Successful communication: 5 axioms

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Louise Hay
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Successful communication: 5 axioms

Last update: May 07, 2020

Paul Watzlawick was the Austrian psychologist and researcher who proposed the five fundamental axioms for successful communication. He is considered one of the most important contemporary theorists of communication and has also made a great contribution to applied psychotherapy.

In 1967 Paul Watzlawick began working on successful communication. He thought that this aspect was fundamental for understanding and improving human relationships, especially in the family. He therefore elaborated five axioms, collectively known as the "theory of human communication".



The belief that the reality that everyone sees is the only reality is the most dangerous of all illusions.

-Paul Watzlawick-

Paul Watzlawick was also a very prolific writer, having published 18 books and around 150 academic articles. He conducted his research at the Mental Research Institute of the University of Palo Alto, California, and was also a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University.

We present his five axioms and also the fundamental principles that according to this intellectual lie at the basis of successful communication.

Paul Watzlawick's 5 axioms for successful communication

It is impossible not to communicate

The first axiom of Watzlawick's theory states that it is impossible not to communicate. All human beings communicate from birth. Nobody can escape this; even if we don't speak, our body will always say something.

The look, the posture, the expression of the face and of the body are ways to express our thoughts. Silence or stillness are also ways of communicating a message. In light of this, we can say that communication is inherent in the human being.


Content, relationship and punctuation

Watzlawick's second axiom states that all communication develops on two levels: one concerns the content, the other the relationship. In other words, a message acquires its meaning thanks to what is said, but also thanks to the bond between the people who communicate. Calling "stupid" can be an offense, a joke, or even a manifestation of affection. It all depends on the context.


The third axiom, on the other hand, speaks of punctuation or the way in which communication between two people flows or blocks. Each of the parties contributes to give continuity, to modulate or to broaden the exchange produced by the communication.

Analogue and digital communication - Symmetrical and complementary

Paul Watzlawick's fourth axiom states that there are two types of communication: digital (or verbal) and analog (or non-verbal). Consequently, not only what is said has weight, but also the way in which it is said. This constitutes the complete message.

Finally, the fifth axiom states that communication can be symmetrical or complementary. Symmetrical communication develops between two peers, complementary communication develops vertically, that is, between those who have the power and those who do not.

Successful communication

these five axioms allowed Watzlawick to establish the parameters to define a successful communication process; this occurs when the axioms work as they should and when the parties involved manage to tune into themes and tones.

In particular, we talk about successful communication when it meets the following criteria:

  • The code is correct. This means that the message is said or expressed with words or expressions that make it clear exactly what one wants to say. A declaration of love, for example, is not made through an equation.
  • Alterations in the code within the channel are avoided. In other words, we avoid giving space to imprecise expressions, words or gestures in favor of precision.
  • The recipient's situation is taken into account. When we say something, the characteristics and the situation of those who will listen or read are taken into consideration. For example, you don't talk to an adult like you talk to a child.
  • It is analyzed in the context of communication. The big picture is taken into account. This means making sure that the communication is consistent with the situation.
  • Punctuation is well defined. This means that communication occurs at an adequate pace. Pauses are alternated with expressive manifestations of the parties involved and in the right tone.
  • Digital communication matches analog communication. This means that verbal language is consistent with non-verbal language.
  • The sender has a good recipient. This means that the parties involved know how to communicate, but also to listen.

Paul Watzlawick argued that communication fails when the people involved cannot deviate from their point of view during the exchange of words. In that case, listening stops and the result is that understanding becomes impossible.



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