How to Debate Effectively and Rationally

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Today is November 3, 2010, which means that the elections were held yesterday. Now, whether it was a good day or a bad day for you and your political ideals, the results are going to stick around for 2 years. “They” say you’re not supposed to talk about politics; it leaves open too much room for drama and disagreement. In watching the election coverage last night, I saw that a lot of the members of the panels on various news organizations couldn’t have a meaningful debate.

They were rude, inappropriate, and just downright mean to their fellow panelists. I’m a huge supporter of a healthy debate, civility in discussion, and above all, being passionate about what is being discussed. Ultimately, if you’re going to have a discussion, you should be passionate about it, otherwise, what are you talking about? We’re advised not to discuss politics and it’s because of this passion that these kinds of discussion can be dangerous firecrackers waiting to explode.

We proceed carefully on a conference call when discussing something that is controversial or will change the face of our company, like hiring and firing. We shy away from open discussion and the sharing of ideas. Why is that? We are adults and we should be able to have conversations.

The principals of debate are clear but somewhere along the lines we’ve forgotten what it was like to have a civil conversation with others about topics we might disagree with. Here are ten tips to consider before engaging in healthy debate.

  1. Be prepared. Don’t be surprised when the passion from both sides bleeds through.
  2. Let the other person finish. Interrupting the other person makes you look like a jerk.
  3. Be open to accepting another person’s point of view. In order to engage in debate, you must be willing to understand where someone is coming from, even if you disagree.
  4. Consider your response carefully. Think about what you are about to say before you just fire off at the mouth. You can’t take it back once you say it, so don’t say anything you’ll regret.
  5. Have Respect. Have respect for the other person’s opinion, but don’t concede your own.
  6. Listen intently. Healthy debate is not just about making you heard; it’s about hearing someone else.
  7. Try to see things from the other side. Before you respond, consider what the other person has said and what their motivations might be. You don’t have to agree, but everyone is capable of understanding the other perspective.
  8. It should be called conversation, not debate. It should be about discussing opposing points of view and learning from each other.
  9. Answer follow up questions. If the person you’re speaking with asks you a direct question, answer it. They are engaged in the conversation and want to know more about your feelings.
  10. Be passionate, but be polite. Name calling and generalizations only encourage people feel attacked. You can have passion about your point of view, but you should never revert to name calling. You’re not eight and this is not the playground.

Bonus Tip: Shake hands.At the end of every debate, shake hands and take a moment to converse about something that’s not debate related. These conversations usually come up with our inner circles, so once it’s all over, talk about something you both agree on.

Look, debating with a person who opposes your views and an opinion is hard, but when you’re a grown up, I like to think it’s possible to sit down and talk about things with others, no matter what their opinions. Some of the greatest ideas in the world have been born from healthy debate and there’s no reason why we should just not talk about something because we disagree.

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