So trainieren Sie Ihre Schlagfertigkeit

Immer wenn wir uns von einem Kommunikationspartner unfair behandelt fühlen, sei es durch einen Einwand oder ein Argument, das uns sprachlos macht, wünschen wir uns eines: Schlagfertigkeit, um den anderen ebenso „kalt“ und unvorbereitet zu erwischen. In diesem Artikel erfahren Sie, wie Sie diese Fähigkeit schulen können.

Einer der schlagfertigsten Politiker der Neuzeit war Winston Churchill. Und eines der beliebtesten Zitate, das die oben beschriebene Situation genau trifft, ist das folgende:


Lady Nancy Astor: “Winston, if you were my husband, I‘d poison your tea.” Churchill: “Nancy, if I were your husband, I‘d drink it.” 

„Ja, ja, ja,“ möchten wir rufen, „genau!“ Treffender geht es nicht. Er schlägt die Nörglerin mit ihren eigenen Waffen, pardon, mit ihrem eigenen Tee.

Schlagfertig kontern

Unfortunately not everybody is born to be quick-witted. Some people are really quick thinkers, others are not. Those of us who need a bit longer to work out a witty reply have to put some more effort into the matter.

Schneller denken lernen

You risk appearing slow and stupid if you try to be quick-witted without it coming naturally, so don’t try it, stay calm and wait until something appropriate comes to mind before you make your reply. And stay on the factual level.

Insider tip from your British editor Maureen Brown

Don’t try to be quick witted if you need to practice it first. Because it will frustrate you if your attempts fail. And if you need good comebacks at once, look at our selection at the end of this article. And find ways to modify them for your needs. 

Don’t neglect the training aspect. It will help your thinking abilities in other respects too. 

Konkrete Trainingsmöglichkeiten

One of the best training methods is to look at how the specialists handle the subject: Read their books or at least their quotes, watch films of the masters and put some research into it.

Some of these masters are:

1. Winston Churchill
2. Mark Twain
3. George Bernard Shaw
4. Groucho Marx
5. Margaret Thatcher

There are many more.

Exercise: Meister der Schlagfertigkeit

Just start an online research of the above mentioned names and select one short witty quote from each person which might fit as a comeback and write them down.

1. :::::_
2. :::::_
3. :::::_
4. :::::_
5. :::::_

Sie möchten mehr über Kommunikation am Arbeitsplatz erfahren? Dann ist möglicherweise das Seminar „Gesprächsführung im Namen des Chefs“ genau das Richtige für Sie. Dort geht es um Gesprächstechniken, Selbst- und Fremdwahrnehmung, Einsatz von Stimme und Körper und auch um die nonverbale Kommunikation. Schauen Sie doch einfach einmal in unseren Online-Bereich:

If you have a favourite (BE)/ favorite (AE) ready witted writer or actor collect their quotes and try to figure out how they are structured.

When you look at our quotes in the answer key you will see that they follow distinct structures. And if you try to imitate them with your own ideas you will learn to think faster.

Verschiedene Grundmuster

How do the famous authors produce their witty remarks? Let’s find it out!

Winston Churchill
The famous politician uses three steps:
1. He agrees with his opponent, “Yes, Madam, I am drunk,”
2. points out the consequence for himself, “but in the morning I shall be sober”, which appears to support the opponent as he admits to be drunk, only then to follow it up with the sardonic comment,
3. “and you will still be ugly.” In the third step he turns the initial rebuke around against all expectations. Possible expectations could have been: “and be able to work again” or “so don’t worry about my drinking”. This evokes laughter.

Mark Twain
This brilliant writer has a famous saying:
1. “All good things arrive unto them that wait”, an absolute positive message
2. and contrasts it with a negative and exaggerated statement: “and don’t die in the meantime.” This shows the absurdity of the situation and produces humour (BE)/humor (AE).

George Bernard Shaw
The famous author uses a quote from the bible (1 Timothy 6:10):
1. Which everybody knows, even if the source is unknown, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,”
2. and exchanges “love” with “lack”, “Lack of money is the root of all evil.” This changes the original meaning completely. Some listeners will find this twist hilarious, some bible lovers may not.

Groucho Marx
A member of the Marx brothers and a master of absurd humour uses the tool of contrast as well:
The statement “No man goes before his time” sounds severe and almost ceremonial. It raises the listener’s expectation, which is disappointed by the very every-day continuation “unless the boss leaves early.”

Insider tip from your American editor Ulrike Rudolph

You know such constructions quite well from Germany: “Der frühe Vogel fängt den Wurm” can be transformed to “Der frühe Vogel kann mich mal”. The meaning of the first saying changes completely, it turns into the contrary. 

Margaret Thatcher
“The Iron Lady” was famous for her straightforwardness. The quote is a nice example and the listener’s expectations immediately plummet – especially if they are a man:
1. “If you want something said, ask a man.” The listener agrees and expects a positive continuation on what a man might do. But she then contrasts the first part with.
2. “If you want something done, ask a woman.”

So we can say that the above mentioned remarks use the “contrast” tool to produce a humorous finale which may, or may not, disappoint the listener.

That is the high art of quickwittedness: to stay humorous, tactful and diplomatic without insulting the opponent. (All right, the Churchill remark is not tactful at all and it insults the lady. But she started it all with her malicious remark! So Churchill’s remark may hurt her feelings, but it will make the other listeners beam with mischievous joy.)

Tipps für den „Life Act”

As the Churchill example shows, the risk of appearing offensive is quite high. You have to keep this in mind when you chose your words or sayings for quickwitted replies.

1. Bleiben Sie auf der Sachebene

  • Forget about personal dislike. Stay on the factual level and focus on your goals.
  • Stay calm and controlled.
  • If you know you tend to get angry, practice looking calm, friendly and amused in front of a mirror. Smile, you know that a smile can be heard even over the phone. A smile can make a harsh remark sound less insulting.
  • Don’t ponder on your opponent’s insults and what might be behind them but focus on your subject and a quick-witted reply.

2. Spielen Sie das Spiel
Try to look at the situation as a play. Enjoy the spirit of the confrontation and act according to your quick-witted training. Is there a fitting reply you can use? Use it! Don’t hesitate.

3. Reiten Sie das Pferd nicht zu Tode
After you have fired your remark at your opponent use the time he needs to recover to follow your golden thread and expand on your new-found talent. Reach your goal.

Bear in mind that you need to respect the other person, even if he or she has been acting really mean. Quick-wittedness is only one strategy for responding to unfair or sarcastic communication. But the main goal of any communication should remain: Reach goals and agree on the steps.


“No one can insult me without my permission.”

Eleonore Roosevelt 

Starten Sie Ihre Sammlung

If you want to improve your quick-witted skills it’s a good idea to prepare a database. Collect remarks and quotes and organise them according to subjects and how they relate to your own needs.

As your purpose is not a special author’s quotation database you could organise it alphabetically in keywords.

Weitere Trainingsmöglichkeiten

There are other training areas for quick wittedness, for example analysing (BE)/ analyzing (AE) jokes.

Peter: Last night I had to open the door in my pyjamas.
Dan: That’s a funny place for a door!
How does it work?
It is a misunderstanding, which can easily be produced.

Customer: Waiter, there’s a bee in my meal.

Waiter: Yes, Ma’am, it’s the fly’s day off. How does it work? The waiter takes the perspective you don’t expect: Not the customer’s, but the fly’s.

Train your skills and bear in mind that humour is an important part of quickwittedness. You can train to react quickly but in a friendly way to reach your goals.

Some people may call that quick-wittedness, but in our opinion that has nothing to do with repartee in a positive sense.

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