Nail Someone
With a Witty Comeback

It's a horrible situation and it can happen to you anywhere. Maybe at work, in a conference room full of colleagues. Maybe at a bar, surrounded by your buzzed buddies. Or at a slightly uncomfortable dinner table at a family gathering. Someone cuts you with a snide comment and in a desperate attempt to save face, you stammer out a lame attempt at a response but fail. Then, hours later (after replaying the altercation in your head a few times) it hits you—the perfect thing you should've said. That feeling sucks, right?

Hopefully, you don't pull a Costanza and try to re-create the same circumstances, in the vain hope that you'll get the chance to use your biting comeback. Because that'd be even more lame. You see, a truly clever comeback can't really be planned. They can only be made in the moment, as noted by the BBC recently which quoted a famous retort by Winston Churchill. Lady Astor told the British statesman, "If I was your wife, sir, I would poison your coffee." To which Churchill cooly replied, "If I was your husband, I'd drink it."

Thankfully, a tip from the world of improv acting will help even the most awkward among us create comebacks on the fly. What you need to do is focus—really focus—on what the other person is saying. The reason, the BBC explained, is that focusing your attention keeps you from getting ahead of yourself. We often think faster than we can speak, meaning that while another person is talking, our brain is already forming responses.

In theory, such thinking preps you to respond, but really it inhibits us from fully digesting what the other person is saying. Which means you won't have a good comeback for the snide comment they throw your way. "Most of us don't listen to the whole message," says acting coach and improv performer Abigail Paul. "We are just waiting to make our own points." So the key to mastering the comeback is simply basic listening. What may've felt like a sharp response when the other person first started blabbing may not make as much sense by the time they stop talking. Listening closely ensures that you're mentally nimble enough to adjust your reply quickly. That way you'll never be caught verbally defenseless again.

Canned Comebacks

A few handy replies to rude comments, from a spirited folks on Reddit.

"I'm sorry for talking while you're interrupting. Please, you go first."

"Are you having a bad day?"

"I must decline a battle of wits with an unarmed opponent."