Golden Rule #3

Make Sure You’re All Ears

Golden Rule #3 “Be All Ears” is a reminder to focus on what is actually said and not fall into the trap of making assumptions. Just as important as what has been said is what has not been said.

Goldene Regel 3

Achieving factual, appropriate and error-free communication takes continuous effort!

What the other person says, we judge on different levels. It’s not just important what’s said, but often it’s precisely what’s not said and also the way it’s said that’s also important. Communication can often break down because of these seemingly trivial misunderstandings.

Our unconscious expectations, presumptions and past experiences can unconsciously affect our perception of a current situation, ultimately making effective communication more difficult.

The Four Ears Model

Friedemann Schulz von Thun is a German psychologist and communication scientist who created the Four Sided Model of communication. It’s also commonly called the ‘communication square’ or even the ‘four ears model’. 

Basically, this model helps us understand how communication misunderstandings can occur and why.  It’s based on the assumption that every statement can be interpreted based on a combination of four aspects: on a factual level (literally the content of your conversation: what you’re talking about) , a self disclosure level (what you give away about your own personality or feelings in the way you speak), a relationship level (how you feel towards who you’re speaking to) and an appeal level (what you want from the listener).

In interpersonal communication there’s always someone who listens and someone who expresses themselves. To describe communication that is marred by misunderstandings on the four levels we talked about, Schulz von Thun describes the following scene as an example.

Situation Example

A man and a woman sitting having dinner. The man sees capers in the sauce and asks, “What’s the green in the sauce?” He means on the different levels:

Factual level: There is something green there.

Self Revelation: I do not know what it is.

Relationship: You will know.

Appeal: Tell me what it is.

Yet, the woman understands the man on the different levels slightly differently:

Factual level: There is something green there.

Self Revelation: I don’t like the food.

Relationship: You are a miserable cook!

Appeal: Next time leave out the green!

 So, she replies irritably: “My God, if you don’t like it here, you can go and eat somewhere else!”

(see: Four sides model)

Knowledge and Non-Knowledge

We can’t know what our customers need us to unless they tell us explicitly. Therefore we must remain attentive at all times: What was said, how was it said and what was left out? It’s precisely what’s not said that’s of particular importance.

In business communications, each of the four sides of this communication square don’t always play an obvious role. So reading (or listening!) between the lines is essential in order to correctly assess each situation and understand the project requirements.

If we want to maintain a good business relationship, we have to be aware that there are other levels, apart from the purely factual, on which communication takes place in a very special, uniquely human way.

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to communication between client and contractor, but also within the hierarchy of every individual company: across departments, in teams and even between colleagues.

What Level Are We At?

By being aware of each of these different levels of communication, we can prevent unnecessary misunderstandings like the above example.

Particularly in the case of negative feedback, how we take in what’s said and react to such feedback can be impacted by our perception of the intentions of the speaker, our relationship to them and what they want from us. If, for example, the factual level is mixed up with the relationship level, problems can arise. The old adage ‘never mix business with pleasure’ didn’t come out of nowhere!

The way someone communicates is as unique as the person themselves and their mother tongue. In international business, differing cultures, acceptable professional behaviour, as well as, social expectations are increasingly coming into play every day (as if communication wasn’t already complex enough).

In summary, successful communication can be a challenge. But hardly anything is as satisfying as understanding others and being understood. It’s definitely worth the effort!

Listening is an art. So is Translation management. We do both.

Would you like to discover more about the innovative translation management process that makes DIE ÜBERSETZUNGSAGENTUR one of the leading language service providers?

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Christian Faust


Christian is a state-certified expert translator and has been working as a freelancer in the translation industry for over 30 years.

His clients include well-known companies in commerce and industry, all of whom rely on his expertise and experience.

His passion is to leverage innovation in the translation industry and create valuable services that benefit his clients. He did exactly this when he developed LoLa, MAeX® ️ & CO.

He particularly relishes hearing the words: “We always do it that way!” in consultations. 😅

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