Paul Watzlawick

Paul Watzlawick ( born July 25, 1921 in Villach, Carinthia, † March 31, 2007 in Palo Alto, California ) was an Austrian-American communications scholar, psychotherapist, sociologist, philosopher and author. His work has had an impact on the family therapy and general psychotherapy. In the German-speaking world, he was known primarily for his popular science publications on communication theory and radical constructivism to a larger audience. He lived and worked in his adopted home California. He was and influential founding member of the PEN Club Liechtenstein and culturally engaged also in other contexts.


After reaching the Matura in 1939 in Villach, he studied philology and philosophy at the University of Venice. In 1949 he received his doctorate in philosophy in the tray. From 1951 to 1954 he completed his training in psychotherapy at C.-G. Jung Institute in Zurich, where he graduated with the analyst diploma.

In 1957 he received a professorship at the University of El Salvador, San Salvador. The Chair of psychotherapy he held until 1960. The focus of his research as a professor of psychotherapy were communication processes and systemic family therapy. The practical experience that led to the formulation of his theory of communication Watzlawick, he won in the study of communication in schizophrenic patients, mostly as members of normal or psychotic dysfunctional families were under his clinical observation or were in therapeutic treatment.

His systemic thinking he explained in an interview:

In 1960, Watzlawick was brought by Don D. Jackson as an employee in the Palo Alto group in Palo Alto, California, where Watzlawick was from then on worked as a research fellow at the Mental Research Institute. Decisive he developed with Gregory Bateson and other colleagues, the double bond theory. In 1967, Watzlawick also received a teaching position in the Department of Psychiatry at Stanford University. In 1987 he was co-founder of the PEN Club Liechtenstein.

Watzlawick made ​​significant contributions to radical constructivism. He also provided along with JH Beavin and Don D. Jackson acclaimed considerations for theorizing about communication.

2001 Watzlawick received the Honorary Award of the Viktor Frankl Foundation of the City of Vienna. He died in 2007 at the age of 85 years in his adopted hometown of Palo Alto from a serious illness.

For outstanding achievements in the communications sector of the Paul Watzlawick Prize is awarded in Austria. Watzlawick published 18 books that have been translated into 85 languages. In addition, he has written over 150 articles.

Communication Theory

Watzlawick developed a theory of communication that is based on five pragmatic axioms. This model was refined by the communication psychology and group dynamics on. The axioms apply in every situation lends itself to communication.

"One can not not communicate! "

As soon as two people perceive each other, they communicate with each other, because then every behavior has a communicative character. Watzlawick understands behavior of any kind as communication. Since behavior has no opposite, so you can not not behave, it is also impossible not to communicate. This axiom is also known as Metakommunikatives axiom. So we communicate nonverbally and unconsciously.

Content and relationship

"Every communication has a content and a relationship aspect, the latter determines the former. "

Each communication contains beyond the mere factual information ( content aspect ) also an indication of how the sender wants to have understood his message and how he sees his relationship with the recipient (relationship aspect). The content aspect, the "what" of a message is, the relationship aspect says something about how the sender this message would have understood by the recipient. The relationship aspect shows that emotional connection is set by a communication partner. It follows that the relationship aspect determines how the content should be interpreted. The nature of the relationship between two communication partners for mutual understanding of fundamental importance.

Communication can be achieved if they agree on the content and relationship aspect at both levels and both communication partners. You will fail if a communication partner sends different or contradictory messages, or if the other communication partner interprets one of the two aspects differently. A paradoxical communication style in the former sense in the parent-child relationship is as schizophrenogener factor of the so-called double bind considered.

Punctuation ( cause and effect)

" The nature of a relationship is due to the punctuations of the communication processes between the partners. "

Transmitter and receiver structure the communication flow differently and interpret their own behavior often only in response to the other, that is, the cause of your reaction is supplied pushed the other. Human communication is not resolvable in causal chains, it runs rather circular. No one can specify exactly " started " who really example, during an argument. Beginnings are only subjectively set as so-called " punctuation ".

The circumstance can change their position in the communication under the cause and effect is called interdependence. Successful communication takes place when both partners determine the cause and effect of the same facts and understand communication as a control loop. You will fail if the partners make to different points of the communications sequence an incision and say each for himself: "Here it started, this is the cause. "

Digital and analog

" Human communication uses digital and analog modalities. "

Not only the spoken word (usually digital communication ), but also the non-verbal expressions (eg, smile, look away ... ) to share something with. Digital communication has a complex and logical syntax but lacks in the area of ​​relations a semantics. The analog communication has such a semantic potential in the field of relationships, but lacks a syntax that can provide a clear definition of the nature of relationships. With analog elements, the relationship level is often teach with digital content level.

Communication succeeds if a match between analog and digital message and if the communication partners interpret both parts of the message in the same way. Communication fails if no match or are in any doubt one of the two embassies or if one or both messages are interpreted differently. If the analog and the digital statement match, the message is congruent. Particular problems arise from the fact that both levels can be ambiguous and must be interpreted by the communication partner.

Symmetrical or complementary

" Interpersonal communication processes are either symmetrical or complementary. "

Relationships between partners based on either equality or diversity. In complementary relationships complement different behaviors and determine the interaction process. The relationship basis exists here in the diversity of partners. Often this difference is expressed in a subordination, ie, one has the upper hand over the other. A symmetric form of relationship is distinguished in that the partners seek to minimize disparities among themselves ( striving for equality).

Too much of a good thing

Watzlawick Heraclitus' idea of ​​the " unity in diversity " of things - enantiodromia - picked up and pointed out that too much of a good thing always Envelopes into evil. Too much patriotism generating chauvinism, too much security -generating force. Watzlawick speaks in solutions (1974 ) of solutions of second order, if these behaviors are broken by alternatives or reduction.

Construction of Reality

Particularly well known the following example from the manual was to unhappiness. This Watzlawick describes a man who claps every ten seconds in the hands. After the reason for this strange behavior questioned, he explains: ". To scare away the elephants " In the note, there is here but no elephants, the man replies: "Well, that is! See " To Watzlawick wanted to show that the consistent attempt to avoid a problem - here: the confrontation with elephants - immortalized it in reality.

Awards (excerpt)

Works (selection)

  • With Janet H. Beavin, Don D. Jackson: Human Communication - forms, interference, paradoxes. Huber, Bern 1969 ( 12 unveränd. Edition 2011), ISBN 3,456,834,578th
  • By John H. Weakland, Richard Fisch: Solutions - On the theory and practice of human change. Huber, Bern 1974, ISBN 3-456-80038- X.
  • How real is reality - delusion, deception, understanding. Piper, Munich, 1976, ISBN 3-492-02182-4.
  • The possibility of otherness - The art of therapeutic communication. Huber, Bern 1977, ISBN 3-456-80433-4 ( reprint 2002, ISBN 978-3-456-83895-3 ).
  • Instructions for America - A disrespectful travel breviary. Piper, Munich, 1978, ISBN 3-492-02401-7.
  • The invented reality - how we know what we think we know? Piper, Munich, 1981, ISBN 3-492-02581-1.
  • Unhappiness. Piper, Munich, 1983, ISBN 3-492-02835-7.
  • From the good or bad Hecate solutions. Piper, Munich, 1986, ISBN 3-492-03085-8.
  • With Franz Kreuzer: Uncertainty of our reality - A conversation about constructivism. Piper, Munich, 1988, ISBN 3-492-20742-1.
  • Munchausen's Pigtail or Psychotherapy and "reality". Huber, Bern 1988, ISBN 3-456-81708-8.
  • From the nonsense of the meaning or the meaning of nonsense. Picus, Vienna 1992, ISBN 3-85452-315-7.
  • If you really loved me, you'd like to eat garlic - About the happiness and the construction of reality. Piper, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-492-04942-7.
  • One can not not communicate. Huber, Bern 2011, ISBN 978-3-456-85029-0.