HOW COMMUNICATION IMPACTS OUR RELATIONSHIPS AND MENTAL HEALTH

A communication model based on verbal cues and body language could help seafarers develop a stronger rapport with their crew or notice if a colleague is suffering from mental fatigue, anxiety or depression.

The Four Sides Model of Communication gives crew members from different countries and cultures a powerful tool to live and work harmoniously with one another, according to Sophia Onken, Partner and Clinical Psychologist at Mental Health Support Solutions (MHSS).

“Good communication comes from mutual respect and appreciation,” said Ms Onken (pictured), whose employer provides 24/7 professional mental health support to the shipping sector. Moreover, MHSS offers training programmes for building a strong rapport with colleagues and on communication, exploring how words, intonation and body language impact relationships with co-workers.

“How we communicate with one another shapes relationships,” Ms Onken added. “A lack of quality in those relationships can kill us faster than obesity or doing little-to-no exercise, according to the Mental Health Foundation.”

The model can also reveal how someone who appears happy and content but is struggling mentally truly feels. “How do we know what’s really going on inside someone’s head if they appear bright and happy?” Ms Onken said.

“This is where the communication model helps. You can develop a greater understanding of how someone feels or thinks through their words, tone, intonation and mannerisms. The model gives you the skills to reflect on any message you receive or send when speaking to a fellow mariner.”

German psychologist Friedemann Schulz von Thun created the model, which shows how every message we deliver when speaking to someone has four sides. Each communication has a sender (the person speaking) and receiver (the message recipient).

The four sides are:

1. The factual level – the ‘I inform’ side, where the sender provides statements, facts and news. Their job is to send the information clearly and understandably. The receiver, who hears the message in the ‘factual ear’, determines whether the information is true in terms of criteria, relevance and completeness.

2. The self-revealing – what someone reveals about themselves in their message. This communication comprises conscious, intended self-expression as well as unintended self-revealing, which the sender is not aware of. Any message reveals something about the sender’s personality. The ‘self-revealing ear’ of the receiver perceives which information from the sender is hidden within the message.

3. Relationship side – revealing how the sender gets on with the receiver and what they think of them. Body language and intonation will determine whether the sender is friendly and respectful towards the receiver or disinterested and possibly contemptuous. The recipient will either feel accepted or likely saddened depending on which message their ‘relationship ear’ detects.

4. The appeal – what the sender wants the receiver to do. This message has two outcomes: the receiver acts or decides to do nothing. The sender’s attempt to influence someone can be open (advice) or more subtle (hidden manipulation). When the message reaches the receiver’s ‘appeal ear’, they assess what to do, think or feel about the request or instruction.

“This model can help seafarers to understand what the person they’re communicating with wants to convey, both consciously and subconsciously, and whether the sender likes and respects them or not,” Ms Onken said. “Meanwhile, the sender can use the model to assess what they are communicating and how, through their words, body language and intonation.

“This understanding on both sides can lead to better, more positive communication and help resolve conflicts by highlighting any concerns or issues between the sender and the receiver.”

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