What are the axioms of reality

Basic assumptions about communication

According to Paul Watzlawick, the basic assumptions (axioms) about the success and about disruptions in communication are provisional formulations that can be understood by themselves.
They mark the importance of the relationship side in communication. They also show that the partners usually live in constructed realities "invented" by themselves (constructivism) and in which different modalities communication takes place.

In addition, the following explanations, in which we will try to deal with typical school situations.

As we already know, communication means not only exchanging or transmitting information, but also making contact with one another, communicating and understanding one another.
Communication is not only about content, but also about appeals and relationships. Systematic and at the same time systemic, i.e. based on the assumption that we live and communicate in self-constructed and relatively fixed systems, the research group has dealt with such questions Paul Watzlawick in the well-known and at the time revolutionary book "Human communication, forms, disorders, paradoxes" dealt with.
Watzlawick and his co-authors are psychotherapists and as such are particularly familiar with problems of human communication.

You have made five plausible assumptions, so-called axioms, about communication (processes) (all expressions in brackets are additions by the authors of the program):



1. Axiom
" You can not communicate"

One cannot not communicate means, on the one hand, that in our human society it is not possible to evade contact with the other, communication as such. Where it happens or is forced, the
social death one. In the extreme case, as has been shown by experiments from earlier times, also the physical death.

For the individual situation, however, the axiom also means that even if someone refuses to communicate (stubborn silence, no acceptance of the conversation offer, some pupils in the class are often "left behind" who "disengage" because they don't come with you, for example), but communication takes place ("I don't want to, I can't (now)!").

Watzlawick and others have a very broad concept of communication, as we shall see later.

2nd axiom
"Every communication has a content and a relational aspect in such a way that the latter determines the former and is therefore a metacommunication."

This axiom is a very important one because it overrides our usual assumption that communication is essentially the conveyance of information and overrides the relationship aspect "over" the content aspect.

For the purpose of concretization, the next unit will use the keyword Message square will be explained in more detail.


With everything we say, it becomes clear what relationship we have with the recipient.
The relationship aspect in communication provides information on how to understand the content. Even if we only talk about facts, we are at the same time defining - and cannot fail to - our relationship with the other person. The way we ask or speak (tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures) will express our attitude towards others.

It is also clear that we do most of our lives, also in our professional and business life, in a relationship-driven manner.
For example, we prefer to attend a lecturer's event because we like her, even if we know that we can learn at least as much from the less likable lecturer.

Compassion is always relationship-based.
The relationship between pupils and teachers can have a significant impact on their attitudes towards the subject (favorite or hated subject) and thus also their career and life plans. You should and must talk about this with students (meta-communication). If there is a risk that relationship disorders at school will impede the conveyance of content, these conflicts can often be resolved through metacommunication. We have to learn that we have to "go through" any dysfunctional relationships in order to change them. Recognizing and talking about relationship disorders is very important.

3rd axiom
"The nature of a relationship is determined by the punctuation of the communication processes on the part of the partners".

The axiom shows that we live in a constructed reality.
The thesis of the punctuation of sequences of events, advocated by Watzlawick and others, was the starting point for radical constructivism, which is advocated by many sociologists, philosophers, psychologists and communication scientists.
Constructivism means that people form their reality on the basis of personal, subjective experiences and judgments, and then consider them to be "true".This "subjective" reality, which we consider objective at the same time, then determines our further action. According to Watzlawick, we construct our reality as punctuation of sequences of events, i.e. we attach particular importance (arbitrarily, but often in the best faith) to certain events, viewing them to a certain extent as a cause, an occasion for further events that follow for us from them.

Watzlawick and others give a famous example of punctuation from the field of partner relationships:
A married couple has a constant quarrel. She, the wife keeps nagging at her husband, the husband withdraws and she nags.

This results in the following circular conflict pattern (oscillation):

Both interpret their behavior as a reaction to the behavior of the other, they punctuate these sequences of events in such a way that the actions of the other are taken as the cause of their own actions:

She assumes she's nagging because he's pulling away

He assumes he's pulling out because she's nagging.

The search for the guilty party ("You are to blame!") Leads the partner into a hopeless situation in which, for example, everyone assumes that everyone has a lack of insight or even malice.

We know such situations from our own life, we also know that sometimes the "question of guilt" is deliberately manipulated, e.g. in political disputes of the type "You have / He started!" And this situation "He started!" We now also know from the school yard or in classroom situations:

Another example from school:

Bad atmosphere in a school class, the teacher scolds a lot, the students are listless.

The teacher:

"Because you are so apathetic and listless, I have to grumble a lot."

The students:

"Because he is always" complaining ", we don't feel like taking part anymore."

Usually such investigations into the question of guilt are pointless and do not help at all. Experienced teachers unconsciously or consciously reject this. Often the only sensible concept for resolving such conflicts is to "get out":
"I stop and you stop at the same time."

Such punctuation conflicts "without beginning or end" often determine the great politics: The murderous arms race in the times of the Cold War was one such example.

Schulz von Thun speaks of the fact that the question of the beginning is just as impossible to answer as the question of whether the chicken or the egg came first.

A joint conversation about how to deal with each other should therefore not ask the question of the beginning or who is to blame, but should aim to recognize the common game and to make new agreements:

"So and so we do it with each other, everyone reacts to the other and then influences him again. What can we do, how can we change so that living together will be satisfactory for everyone in the future?
(Compare Schulz von Thun 1981: p.87)

4th axiom
"Human communication uses digital and analog modalities.
Digital communications have complex and varied logical syntax, but inadequate semantics in the field of relationships.
Analog communications, on the other hand, have this semantic potential, but lack the logical syntax required for unambiguous communication ".

In the axiom about the modalities of communication, the broad concept of communication that goes beyond the purely linguistic concept emerges clearly.

In addition to speaking to one another, body language, gestures and facial expressions, body posture, the way of speaking and the entire other context must also be taken into account, whereby it is precisely the non-linguistic analog elements that are semantic and thus the relationship statements.
The consideration of this analog communication serves for a better interpretation of the content-related, linguistic statement. We are warned by the fact that it sometimes contradicts what has been said: tortured laughter, wild threats with a shy posture, anxious tone of voice in a negotiation, etc.

Watzlawick et al. Write:

  • "Children ... have long been attributed a special intuition for the sincerity or falsehood of human attitudes; because it is easy to affirm something with words, but difficult to also communicate a sincerity in an analogically credible way. A gesture or an expression tells us more about how someone else thinks of us than a hundred words. " (Watzlawick, Paul; Beavin; Jackson: 2000, p.64)

When dealing with other people, but especially with children and adolescents, we should therefore observe the following:

  • Verbal and non-verbal communication should complement one another and not contradict one another.
  • When looking for identity, adolescents depend on information from their closest caregivers - and they are good observers.
  • The verbal and (predominantly) non-verbal (analog) relationship messages that adolescents receive from their caregivers (and thus also their teachers) in addition to the content of a statement, fundamentally shape their self-concept and are decisive for their entire personality development.

5th axiom
"Interpersonal communication processes are either symmetrical (equivalent) or complementary (complementary), depending on whether the relationship between the partners is based on equality or difference".

The statement on the social symmetry of Watzlawick, his colleagues and many other sociologists / psychologists (as the more recommendable social relationship and form of interaction) and on complementarity (as the less recommendable social relationship and form of interaction) is too undifferentiated because, among other things, social inequality or equality with the management of communicative interactions can be merged too quickly. That needs to be explained:

1. Between the appearance of a possibly. Even institutional social relationship, the z. B. based on equality or inequality and leadership in communicative interactions often makes a difference.

A patient who is in a dependent relationship with the hospital staff (he is existentially dependent on their support) can certainly take over the management of communication. As a patient he can always make demands (he "tyrannizes" the staff as we say and thus dominates them). The social relationship and the current communication structure do not match.
Further examples are, for example, most question-and-answer communications: the questioner "complains" to a certain extent for the answer, but at the same time indicates that he does not know the answer and is "dependent" on the question. A similar case is the request, which contains both a declaration of dependency and a coercion.

2. We live in a multitude of social relationships and roles in which we alternate between symmetry and complementarity, in some cases these are given by institutions or by social contexts.

Nobody would think, for example, that the road user is constantly "inferior" to the police officer. Perhaps he will teach him judo in the evening as a trainer in a club, whereby the police officer then has to follow the trainer's instructions and is inferior to him in a very "palpable way".
Complementarity by no means always means inferiority or always passivity: You can also work well together (complementing each other in the respective abilities): this is how people in a democratic society should above all work together.

Watzlawick and co-workers write (ibid. P.70)
"It is not that one partner forces a complementary relationship on the other; rather, both behave in a way that presupposes the certain behavior of the other, but at the same time also conditions it."

In short: there is actually only one-sided complementarity or (pathological) symmetry, e.g. rivalry or blind competition, in distorted social and communication relationships. The constant change and a certain balance in the social and communication relationships provide stability.


3. The term "pathological symmetry" now leads us to the subject of the arms race and this case is discussed in detail by Watzlawick and others:
The arms race between the great powers and their respective allies in the Cold War was a typical case of pathological symmetry, in which escalation and disputes with dangerous consequences prevailed and threatened.

In pursuit of a stubborn concept of equality and equality on both sides, in dangerous punctuation of sequences of events "I am arming, because you are (having) armed (s) t" tried to always be something "equal than equal" to be. This behavior developed a dynamic that could hardly be controlled and ended with the defeat of a state structure (the Soviet Union and its allies) but also with the partial devastation of the livelihoods of the other "partner" (the Americans and their allies), cf. the mountain of debt left by the Cold War in the west, the devastation of large areas by nuclear radiation, a misaligned economy, etc.

4. But not only in the symmetry there is pathological elimination but also in the area of ​​complementarity:
If complementarity is perceived as superior vs. inferior and becomes the determining self-image / external image, a dangerous and unstable social relationship arises:

The "strong" becomes stronger and stronger, the "weak" weaker and weaker and at some point the stronger feels such a relationship as boring / uninteresting, the weaker it as unbearable, and this relationship is "settled" by giving up or revolting.

The somewhat one-sided description of symmetry and complementarity in the work of Watzlawick et al. - based on experiences from disturbed relationships between clients - needs to be corrected by the "normal" or "ideal": a wealth of different relationships, complementary and symmetrical, and a more realistic content of these terms such as "complement each other" or "vie" makes people's lives rich and balanced, and it is wrong to think (only) in the categories of victory or defeat, above or below, fight or task .

1.4 Watched the people on the mouth 1.6 The four sides of a message