Clear communication is a rare occurrence. There are too many variables influencing our communication for it to be fully captured and reacted upon. It still allows us to be well understood, but it rarely means fully understood.
That’s not necessarily a problem. With enough time available, the communication will, for example, be repeated over and over again. These repetitions make the participants aware of the existence of a problem within the communication. That is if one makes oneself aware that repetition is an indicator of communication that has not yet been fully achieved.
The communication square model developed by German psychologist Friedemann Schulz von Thun is a helpful description of the requirements of clear communication. In this model, he postulated that every message has four facets. According to him, clear communication is one where the person listening to a message has been able to hear all four facets and is available to react to all of them.
In this model, the responsibility of communication is with both the sender and recipient. That is because both need to pay attention to the given communication as is instead of leaving holes or filling those holes with one’s ideas. It is entirely possible, that based on the story someone tells himself, he will hear a message differently than it has been intended. It happens by interpreting those facets of the message that have been left unclear.
The four facets are fact, self-disclosure, social relationship, and want.
The factual layer of a message is quite easily assessed, whatever is being shared can be verified as a fact and be true or relevant. Much of today’s communication is still based on the idea that all that counts is the factual content of the message.
Schulz von Thun combined ideas from Paul Watzlawick and Karl Bühler in his model. He thus also used the idea that one cannot not communicate as Paul Watzlawick described it. Consequently, his model integrated the idea of self-disclosure, where whatever a person communicates will also say something about the person communicating.
On the relationship level of the communication square, we’ll find a message about status as part of the relationship. The way things are being said is understood as describing how the sender relates to the recipient.
The fourth facet describes the appeal or plea of the message. As often it can be implicit or explicit. If this facet is not clear in someone’s mind it won’t be clear in the other person’s mind. However, here too the conversation is a good place to seek our clarity by asking questions.
The four facets provide orientation when it comes to enhancing one’s communication. It starts by exploring how much of it has been understood and then asking others to elaborate on the facts that haven’t yet been prepared. This idea is valid just as much for the person preparing his communication as the one listening to it.