Application of Watzlawick’s axioms to conversation

Research Paper (undergraduate) 2008 4 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Topic: Miscellaneous


Natalie Züfle ICC

Task: Check the websites of your news-channel or go to www.youtube.com. Look for any short video of a conversation in your own language and place it on blackboard. Write down in a few words what they are talking about and try to apply Watzlawick’s axioms to the conversation (not more than 500 words).

The current international financial crisis has severe effects on the German economy, the state being obliged to tackle those problems. Subsequently, I will summarize a short ARD-interview between the mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, and Werner Sonne, who is moderating this talk. Afterwards, I will apply Watzlawick’s 5 Axioms of Communication to this conversation.

Abstract – Interview about financial crisis

The interlocutors are talking about a soon to be passed bill within the governmental auxiliary package. This bill will primarily help the ailing banking sector. However, the majority of the burden shall bear the federal states, which from Wowereit’s point of view is not equitable. The moderator wants to learn from Wowereit, why the federal states don’t agree with taking over the bulk of the burden. Wowereit explains that the states were virtually overrun by the government, finding everything ready without any leeway left for the federal states. In principle, he argues, the states should account for their mistakes, but also refers to federal responsibilities in terms of contributing. Wowereit criticizes the bill’s unilateral share to the detriment of the federal states, fearing that it would overburden them. Financial policy, he claims, is also a federal affair. Nevertheless, he is confident that the states will find an appropriate solution in the upcoming discussions with Chancellor Merkel.

Watzlawick’s 5 Axioms of Communication

Watzlawick’s theory is based on 5 axioms, allowing conclusions on the quality of a conversation.

1. One Cannot Not Communicate (Watzlawick et al., 50).

People constantly communicate, even without words. In this case, moderator and interviewee communicate first and foremost through words, but nevertheless also via light nonverbal signals (gestures and mimics), like a continuously mutual eye contact, the moderator’s light gesticulations and Wowereit’s heightened tone when stressing certain words.

2. Messages Have Both Content and Relational Meaning. The latter classifies the former and is therefore a metacommunication (ibid, 50).

Content: the data/facts which are transferred, particularly by Wowereit (who speaks most of the time): they give information e.g. about the proposed bill or how much money he intends to pay for the Berlin Landesbank (6-8 billion Euro).

Relation: this aspect “involves information about how each communicator is perceiving his or her current interaction” (Thomlison 2000). A lot is transferred via nonverbal messages, but also through words. We can say that the relationship between both interlocutors relates to business, is rather distanced and marked by a sober and respectful atmosphere. The moderator’s voice is calm, he uses only few gestures, doesn’t ask very provocatively, nor interrupt Wowereit. He keeps eye contact, i.e. he is attentive and shows an interest in the transferred statements by Wowereit. Likewise Wowereit has a calm tone, keeps eye contact.

3. The meaning of Messages Depends on its Punctuation (ibid, 59).

One could argue that Wowereit (calmly) replies to the moderator’s calmly asked, unprovocative questions (= Wowereit’s punctuation), while the moderator listens, shortly recapitulates Wowereit’s statements in order to formulate his next questions, resting upon Wowereit’s statements (= moderator’s punctuation). Both communicators react on each other’s behaviour, thus in turn influencing each other in his behaviour.

4. Messages Include Both Digital and Analogic Coding (ibid, 66-67).

Digital (spoken language): Wowereit uses the digital code of words by telling e.g. that he will pay 6-8 billion Euros for the Landesbank. He shares information about objects.

Analogic (generally nonverbal behaviour, emotions): e.g. Wowereit telling how much he will pay for the Landesbank by stressing the number of 6-8 billion Euro through his intonation and a determined facial expression.

5. A Transaction is Either Symmetrical or Complementary (ibid, 70).

Complementary: differences in roles with consequences for communication behaviour. In this case only sometimes and very light, when the moderator as leading person guides the conversation and decides through his questions, what to talk about.

Symmetrical: communicators on the same level. Both listen to the other while talking, mirror each other’s behavioural patterns, thus minimizing differences. The pattern of this relationship is predominantly symmetrical.

To conclude: With regard to the above conversation it can be concluded that disturbances do not prevail. The communication is balanced, and thus working successfully.



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Free University of Berlin – Center for Global Politics
intercultural communication Watzlawick axioms of communication



Title: Application of Watzlawick’s axioms to conversation