“Slow motion can be very powerful”

Management consultant and coach Peter Modler on how to gain respect loudly and slowly. Why main clauses help with this and why authority is in the can when you tolerate interruptions.

Peter Modler is 65 years old and has had his own management consultancy since 1998.

Mr. Modler, you are a management consultant and became known through your “arrogance training for women”. Arguing seriously is not a good strategy, you say. Why not?

Look at Trump. Hilary Clinton has meticulously prepared for the subject of income tax and brings arguments. Trump lets them run nowhere and just says “Wrong”, which he repeats several times. Or a technician gives a detailed presentation and the board of directors just says, “You won’t pick me up with that.” That’s a trick. He flattens the other with one formula.

But clumsy knocking down cannot seriously be an alternative to a substantive argument?

Depends on. My current book “Speaking to Ignorants” has the subtitle “He who only argues, loses”. Two language systems collide, the horizontal one, the currency of which is sympathy, which relies on high talk, on the exchange of arguments. And the vertical system, where it’s all about respect and rank and basic talk. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. If they are not naive or fundamentalist, they are a dream team. As soon as one goes blind, it’s a story of missed opportunities.

What is this theory based on?

This goes back to the sociolinguist Deborah Tannen, who looked at how children communicate and identified two language systems: one group that functions in an egalitarian manner and one that defines the hierarchy. Both groups work in harmony.

Do you have another example of how these systems collide?

Take a conference of scientists. The professor is unable to attend, his assistant is taking his place. She introduces herself to the group as Tanja, with only her first name as a sign of affiliation, and asks for a round of introductions. Some are already digging out their laptops, others are talking about the Bundesliga.

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What should the woman have done differently?

She could have said, “I’m the moderator for this meeting”. This clarifies their role sufficiently. Horizontal people are in content mode in no time and are usually well prepared. In the case of vertical people, it is first about clarifying rankings. It motivates them to know who is the boss, who is the deputy from the deputy. Then the content comes. Horizontal people sometimes find this superfluous and stupid.

Such a sorting actually sounds cramped.

Linguistic systems have something like an inherent innocence, they don’t think anything bad about it, each side is naive. But the horizontals can think more easily about their system.

In which industries is it performed and how? As a trained carpenter, doctorate theologian, labor judge and long-time management consultant, you know different milieus.

The closer you get to mechanical engineering, the more vertical it gets. A company like VW is almost something of a vertical monoculture, while in the therapy or social sectors it is mostly horizontal. When you get from one system to the other, there is a foreign language problem.