey certain contents and also give information about how you feel about your counterpart. Imagine you are sitting in a training seminar and don't understand a certain issue. Another participant explains it to you again and you thank him for it.

In terms of the content aspect, you are telling him that you are grateful to him - of course. But it is only through the relationship aspect that it becomes clear what you really mean. Were your thanks sincere or do you think the other participant is a know-it-all and didn't listen to him at all? This becomes clear above all through your facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice.

From cause to effect

With everything you communicate, you trigger a certain reaction. That makes what is said or unsaid a cause, which brings about an effect. Let us consider a very simple example. You greet a colleague at work.

Your greeting causes a reaction on his part. Either he greets you back or he doesn't. Whichever he chooses, again triggers a reaction on your part. Either you are happy about his greeting or you are surprised why he ignores you. So the ball is always bouncing back and forth.

Digital or analog?

By digital communication, Watzlawick does not mean sending messages on a smartphone. He is describing statements that leave no room for interpretation. So you express a fact clearly and unmistakably. This contrasts with analogue communication, which does leave room for interpretation. You let your facial expressions and gestures speak and your counterpart must now make assumptions about what you really mean.

Imagine you ask a good friend how he's doing and he says everything is fine. On a digital level, you believe him. Analogously, however, you include his facial expression, which looks very sad. Therefore you conclude that his statement was a lie. However, this remains an assumption until he tells you digitally - i.e. unmistakably - that he is really not well.

Symmetrical vs. complementary

And we have already arrived at the fifth and last axiom. According to Watzlawick, communication is always either symmetrical or complementary, that is, at eye level or not. In symmetrical communication at eye level, you and your counterpart hide your differences. You are on an equal footing, just as friends or colleagues are, for example.

It is different when you talk to a superior, for example. Then you communicate in a complementary way. What you make of it is up to you. Do you use the differences to complement each other or does the superior person take the dominant role in the conversation?

7. NLP according to Richard Bandler and John Grinder

NPL is not only a model for communication, but also for Personality Development. John Grinder likes to call it "modeling excellence." To make it to that excellence, you have to go through a total of five steps.

First, find a professional in the field you're interested in. In the second step, you copy all his skills from him and imitate him. The important thing is that you approach the matter with an open mind. You then practice what you have learned in a similar context. The time of imitation is now over and you test whether your learning already shows success.

Repeat steps two and three until you are as good as or better than your chosen pro. Then be aware of how exactly you did it and define your approach in detail. Create code that you can then use to move on to the fifth step. Test whether your code works in other, similar situations. If it does, you're the new pro and can pass on your knowledge to others.

Communication methods

Which communication models are the best?

Now we've looked at quite a few communication models, and rightly so, you're now wondering which one is best to focus on. But this question is not so easy to answer. Each of these models has great potential to improve your communication. Combine all their core aspects and you're on the right track. Ideally, you'll use them and your personal experiences to build your own model that fits your individual habits.

Why is it important to know communication models?

Wherever people come together, communication occurs - whether we want it or not. It is therefore all the more important to be aware of this in order to prevent misunderstandings and conflicts. If you have an overview of different communication models, you will also benefit from them in your everyday work.

Especially as a manager, it will be much easier for you to understand what your team really wants to tell you, even if no one dares to say it out loud. Cooperation can then proceed more smoothly and you ensure a pleasant working atmosphere. What else helps you improve your leadership and management skills? Our Business Coach Workbook! It provides you with ten great tools and coaching methods that you can immediately integrate into your everyday work. Download it now directly.

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Reviewed by Dr. med. Stefan Frädrich

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