Quick wit: 10 perfect counters

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“When my colleague threw that at me, I was speechless at first. I really want to practice my repartee,” Martin explains. “I felt powerless and void. I would have loved to sink into the ground

.” The colleague had simply said after Martin’s presentation, “What was that, please?”

Martin could not find a suitable answer to this quickly. He was aware that he had indeed delivered a weak presentation. The preparation time had been too short. Nevertheless, he had not expected this attack. From the life coach, therefore, he wants a tool with which he can perfectly counterattack in the future, preferably at every opportunity. He also wants to improve his communication skills in general and work on his self-worth.


Blog overview

1) Analysis Life Coach
2) What is repartee?
3) Concrete defense phrases that increase repartee.
4) The high art of repartee – Frank Zappa and Winston Churchill


Analysis Life Coach

At the beginning of the session, we jointly define the topics and the goals. We work out the topics: Self-esteem, beliefs and repartee, accompanied by exercises on body language and rhetoric.



On the subject of self-worth, I notice that Martin is generally very sensitive to being criticized at work. He has very high expectations of himself and derives his self-worth almost exclusively from his performance. Only by doing so does he think he will get the recognition he so desperately needs to feel valuable and happy. If this praise and recognition failed to materialize, a change of profession would be the only way out for him.

During coaching, Martin deals with the topic of self-worth for the first time. He understands that you don’t have to accomplish anything to be valuable. This new mindset gives him courage. His self-worth increases visibly as soon as we start to work out his real values and strengths.



Soon Martin comes upon a set of perfectionist beliefs that have a demanding nature. It is precisely these beliefs that put him under pressure. We manage to reformulate them beliefs and most importantly find appreciative examples. This boosts his motivation to stay on the topic and gives him a sense of self-determination and freedom.


Defense techniques

Now that some problems have been overcome, we can work on Martin’s main topic, repartee, after a short time. We start with posture and a special breathing technique to calm down. After that, we work out fictional scenarios in some role plays.

Martin, who is a classic conflict avoider, learns to counter more and more cleverly and cool. In the end, he even enjoys it and still signs up for the workshop. He sees the group situation as a new and exciting challenge. Above all, he would like to continue working on his body language in the workshop and is looking forward to the feedback of the others.



Martin’s example shows that it is often insufficient to simply fire off a memorized defensive technique. This does not look authentic. It is important to first find out why someone reacts with faintness or anger, for example. Only when these reasons are disclosed can you really counter with confidence and authenticity.


What is repartee?



A quick-witted person is one who responds to a verbal attack quickly, confidently, accurately – and, in the best case, humorously.

Verbal attacks almost always come unprepared, which is why it’s so hard to respond quickly, stay poised, and not lose your sense of humor. Answering quickly is important because otherwise the effect will fizzle out.

Remaining confident means speaking in a calm voice and matching facial expressions and body language. Showing humor, however, requires some practice. In any case, it is clear that repartee can be learned. But how is it that we are usually speechless at first?

The fight-or-flight response

Those who do not possess repartee usually react helplessly to verbal attacks. If such an attack occurs, the stress level rises. The body reacts immediately, the heart races, the pupils are dilated and the muscles tense. Psychology calls this a so-called fight-or-flight response. It causes it to become impossible to think or act clearly. The brain is blocked. What remains is powerlessness and the feeling of being overwhelmed.


Relax and answer briefly for beginners

In the event of a verbal attack, it is therefore important to first take a breath and get ready for a minimal defense. This requires courage especially from people who are a bit shy. In the first place, what you say is not that important. Rather, it’s about something being said, ideally said calmly. First of all, an “okay” or an “interesting” is enough. Once the body has calmed down further, a more meaningful sentence can follow, such as, “What do they mean by that?” or, “What is the reason they are trying to insult me?”


Concrete defense sentences that increase repartee

If you want to train your repartee, you can fall back on certain rehearsed phrases. The following always applies in any case: first take a breath and stay calm. With a well thought-out response, clear limits are placed on the attacker. This is how you increase your own self-confidence and raise your self-worth.


10 counters that always work

For example, if someone accuses you of being “incompetent,” here are some ways to counter:


Simple counter

1) “What do you/what do you mean by that?” – The other person must first explain himself.
2) “What do you/what do you mean by incompetent?” – Again, the other person has to explain themselves and you gain time.
3) “That’s your/your opinion!” – A somewhat defensive answer, but almost always applicable.
4) “Thank you for the feedback.” – This response comes across as confident when delivered calmly.


Counterattacks that require more courage

5) “How can you/do you judge?” – This is a strong attack. The other must explain himself clearly.
6) “So, now I’m speechless for a while.” – This reaction also comes across as confident if it is delivered calmly.
7) “Perhaps you would like to explain your opinion in more detail?” – This sentence also lends itself to a discriminatory remark.


Daring counterattack with irony

8) “And now?” – An elegant counter, usually followed by silence, which you have to be able to endure.
9) “Interesting point of view!” – A somewhat absurd, but surprising reaction.
10) “That’s putting it mildly!” – This can be followed by an exaggeration.


The high art of repartee – Frank Zappa and Winston Churchill

Quick wit can be ironic and humorous without being directly offensive. One example is the exchange of words between Frank Zappa and a conservative politician and injured war veteran that happened on television in the seventies. Obviously, the politician was out to insult the philosophical and witty Frank Zappa, who, however, did not put up with it:


Politician: “You have long hair. Are you possibly a woman?”

Frank Zappa: You have a wooden leg. Are you possibly a table?”


However, repartee can also come across as funny and be sarcastic and insulting at the same time. An example is Winston’s Churchill’s retort when a lady at a party reproached him for his drunkenness:

Lady Astor: “You are drunk, sir.”

Winston Churchill: “Yes, madam, that’s right. And you are ugly. I, however, will be sober again tomorrow.”

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