Slow Talk

Slow Talk

“Be slower than your emotions”

Slow Talk is a method to dramatically improve communication with a simple set of rules that are easy to grasp, easy to apply, and fun.


Why do debates with concrete topics often end without any tangible result? How can we fix this?

Generally, people stick to their reality model (also known as opinion, belief, conviction) and defend it. In most debates this results in participants throwing their arguments at each other like bananas, without any real understanding, let alone adjustment of their respective models. This is particularly bizarre because the official purpose of a debate is to improve those inner models.

Methods and theoretical frameworks meant to counteract this effect are legion. Slow Talk is one of them, with a very specific purpose.

Slow Talk is a framework that combines established tools and methods with some rather uncommon ideas that we have developed and tested in the past few years, on individual as well as company level. It is easy to learn, fun to use, and powerful if used properly.

Its purpose is to optimize performance and quality of debates that tackle complex issues and require a certain maturity level. The rules are simple, but the application is a character challenge. If done right, results are fantastic.


In almost any kind of debate, the greatest obstacle is the common inability to adjust or improve one’s own reality model by really listening and processing the exchanged information, no matter how convincing the arguments are. That is true particularly if emotions are triggered during the discourse. Emotions reduce any chance of truly listening and processing what the other says, let alone improve the own reality model, or even drop it.

This applies to public discussions, arguments with the partner, company meetings, and so on alike.

The format of most contemporary versions of discussion, talk, discourse, or interview has a set of specific problems that make them less than optimal (or even useless) for their main purpose: creating or improving knowledge and mutual understanding. In some (or all) political arenas (climate change, animal rights, capitalism, fascism, …) the ability to adjust one’s point of view or even admit the possible validity of other opinions is fundamentally blocked, which is fatal. 

Every observer (a person, an animal, an organisation, a company or any other entity that interacts with its complex environment) performs one basic operation when observing the environment1: it builds an internal model by reducing the complexity of what it observes

Even if reality was observable directly, it could never be processed fully by an observer. In fact, only a tiny fraction can be observed, and an even tinier fraction will be selected to be processed and turned into an inner model. It goes without saying that all models are wrong2. They may be better or worse and need to be put to the test to determine their quality. Biological evolution does this most ruthlessly and without any chance of self-deception – a bad model will kill an animal quickly, for instance if it doesn’t take a predator seriously enough. Software companies also need solid models, otherwise the software will not reflect the need to the company that ordered it. Models that are not tested – like most conspiracy myths – or those that write their own test – like many religions are often less solid than the former category.

Usually, when a model is build, people don’t base it on hard rational thinking but on their own preference, or on what makes them feel good3. This only sounds extreme because it does not exactly reflect our self image as incorruptible people.

The result of this all is that any kind of debate has severe issues built in.

Issues of current debate formats

  • Interviews and roundtables have quality issues because of
    • evasion of interviewee or dodging questions in case of
      • “doesn’t want to answer” for political reasons
      • simply “doesn’t know” and doesn’t want to admit it for political or ego reasons
    • lack of domain knowledge of interviewer (or on both sides)
    • not enough time to think about question, answer, reply and so on
    • not enough time to elaborate topics properly, or need to cover too many topics
    • uncontrolled emotions that “shut down” the participants
    • undetected whataboutisms, ad-hominems and jumps between levels or to meta level and other undetected logical fallacies
  • Written text, articles, books
    • mostly lack the “other” point of view (or exclude truly threatening views subconsciously)
    • may be “too long, didn’t read”
  • Forums occasionally go deeper but often don’t work because
    • of trolling (very low quality of a lot of text)
    • of misunderstanding (too few communication channels)
    • they appear to be slow by default but are not necessarily because in the moment of writing one may be fast, affected, or alone
    • intentionally slowing down is a collective effort
    • the medium (text only) is too limited to handle emotions properly
    • Most importantly: there is no slowing down in forums (slowing down is, strange as it may seem, a real time thing)
  • People stick to their reality model and defend it.
    • They rather look for confirmation of that model than have it challenged (this is called “confirmation bias”).
    • A challenge by another person usually leads to emotional resistance.
    • In many (public or private) debates or meetings, this effect thwarts progress based on an exchange of logical, rational arguments.
    • Adjusting that internal model by actually processing what the other has said requires a great level of maturity.
    • Admitting that change needs even more maturity.
  • Public debate is mainly about two things, one of which is predominant:
    • Emotional satisfaction
      • Not only the “games” part in “bread and games”, where hopefully your team and thus you wins, but also 
      • the feeling that justice is served when your guy crashes the other side,
      • and the confirmation that your prejudices, wishes, conceptions, inclinations, and the way you do complexity reduction and so on are right
    • Elaboration of a topic
      • Here, the people who debate really want to get a step further,
      • to learn new things,
      • to prove themselves wrong

It can be observed that the psychological state of people can in any given moment be located anywhere on a scale between being completely open (an extreme hardly ever achieved) and completely closed (the other extreme which is achieved more easily and regularly). It goes without saying that a certain openness is required for any kind of meaningful inter-human interaction. It is far easier for the average person to observe the level of openness in another person than in oneself. This depends on the level of cognitive empathy4 a person is capable of. The goal of any method that improves communication is to increase the level of openness in the participants.

Current solutions

There are many methods and theoretical frameworks that are meant to leverage this effect. Some of those methods are specific to certain areas of application (like: team meetings, interviews, moderated gatherings, therapy sessions, and so on). Common examples:

  • Nonviolent communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg
  • Thinking fast, thinking slow by Daniel Kahnemann
  • Liberating structures by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless
  • Many moderation and communication techniques, new and old, like Talking Stick, …
  • Most of those methods require a lot of practice, a deeper understanding, a professional level of moderation techniques.

Why another one?

Our goal is to design a method or a set of tools that satisfies as many of the following requirements as possible:

  • Easy to learn
  • Easy to explain to the participants
  • Easy to apply
  • Easy to adapt
  • Fun to use
  • Enable deep analysis of any given statement
  • … and understand that every statement has context, preconditions, caveats and many more attributes
  • Enable people to stay inside the discourse and thus …
  • … enable people to process information in a way that lets them actually change their points of view
  • Optimize knowledge transfer
    • by increasing topic-to-brain bandwidth if possible
    • by decreasing topic-to-brain baud rate if required
  • Improve quality (structure, correctness, depth, integrity, and multiple perspectives/points of view) of transferred knowledge 
  • Detect complexity and name it (in discourse, people make wrong assumptions about examples)
  • Enable a simple setup for knowledge transfer
  • Enable a mirrored view on the own filter bubble/echo chamber
  • Get rid of the motivation to just “be right” and rather create a common discourse graph
  • Get rid of “ad hominem” fallacies
  • Invariant of the particular type of communication
  • Compatible with remote scenarios
  • Come to conclusions to which everybody (more or less) agrees in an acceptable amount of time
  • Reach substantial conclusions
  • Works with as well as without moderator 
  • Automatically produce a documentation/a written result
  • Have and leave with a feeling of mutual understanding
  • Perform well, effectively and efficiently

With Slow Talk (working also as Slow Debate and Slow Interview) we believe to have created a system that satisfies those requirements. The “research” has been purely qualitative, but evidence shows a strong tendency towards a huge improvement of all kinds of structured communication when the Slow Talk methodology or even just some of the tools are applied.

A drawback is that this is not a method for everybody – a certain solid inner base and the capability to follow logical reasoning is required.

Introducing Slow Talk

Slow Talk is a framework that is targeted at optimizing serious, high level debates among relatively mature and intelligent people. Its goal is to create a common, improved model of any topic of shared interest. 

As the word “Slow” indicates, one of the essential foundations of the Slow Talk method is the work of Daniel Kahnemann5 as collected in his famous book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. Kahnemann distinguishes two modes of thinking he calls “System 1” and “System 2”. System 1 refers to a fast mode where responses are driven by instincts and emotions. System 2 is the slow mode where logic and reason can thrive. A lot of cognitive biases result from the use of System 16.

It is important to note, though, that System 1 and System 2 do not map exactly on the open-close scale of Slow Talk – not only because Kahnemann uses a discrete distinction whereas the Slow Talk model is based on a scale (you can actually be “more open” or “less open” rather than use System 1 or System 2), but also because System 1 can be “trained” to to be instinctively more open, even during a Slow Talk. Still, as a general rule Slow Talk attempts to enable the participants to use System 2.

The second major inspirational source of Slow Talk is Marshall B. Rosenbergs well-known approach of Nonviolent Communication (NVC7). This is not the place to debate whether the full set of assumptions Rosenberg makes is valid8, but this does not matter for the application of Slow Talk. Some observations at least are essential. For example, the idea that “All actions are attempts to meet needs” roughly but importantly translates to “some statements in a debate may be attempts to meet needs”. Thus slowing down the talk so that this need can be uncovered – rather than examining the statement on a purely rational level – can enable progress in a much faster way (and indeed Slow Talk performs a lot better than the common style of debate if done right).

On a general level, though, Slow Talk does not apply the methods of NVC, among other reasons because they need more practice while Slow Talk strives for an easy application. However, if a communication gets stuck on a deeper psychological level, the limits of what Slow Talk can achieve may be reached, and NVC or even psychotherapy or a systemic approach might be more appropriate approaches.

The statement

A central element of a Slow Talk is the statement (a hypothesis, a belief, a conviction, an opinion) which is put on the virtual or real table, possibly written down, and debated. Since the goal of Slow Talk is the improvement of knowledge rather than formal coherence, the statement can be adjusted, transformed by the participants, and generally evolve.

A statement is deeply embedded in its context, has preconditions, its elements have definitions, ambiguities – in short, a statement has a lot of properties, it is not living in its separate conceptual universe. During the Slow Talk process, a lot of those properties may have been implicit assumptions, unconscious, may be clarified by questioning, discussing, thinking slowly. Whatever a participant brings into the debate may change fundamentally – and that is desired. Transforming one’s own models or even letting go of them is a very mature process.

The Emotion

Whenever an emotion – possibly anger – is arising, this is a signal to slow down. The idea of going slower than the emotion means it can be observed, its roots uncovered, and the debate may switch to a deeper level – it is very likely that on the previous higher level, no agreement would have been possible.

Uncovering the root of your own belief system can be very hard if you are attached to it (and you usually are). It is, for example, painful to admit having been wrong. At the same time, however, it is the most rewarding part of a Slow Talk, where true progress happens.


We are presenting here the theory behind Slow Talk as well as the few essential rules that the participants in any debate should understand and agree to.

The goal of Slow Talk is to optimize the quality of shared results and provide the fastest way to get there.
The one basic principle is to collaboratively slow down the debate whenever blocking elements appear.
Everything else – every method implementation – serves to support this basic rule and can be exchanged or adjusted.

The thesis is that basically all discourses are too heated/fast. The dear hope is that the elimination of emotionally triggered biases by slowing down and becoming more friendly/neutral until one can open up is possible. Even if complexity (inherent in all relevant areas) cannot be tackled, an understanding of the mere fact that it exists is essential for any further discourse (and antidote to the infamous Dunning-Kruger effect9).

Another related hope is that the general, endemic, all-pervading disbelief and doubt regarding almost all official media (caused by alarmism, disinformation, propaganda, low prediction rates, …) that, among other things, makes climate skepticism possible on a large scale, can be lessened by a new format that handles trust, emotion, and knowledge in a new way. Imagine a talk that picks up people where they are and sorts out emotional responses in a friendly way. 

We base the Slow Talk methodology on a set of established theoretical models and practical methods. It is optimized for ease of use and a not too steep learning curve. 

A Slow Talk ends when the issue has been solved, not after a predetermined period of time. Time boxing a Slow Talk is impossible. Still, one can use tools from the Slow Talk method anyway, and they may help. But a time-boxed talk is not a Slow Talk.

“Formalism on demand”

As opposed to some other methods, Slow Talk tries to offer, but not to force formalisms. Adherence to formal structures is always boon and bane at the same time. On the one hand they make sure that things don’t slide out of hand, on the other hand they can be a waste of time if an issue “is clear” and there is no reason to follow the procedure except the rule. In this sense, the idea is that Slow Talk puts the responsibility for the application of rules on the shoulders of the participants – hence the requirement of a certain maturity10.

What Slow Talk is not

Slow Talk has a clear goal: enable a group of professionals to achieve the best knowledge possible in the fastest possible way. It is not another tool to facilitate group alignment, uplift group spirit, or moderate meetings. Even though the deep roots of your belief system may be uncovered, which may be painful, it is not a psychotherapeutic setting in any way. Its scope is limited.

Of course, the Slow Talk methods can be used in any kind of scenario, can be transformed, reused, anything. That is highly encouraged. It is just not what this paper is about.

Method – the practical application

The basics

Since one of the basic ideas of Slow Talk is to make the application threshold low. There are just three rules that need to be understood and agreed upon:

Every participant must agree that the talk is about creating and improving knowledge11 and reducing information pollution by collaborating12 (and not about winning a debate).
In any given moment every participant may demand a reduction (even to zero) but not an increase of speed – and all participants must (take a deep breath and) comply.
In any given moment every participant may demand any kind of clarification

Ideally, the spirit of the debate turns into the following:

Go slow, maybe even slower – find the rhythmThere should be a discernible switch to an internal “slow mode”, an affect-free attitudeBe so slow that you can actually admit mistakes and change your point of view Be so slow that you can detect (logical) fallacies of various kinds on all sides and admit your ownSlow down or stop completely if emotions affect the discussion, find their source, solve, go onUnderstand at all times that all concepts are human and all words mere definitionsMaybe agree on a stop word or signalBe friendly at all times, so friendly that all participants remain emotionally balancedAllow yourself to accept correct arguments from the other side because the emotional need to fight for the own position is lessened or goneStrive to get to the bottom of things but strive to limit diving depth when it hurts outputEverybody may ask for more depth at all timesThere should always be the Current Topic – the issue the group is actually talking about. Be slow enough to realize what is essential to tackle this Current Topic and get back to it when it gets lost.

While the rules are simple, there are a few caveats. Let’s look at the three rules in detail:

1. Every participant must agree that the talk is about creating and improving knowledge and reducing information pollution by collaborating (and not about winning a debate).

It is obviously very difficult for any member of the human species to not try to be right. Mainly for two reasons – “ego” and the energy costs for internal model building that have already been paid – people defend their world models, their opinions.

A method that strives to minimize the influence of those factors is the absolute opposite of the most common (and classical) form of debate that is about to win the argument by applying information-polluting tactics like rhetoric. It is important to (take some time to) understand that a hypothetical full acting on this premise means to be ready to let go of one’s dearest theories. Thus, Slow Talk is clearly non-political and tries to eliminate the influence of personal interests13.

If done right, Slow Talk may unmask some of those interests that work against the creation of “knowledge”, and if the common spirit is favorable, this may result in a pleasant reduction of information pollution because some statements no longer need to be defended14.

2. In any given moment every participant may demand a reduction (even to zero) but not an increase of speed – and all participants must (take a deep breath and) comply.

Especially in heated moments, when System 2 is silenced and emotions roar, people tend to just throw arguments against each other’s head which fall down to the ground and rot there without ever being processed – time and energy are lost.

If any member believes to detect such an energy, it is encouraged (in fact it is the fundamental changing operation of Slow Talk) to demand a slowdown or even a complete stop. No more exchange is happening. There are various ways to resolve this now (see below for some suggestions), but all of them include redirecting the energy somewhere else.

If every participant is “down to zero” again and open to listen, the talk can continue. If this is not possible to achieve, the talk can either be postponed (as suggested by the method) or continue as a heated debate – but then it is no longer a Slow Talk.

3. In any given moment every participant may demand any kind of clarification

A common reason for useless debate is that the participants unconsciously use different definitions for identials terms, simply don’t understand something, drift away from the current topic, switch contexts (or it is unclear what the context is), use logical fallacies, claim something is “the case”, and so on. While to some extent this is always the case, too much of things destroys debate cohesion.

If a participant needs any kind of clarification or detects an issue that needs to be explained, s/he can interrupt the debate until the problem has been solved.

Possible reasons include:

  • topic switch – are we moving away from what we agreed to talk about?
  • context clarification – on which level is the other one talking?
  • context switch – have we left the common ground?
  • unclear definitions of used terminology
  • asking for sources/references
  • logic – detecting a possible logical fallacy
  • structure clarification.

If something is not understood, then it must either be clarified to the satisfaction of anybody involved, or the group agrees to protocol and postpone the issue if it is not crucial for the main stream of the debate15.

Again, none of those rules are a remedy against destructive behavior – Slow Talk is a collaboration helper and not about fixing this issue (but there are many other fine methods, some of them mentioned in this paper).

This is the minimum set of rules that must be accepted by everybody involved16. As in any game, not agreeing to the rules will destroy the game – like playing chess with a pigeon that knocks over the figures rather than move them properly17

In addition, participants should be aware that this debate is 

  • about learning, understanding, and possibly collaboratively developing common reality models
  • about the fact that different backgrounds (often based on different values) may result in different opinions, and so if no common model can be constructed, an unemotional understanding may be all that can be achieved – which should also be considered a success
  • not about winning the battle, so rhetorical tricks are considered counterproductive

Slow Talk is about finding out where exactly the differences are located. Very often this is not clear and results in a useless debate that cannot be solved on the level on which it is running.

Slowing down even a moderately heated debate can have a great effect already. There may actually be moments when a person who actively and naturally slows down inspires others to do the same. The whole situation may feel more relaxed and the participants more open. The atmosphere and the whole mode of conduct can change and become more productive just by that idea18.

So, when a person seems to close herself up or to shut down, it is recommended that another person mentions that and asks for slowing down.

“If you feel an urge to say things quickly, this is a sign for shutting yourself off.”

If somebody is talking to fast, s/he might draw the other participants into that mode19. This is clearly something to be avoided.

Advanced methods and tools

While those simple rules alone usually have a strong effect, there are of course more – relatively simple – tools that can be used to greatly enhance the show. 

Tool: The Shared Document (or whiteboard)

At some point the debate may lose focus despite a decent application of the rules, or statements may not be formulated unequivocally. Putting ideas, concepts, claims, or statements into a written  form is a common way to fix this. If you then do this using a Shared Document to which everybody has equal access may work miracles. 

Especially in a remote setting, a Shared Document or whiteboard (we like to use Google Drive, but there are tons of tools available) is a fantastic way to structure the debate, visualize progress and create a documentation as you go.

In a live situation, if two people use a shared whiteboard, a silent notebook should be used that does not occupy the focus of the debate (unless you want it to).

If there are more than two people, or if there is the luxury of somebody who agrees to play the role of the writer (not so different from the role of the poor keeper of the minutes in meetings but much more creative), a background or side screen can be used.

The method we suggest here requires an electronic solution not least because colors to text need to be changed often and on the fly – no analogue whiteboard can handle that20. That’s why it fits so naturally into remote meetings21. Ideally, the tool that is used records its complete change history.

The whiteboard or Google Doc is a shared extension of the minds of the participants. It is at the same time a memory extension, a playground, a progress visualizer, an automatic protocol, and – if desired – the first draft of a paper or an article (in any case it will server as a repository for those artifacts).

Each group of participants is encouraged to find their own use and experiment. This is how we do it:

  • The whiteboard collects texts of all kinds, preferably with a – of course debatable – “truth” value. In other words, we write down statements that can be either true or false.
    • Each statement has a state22 that refers to its intersubjective position on the processing chain.
    • All states except “Others” and “Line of flight” live in a hierarchy. The current state of a statement is the lowest one that every participant agrees on.
    • We use the following states in hierarchical order, and we use colors to visualize the state of each and every statement:
      • Just copied and pasted / being collected / wild / unassessed (Black)
      • To be debated (Red)
      • “On the way” (Orange)
      • Agreement is reached (Green)
      • Line of flight23 – “we keep the agreement and it’s good enough, but this statement here is a notable extension” (Pink)
      • Everything else (Blue)
    • Statements that have been debunked by everybody are either deleted or moved to some pile or reformulated and made green. 
    • We like to use verbs when statements are colored. The most desired one is “greenify”.
    • Since objective truth can’t be positively proven, just falsified24, “green” does not signify “true” but means “all current participants agree on this”.
    • Some people prefer to use black instead of green, because it looks more “final” to them, but then the collection state, which is often the result of copy & paste, needs another color assignment immediately after pasting in order not to confuse things.
    • “Everything else” – blue – is a container for initially processed but parked statements, information, fun facts, anything that is not one of the above. Usually, nobody ever looks at blue texts again, nor is this encourages – we want to rid ourselves of stuff and not get lost in infinite production.
    • Lines of flight, pointers to roots, connections into new areas, doubts, everything that is not green but does, for the time being, not significantly influence the greenified result (again based on the agreement of the participants) is written down in magenta and rests alongside the greenified text.
      • Of course they can turn red and become another topic for discourse.
    • Everybody may look at the Whiteboard at all times, add comments, possibly even red texts, or black or blue ones.
    • This is a friendly collaboration tool – don’t get too formal.
    • It is not strictly required but a good thing if the tool used records its history.
    • If a document and not a classical whiteboard is used, with a bit more effort (the final or occasional clean-up) the document that basically auto-creates itself can be turned into a paper or an article. The outline plus the essential concepts should have been written down after a successful Slow Talk.
    • The last element that we add to the document is the Bucket. Find a description below.
    • Play with colors and tone depths as you see intuitively fit. Visualize without too many rules.
    • Now and then clean the document up – maybe during a break, or as part of a retrospective.

Example of a Slow Talk using Google Doc

Let’s say two stakeholders in a company are planning a project and cannot agree on some assumptions. They keep getting stuck but don’t exactly know why. Their names are Ursula and Fred, they are smart people, and they suspect that some of their respective hidden assumptions are not aligned.

Ursula and Fred are working on a model that describes the evolution of organic raw omelette materials. They are looking for a causal concept that helps them determine the optimal way to produce eggs along with egg producers. Somehow they can’t agree on the basics. Ursula always gets angry, and Fred doesn’t really listen to her. They start a Slow Talk using a Google Doc to write down their implicit assumptions to find out their misalignment.

After creating and sharing the document, it does no longer matter who writes what – they both have full and equal access and always agree on what they write and which colors are applied.

They start with an assumption by Fred who thought it was obvious that – he writes in black:

Fred: The egg exists long before the hen.

“Shall we talk about this?” he asks Ursula. “I believe this is obvious, but maybe you don’t agree.”

“Yes”, answers Ursula and redifies the sentence:

Fred: The egg is there long before the hen.

Fred gets annoyed and says: “It’s so obvious, you must see this.”

Now Ursula gets angry and shouts back. “No it’s not. There is a hen before the egg that lays the egg.”

Fred, still angry, goes: “Yes but still there needs to be an egg before the hen I am talking about.”

“But I don’t think that’s right”, Ursula says. “I believe …” and writes down her statement (and redifies it right away):

Ursula: Hen and eggs recursively recreate each other.

Fred reads this, fixes the typo, but doesn’t process the content.

Suddenly Ursula remembers that they are in a Slow Talk and asks for a stop until the two of them breathe normally again. At first Fred declines but then she reminds him that he has agreed on the rules.

“Okay”, she continues, “can we clarify about which hen we are talking here?”

“Well the hen”, says Fred, “the one that is important to create more hen-creating eggs later.”

“Okay”, she says again, “then maybe we are talking about two different hens. Let’s call them hen A and hen B.” How the document looks like this:

Fred: The egg is there long before hen A.
Ursula: Hen B and eggs recursively recreate each other.

Fred calms down and improves on her suggestion:

“Are the eggs the same? Also, I wonder why it says ‘recreate’ – do you mean ‘create’?” he asks, improving Ursulas line of thought.

She nods, he writes:

Fred: Egg A is there long before hen A.
Ursula: Hen B and eggs B recursively create each other.

“Now we talk”, Ursula says. “I talk about hens and eggs in the most general, broadest sense. You seem to be talking about the egg that gets picked out of the omelette production line because it will be used to create new hens.”

“Of course”, Fred answers, “who cares about general concepts?”

“I do”, says Ursula, “but let’s work with both concepts.” She clarifies the documents and asks Fred if they are on the right track. Fred agrees, and so Ursula colors both sentences orange:

Fred: Egg A that is to create a hen rather than go into an omelette is selected long before hen A is born.
Ursula: Generally, hens create eggs and eggs create hens.

“Fred”, says Ursula, “I think I agree with you now regarding your statement. Let’s greenify it. However, I am not sure about my statement.”

Fred, who is already in collaboration mode and no longer cares who said what, changes the document into:

Egg A that is to create a hen rather than go into an omelette is picked for production long before hen A is born.
Generally, hens create eggs and eggs create hens. But which was first?

“I see”, says Ursula, “somehow those two topics have to do with each other, but only on a theoretical level. For practical purposes, though …”.

“… we need some more logic here as well. Thank you for pointing that out. I never cared where Egg A came from, but of course it comes from another hen. I think this is some nice background. Just the question which was first seems difficult to solve and doesn’t really concern us. I am ready to skip it.

So as a final step the two of them change the document into:

Egg A that is to create a hen rather than go into an omelette is picked for production long before hen A is born. Generally, hens create eggs and eggs create hens. But which was first?

They produce a paper based on the greenifies statements and leave the pink one where it is. They don’t care if anybody ever works on it again.

Tool: Postpone and research

A common issue in all debates is that certain knowledge that would be required to continue in a meaningful way is simply missing. In a political discussion the participants would try to hide that fact, but this is of course not the idea of Slow Talk.

The obvious – but hardly ever applied in a debate – solution to this is to continue in one of the following ways:

  1. Park the Current Topic in order to pick it up later (simply leave it orange if you use the Shared Whiteboard method).
  2. Interrupt the debate and agree to continue later (later today or tomorrow or some other day – the sooner the better). In the meantime, assign the research task to somebody. If you use the Shared Whiteboard, put the results there already (in blue).

It is our experience that it is not a good way to commonly interrupt the debate and research the topic. This will most likely destroy and kind of flow. 

Tools: The Bucket and the Fork

Usually, in an inspired debate new super interesting topics pop up like flowers after a rainy day. A very common but ill-fated reaction is to move away from the Current Topic or even forget it. Don’t. Stick to it until it is green.

But of course do not forget the new interesting topic. Either put it into the Bucket if you don’t want to lose it or add a Fork if you believe this topic deserves its own Slow Talk. In both cases it should leave the back of your heads.

The Bucket is a section at the end of the Shared Document (or its own document, or a loose collection of pieces of paper), and it is for everything – no limits, no laws, no rules. Put anything there, play around with it. New topics pop up, inspiring thoughts, sidelines, deleted statements you somehow want to keep – anything, no matter if related or unrelated to the Current Topic, can go into the Bucket. 

If there are jewels in the Bucket, move them up to the part of the Shared Document where the action is. There is, however, a fair chance that stuff in the Bucket will stay there forever and nobody will ever look at it again.

By the way, a Bucket is also a wonderful technique for any kind of meeting, it’s sole purpose being a container for every great or not-so-great thought that needs to leave the head with a good feeling.

The Fork is equally simple: move everything that deserves to be examined more deeply to a separate document (or add it to a task list). Then reference it if it is connected to the Current Topic.

Limits and downsides

For an audience, listening to a Slow Talk may be a challenge, depending on whether they just want to be entertained as in most public talks, or follow the debate actively by thinking through the lines of argumentation as they go along.

If one or some of the participants are suffering from more severe psychological issues or even trauma, Slow Talk may be impossible. Smart people may inadvertently destroy the process if they act out their issues without the others realizing it25.

Last not least, Slow Talk is not intended to be a method for everybody. Participants need to be able to recognize, follow and hold logical reasoning to a certain extent. Typically, people in a debate open new topics all the time. In a Slow Talk the minimum requirement is to accept quickly that something is deviating from the Current Topic and agree to put it into the Bucket.


Multiple tests suggest that with a simple set of tools, at least one person understanding the concept of Slow Talk and sufficient awareness in all other participants, each debate/talk/interview can be much more productive and satisfying. 

  1. We cover the whole story of this operation in a separate paper.
  2. Box, G. E. P. (1976), “Science and statistics”, Journal of the American Statistical Association, 71 (356): 791–799
  3. Again, see our other paper where this is examined in detail and poured into a framework.
  4. Gerace, A., Day, A., Casey, S., & Mohr, P. (2013). An Exploratory Investigation of the Process of Perspective Taking in Interpersonal Situations. Journal of Relationships Research, 4, E6. doi:10.1017/jrr.2013.6
  5. Kahnemann, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow (1st ed.). Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  6. There is a lot of material about logical fallacies and cognitive biases. This topic is worth studying. For a start see A wonderful structured overview can be found on the Fallacy Files website:
  7. Rosenberg, M. B. (2015). Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, 3rd Edition: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships. PuddleDancer Press.
  8. Kashtan, I., Kashtan, M. Key Assumptions and Intentions of NVC –
  10. Example: in the talking stick method, you always repeat what the last participant has said until she agrees you used the right words. This helps to be clearly on the same page, but it also costs time. An on-demand formalism (rather than a formalism that is always applied) requires people to stay alert, but it saves a lot of time. On-demand formalisms are risky when chances are high that the formalism is evaded (a nice example is the Scrum-but).
  11. “Knowledge” is implicitly defined here as “objective”. It is not part of this paper to determine whether this is an achievable goal. Here, it is just an ideal.
  12. Striving for a supportive atmosphere is generally a good thing, but without rules 2 and 3 experience shows that it is more easily destroyed than created.
  13. In another paper we argue that the fundamental operation of environment model building (usually employing complexity reduction mechanisms) is first and foremost based on personal or group interests.
  14. If more severe psychological issues are at work, Slow Talk will not attempt to step into the realm of psychotherapy.
  15. Very often misunderstanding are based on different implicit definitions of concepts. Slow Talk tries to detect that as early in the debate as possible, before too much time is wasted.
  16. Of course, some of the Slow Talk methodology tools can simply be used in virtually any conversation. One can slow down, as for clarification and so on and apply the mindset of Slow Talk even without the consent of the other party. This is, however, far less efficient.
  17. See for a nice introduction
  18. Experience shows that this is much more likely to happen in real world meetings (can we call them “meatings”?) than in remote virtual setups.
  19. A well known example is Ben Shapiro – see
  20. But feel invited to be creative – no tool is written in stone.
  21. The Corona crisis helped a lot to establish that.
  22. For the interesting etymology of the word “state” use Google.
  23. Deleuze, G., Guattari, F. (2013) : A Thousand Plateaus. Bloomsbury Revelations. This is a rather creative use of the concept of “Line of flight”, and would probably to be sanctioned by the philosophy police – but before you join the shouting, think about it: there are strange and creative resonances.
  24. Popper, K. (2002): The Logic of Scientific Discovery. Routledge.
  25. “Broken people break people”, they say, but broken people also break constructive processes. The intention here is not at all to hint that people with issues should be generally excluded, just that other methods may be a much better fit to handle certain problems.