Method: Four Sides of a Message

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One of the basic concepts when it comes to communication in the german speaking area and maybe even outside of it. It is also interesting to work about it with participants.

Time 45 min

Group Size 10-30

Keywords communication, understanding, transfer



The aim of the presented method is to practically use the model: four sides of a message to support participants to understand it and be able to use it in their daily lives.


4 sides of a message: Every message may be deconstructed in its four parts which normally overlay each other

We suggest to already prepare a flipchart with a square on it (four sides). Also prepare the following cards (best in four colours, which colour for which side does not matter, we just add the colours here to make this method clearer):

  • red: factual level
  • blue: relation level
  • green: self revelation level
  • yellow: appeal

(please be aware, that in various websites or literature where you look for the model you might find slightly different translations of the model of Schulz von Thun. E.g. Appeal is sometimes named "demand". Schulz von Thun names his four sides in German "Sachinhalt" (factual level), "Beziehung" (relation), "Selbstaussage" (self revelation) and "Appell" (appeal)).

Go through it, explain to the participants the model and show it with an example. Choose any message you like or simply take one of the classic examples like the following one: The passenger in the car tells the driver: "The traffic light is gree"

Following for sides of a message on the receivers side can be found, which are still interpretations (let us be aware of this).

  • red card (factual level): The traffic light is green
  • blue card (relation level): You need my support
  • green card (self revelation level): I am in a hurry
  • yellow card (appeal): Speed up!

Ask if there are any questions so far.

Put four chairs in the center, each chair represents one of the sides. Ask four volunteers to sit on the chairs and ask participants for any message they wanna try. Go through the model with the examples of the participants and repeat it as often as it is useful (3-4 times probably). You can also involve a non-spoken message.


If you have the possibility, it makes sense that the participants use this newly gained awareness of the four sides of a message to implement it on their own conflicts. It makes sense to go into pairs and discuss the examples of your participants´Personal Conflict History. Often people remember some key-messages that were sent during a conflict and having an eye on these messages with the four sides of a message might help to reframe the whole conflict situation.

An option is also to interpret body language with the four sides. According to the model, the factual level is missing when it comes to body language. Still the the three other sides of the message can be interpreted. As practical implementation you can simply choose one of the participants and ask the person to freeze as he or she is positioned right in this very moment. Then go through the four (three) sides again.

You can use this method also to reflect on our interpretation of communication. Most important in communication are not the facts but how we and our partners perceive reality. Interpretation is the skill to process information so that it becomes relevant for us. You can ask a participant to simply send a message and together with the participants you deduct it according to the model of Schulz von Thun. And develop more than just one possible interpretation and in the end you can ask the person, who sent the message, what the (most likely) "right" interpretation was.


We can only recommend the books of Friedemann Schulz von Thun: "Miteinander reden: 1-3". As much as we know they are not translated yet, still you find all the information easily in the internet.

Matthias Haberl

Matthias Haberl.jpg

Project manager for the Austrian development organisation Südwind, freelance trainer, facilitator and author of handbooks and on Competendo.

Eliza Skowron


Co-founder Working Between Cultures, born in Poland, studies at Jagielloian UniversityKraków (Polen). Facilitator and expert for constructive communication, Anti-Bias, train-the-trainer, author in Competendo.

Maria Prahl

Co-founder Working Between Cultures. Facilitator in higher education, for doundations and enterprises. Focus topics: Cooperation and communication in heterogenious teams, diversity management (in universities)train-the-trainer.