What Is Iceberg Theory – Definition and Examples

Wondering what the iceberg theory is all about? And why is it so important? In this blog you will learn the function of the iceberg theory in communication and what conflicts it contains. The iceberg theory is a well-known model. It aims to explain human communication.

About 20% of an iceberg is above the water and the remaining 80% is hidden below the water. It is the same with human communication. The conscious, visible level accounts for around 20% of communication. These are all the reasons and data that you convey to your interlocutor through words. The remaining 80% represent the unconscious, invisible level of relationships. This includes your feelings, your values ​​and your motives. They can be implied by facial expressions, gestures and voice, but the communication can never grasp all of these backgrounds. At the same time, of course, they influence communication.

Table of Contents

Factual and Relationship Level

You can use the iceberg theory to illustrate communication. There is a smaller visible part and a larger invisible part (relationship level).The following division is often chosen: 20% factual level and 80% relationship level. The division is often attributed to the theory. However, the 80/20 split between the factual level and the relationship level is not a sure limit, but an approximate guideline. Basically, it should be made clear that the non-visible relationship level has a much larger share than the visible level.

What Is Iceberg Theory Definition
What Is Iceberg Theory Definition

Communication Iceberg Theory

The iceberg theory makes it clear that only a small part of human communication takes place verbally – for example through spoken details and statements. A much larger part is non-verbal. Subliminal details come to the surface through facial expressions, gestures and voice. You can use the pitch and facial expressions to tell, for example, whether the other one is annoyed or having fun. The gesture shows you whether someone is more open-minded or reserved. At the same time, you can never grasp the entire relationship level of the interlocutor, since a large part does not even come to light.

Iceberg Theory Conflict

When you communicate with other people, misunderstandings and conflicts can arise, either on a factual or relationship level. Conflicts on the factual level arise, for example, when the one you are talking to misunderstands something or knows too few reasons about a topic. These conflicts can be easily resolved through attentive listening, questions and feedback.

It is more difficult with conflicts on the relationship level. For example, you have certain expectations towards your conversation. One reason for the dispute can also be role conflict, value conflicts like he has a funny idea about it anyway or relationship conflicts I don’t like him. You and your interlocutor can solve such conflicts through mutual understanding, through consideration and through empathy.

A conflict at the relationship level also always influences communication at the factual level. It is important for you to know that the conflicts and misunderstandings, sometimes almost invisible relationship level must also be resolved.


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