MasterTalk: Samples of Dealing with it.

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Dealing with MasterTalk

© 2005 Al Turtle
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I use the three terms, Master, Slave, and Friend to refer to the three positions from which and to which communication can be addressed.   These are similar to the positions in Transactional Analysis of Parent, Child, and Adult.   No one is a Master, they just speak, and perhaps think, from the Master position.  No one is a Slave, they just speak from the Slave position.  MasterTalk seems extremely easy to identify in conversation and writing.

One challenge for us all is that most books and articles seem written in MasterTalk.  This is sometimes called the “third person, omnicient” voice.  These books are written as if the author knew everything (ominicient) like god.  I’ve become comfortable that in real live, there is not place to go, no mountain to climb, for me to find out what is “really going on.”  I have to remain comfortable with my point of view and remind others that all they can share is their point of view.  Reality exists, we just have different points of view about it.

My definitions:

MasterTalk is any sentence that implies there is a single truth – a single reality.   The Master form implies that the speaker owns the truth or has that reality.  The Slave form implies that the speaker doesn’t own the truth or doesn’t have that single reality.

Some words are clues to MasterTalk: truth, right, wrong, correct, real, fact, know, lie, false, should.  Also most sentences that begin with “We…” or “You…” seem to be MasterTalk.

Boundary Insert: a short sentence fragment that is inserted into a statement that indicates who’s point of view is being shared.  This can be inserted by the sender to make listening easier. It can be inserted by the receiver during mirroring to a) remind the sender that they are sharing a point of view and to create a sense of room for differing points of view.

Before I give examples of responses to MasterTalk, I’ll give samples of the various combinations of speaking.


Master to Slave  (statements made, assuming no contradiction.  I’ve found these statements communicate “threat” to listeners.)

  • “We’re going into town this afternoon.”
  • “He really liked that yesterday.”
  • “It is hot in here.”
  • “Your partner is a liar.”
  • “You are Bi-polar.”
  • “Everyone likes ice cream.”

Slave to Master (Statements made, avoiding contradictions or conflict.  I’ve found these statements communicate anticipation of “threat.” )

  • “What should we do about this?”
  • “What is the right way?”
  • “What happened yesterday?”
  • “I don’t know.”
  • “What should I do about my problem?”

Master to Master (Statements made assuming contradictions.  I’ve found these are Argument starting statements.)

  • “You are wrong.”
  • “That is not right.”
  • “That is not what happened.”
  • “You are full of errors.”
  • “Everything you are saying is B.S.”
  • “That is a flat lie.”

Slave to Slave (Statements made to others, jointly avoiding sharing diversity or contradictions.)

  • “None of us know what to do.”
  • “Let’s not talk about it.”
  • “I like the weather.”


Friend to Friend: (Statements made to others, assuming and affirming space for other points of view.)

  • “I like chocolate ice cream.”
  • “I recall seeing a man running away.”
  • “I believe we should wait for a while.”
  • “I see things differently than you see to.”
  • “My thoughts seem similar to yours.”
  • “Of course we see it differently.  Here are my thoughts….”
  • “The label I would put on you condition is Bi-polar.”

Friend response to Master (Mirroring with boundary inserts, affirming the statement but adding reference to the point of view, thus making room for other points of view.  Optionally referring to the existence of that other point of vew.)

  • “So you want us to go into town this afternoon.”  Optionally added, “I see it differently.”
  • “So you think he really liked that yesterday.” Optionally added, “I see it differently.”
  • “So you feel hot in here.”    Etc.
  • “You believe my partner is a liar.”
  • “You think I am Bi-polar.”
  • “You imagine that everyone likes icecream.”


Friend quick response to a Master (A boundary insert, and invitation to continue.)

  • “We’re going into town this afternoon.”  Response, “Oh, that’s your proposal.  Say more.”
  • “He really liked that yesterday.”  Response, “That’s your memory.  Say more.”
  • “It is hot in here.” Response, “Oh, that’s how you feel. How come you brought that up?”
  • “Your partner is a liar.” Response, “Wow! That’s your belief!  Say more.”
  • “You are Bi-polar.” Response, “That’s how you see me.  Tell me more about your observations.”
  • “Everyone likes ice cream.” Response, “That’s your belief.  Say more.”

Friend response to Slave (Mirroring with boundary inserts, affirming the statement and inviting expression of the Slave’s point of view. Optionally referring to the existence of other point of vew, but not adding them until the speaker is finished.)

  • “So I hear you wondering what we should do about this.  Optionally added, “I have some ideas on the subject but first…”   ”What are your thoughts?”
  • “So I hear you looking for a right way.  What are your thoughts about how to do it?”
  • “I hear you wondering what happened yesterday.  What have you seen or heard?”
  • “So you are not sure.  What are your guesses or theories?”
  • “I hear that you are wondering what to do about your problem.   What ideas to you have so far?”

Reference: Master/Slave Paper:


MasterTalk: Samples of Dealing with it. — 5 Comments

  1. This has provided great insight to me, thank you! My dad gets mad at me when I make differing statements to his “it’s really hot in here”. “This room is really small.” etc. sort of statements. He often says that I’m arguing with him (especially as an adult), and I’m always suprised since I was commenting on my opinions of the room/general statement he just said. I’ll be trying out better Friend to Master to see how he responds.

    • Hello Sarah, I think you are the first person to connect to me via this group of MasterTalk papers. I posted a bunch of them as I was finding so many applications for the idea of MasterTalk as a problem that could be addressed. Have fun investigating the other papers on and on applying them. Dad might be an interesting project. And I recall the most common form of response to noticing MasterTalk is another burst of MasterTalk – e.g. “you are arguing with me.” So part of my puzzle was “how to respond to MasterTalk without using more?”

      Good luck.

      • Yeah. The pattern of response in my family is often a Friend-type answer, which is why I found this paper so helpful.

        When my dad says “It’s hot in here” and we respond, “I’m/we’re not hot” (our “Truth”), do you want us to turn on the A/C?” he gets frustrated and snaps, “I was just making an observation.”

        I’ve never understood why he got mad when we were offering him solutions to his problem. With this paper I see that he was trying MasterTalk and it was failing to get the attention he wanted.

        I know attention is important to him, and that he resorts to tactics from his family when he hasn’t had enough. In Jr High I read about the 5 Love Languages and things transformed for my dad and me when I started holding his hand, hugging him, rubbing his head, etc. I think keeping connected to him in these ways helps him feel loved, so he doesn’t have to do the MasterTalk. He usually does it after he’s been away/alone and is returning to us. I wonder if a hug upon arrival would mitigate the “absolute truth” statements.

        Other ways I’ve responded specifically to his MasterTalk – during the 2008 elections I was home and he quoted a family friend (quoting a bombastic radio host) that only land owners should be allowed to vote, because “those people” who rent don’t have a vested interest in the country. I replied that I was a renter, and by that logic I couldn’t vote. We got into a long discussion about politics, most of which was disagreeing sides. A day or two later, he told my mom that our family friend was wrong on that point, “as Sarah pointed out”. He also went on to notice a lot of things that this family friend said were in fact, racist. So that was good.

        I push back on almost all his absolute truths in this way, by sharing my view, or how it affects me differently. Sometimes I don’t have the energy to respond right away – I’ll think of an opposite view instantly, but the resulting debate will just be too wearing at the time. My parents were visiting me last week and my dad had taken a long lap and then a walk around my neighborhood, and then opened my door with a absolute statement. Instead of retorting, I waited until we were on a walk through the same spots, and offered truths about individual houses that differed from his blanket statement.

        Finally, and I think you will like this because I saw that you like sleep and dreams – after reading your reply and then going to bed I had a dream about my dad and MasterTalk. In it, my parents were visiting again, and my dad was super critical, 1000 times more than usual, the “nightmare version” of dad. Finally he said, “Too many mistakes have been made; we’re leaving.” And I said, “Who’s been making mistakes? Me?” and he says yes, and I ask about all the critical things but he ignores me and they head out (we are all walking on a neighborhood street), and I run and leap on his back to hold him there, but he won’t budge in his decision and keeps moving forward.

        But then, he gets all different and kid-like (and looks like a 20 year old version of himself) and says he just wanted to dance when he was young, and he shrugs me off and does this whole dance to no music on the sidewalks and lawns of this neighborhood, and he’s asking for approval (Validation) that his dance is good, and mom and I are encouraging him in it, and telling him it’s great, and these college kids go by and watch him, and we say, “look, even the college kids think you’re good.”

        And then I woke up. 🙂

        So thanks very much! I’m definitely excited to read more papers.

        • I love what you are doing, Sarah – puzzling this out with an example right in front of you. Kind of a research project. (Sounds like something they would do on the Big Bang Theory tv show.) Project top Questions: What is it Dad does? How does it make sense? How do I/we respond in a way the leads where we want to go? i.e. What is the wise thing to do? For me, there are many many sub-questions, answers to which will make a) the situation more clear and b) improve everyone’s confidence, competence, and happiness.

          Here’s some thoughts of mine: He sounds as if he shifts into Passive/Master, when he’s tired or lonely. When I first wrote on this topic (My Master/Slave paper) I added Passive Master as an afterthought to explain behavior not covered by a simple Master/Slave relationship. I was lucky in that my first partner of 17 years was often Passive Master and eventually it became clear that my Dad slipped into Passive Master often. So I had lots of examples of the behavior. Dad’s favorite phrase, in my mind, was at the dinner table, “The peas look good.” It meant “pass the damn peas or else”. Dad was raised to avoid using the word “I” as too selfish. And thus saying, “I’d like some peas. Please pass them” was to him anathema.

          I wrote a lot more on this. So remember a Passive Master is just one of two forms (the passive aggressive one) of what is commonly (and pejoratively) called Bully – someone who wants their way and will make others uncomfortable if they don’t get their way. This is all a generally dysfunctional relationship problem that most people seem to share in. So people around Passive Master or Masters get trained to be Slaves – to anticipate the “coming uncomfortableness” and jump to “obedience.” One of the differences with a Passive Master is that they often never say what they want – it’s not said, even though it is still there in their actions. They often don’t know what they are saying or wanting. Ask them, and you may see surprise and distress on their faces. To avoid trouble, people who choose to live around Bullies (what I call Slaves or Codependent) tend to become hyper-vigilant and relax only when that person goes away. Watch for shifts in your blood pressure when Dad appears and shows he is not happy or lonely. That shift in your blood pressure seems to me clearly to be a clue to your part of the problem.

          Also along with a Bully there often appears a strong avoidance of Empathic behavior. Now, Friend transactions are all about Empathic connecting. I use this clue to work to “heal” bullies (Masters or Passive Masters) fairly quickly and bring them into a world of empathetic connecting. But, remember, people don’t wanna be changed.

          You’re doing fine.

          Working with Masters or Passive Masters can be exhausting. Remember to take care of your own resources in order to keep yourself centered and relaxed. I tend to engage them only if I wish to. I learned to use the phrase, “I hear you, and I find I’m not available right now for an argument/disagreement/battle.”

          That instinct you have to see the opposite of what Dad says is pretty common I think and very healthy. I think of it a rebellious, anti-authoritarian, oppositional defiance, open to diversity and part of growing democracy. But a warning, if you push it too far you can slip from being a Friend into “argument” where you are just being Master-like yourself.

          Now a bigger thought. While this project sounds fun, I don’t think this is your project. Fixing your parents is a way to express love for them, but also there’s a bigger project ahead of you – fixing your partner and yourself. So I suggest you use this up-front study of Dad and mom and others around him to inform you self-growth in a relationship.

          Good luck. Thanks for the chance to noodle about in this topic. I hope other’s enjoy it, too.

  2. Hi, Al,
    these suggestions are so wonderful, I can only admire them. I’m afraid I’ll never be as quick at answering/commenting.

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