If I were to mention the word debate, what would be the first image that comes to mind? It may be two teams of college students talking at full speed about some difficult topic. Or you may think of presidential “debates”, or something like CNN`s Crossfire.
This unfortunately gives the impression that debate is more like two sports teams fighting it out to the death. Neither side gives an inch. No one is really trying to convince anybody. It is all about scoring points and appealing to the fans. What practical use could debate possibly have?
I would say it has a lot of practical use. In fact, healthy debate is perhaps the cornerstone of a healthy and functional society. It is also necessary for you to have those skills so you can make good decisions, and convince others of the same.
Being bad at debate has long term problems
Have you ever had an argument, where you had no clue why the other person would be even against what you are saying? Your opinion makes so much sense. It is logical, backed up by good reasoning, etc.
The reason is that you probably have not experienced debate much. The good thing about debate is that you work on both sides of any issue. If all you are used to is hearing your side of the argument, then you will not understand the logic of the other side. This will cause you all kinds of problems.
Bad at debate leads to more fights and bad relationships
Especially on the Internet, there is a tendency for some people to get into “religious wars” about some topic. Your side is the side of the righteous. And on the other side are stupid idiots or worse villainous scum.
It is like saying that Apple makes the best phones ever and all Android users are poor idiots that do not know what a good smartphone looks like. Which is of course bogus.
Unfortunately, there is a tenancy for people to form groups. We root for the home team no matter what. What we need to do is consciously avoid this tendency and consider that 9 times out of 10 the other side has some kind of rational reason for their choice.
Furthermore, if you come down with righteous wrath on the stupidity of your opponent then all you will get is firm resistance. Everyone has an ego. Everyone wants respect. Additionally, everyone wishes to be heard.
The fifth habit of “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” People will not try to understand your argument if you do not try to understand theirs and put your understanding into words they can see or hear.
The good thing about most debates is that it forces to you practice both sides. You are forced to no only consider the other side, but at times to argue for it. This in turn allows you to see the other side may have a point. That they are not idiots and they have a good reason for their position.
With those things in mind, you can approach people with a better understanding. You can better listen to people. This will in turn improve your relationships with the people around you.
Bad at debate leads to making decisions with too little info
Another problem we face is that it is very easy to run into information that simply agrees with our initial thinking. This is call confirmation bias. It happens to everybody and it can cause us to ignore information that can help us make better decisions and lead happier lives.
The great thing about debate is it forces us to consider things from a variety of angles. In many debates, the side that you will be arguing for is not decided until the day of the match. You need to look at both sides, you also need to consider the “ironman argument” or even better the “steelman argument.”
Steelman and Ironman: Not comic book characters
The ironman argument has nothing to do with Tony Stark or Elon Musk for that matter. It is in fact the improved version of your opponent’s argument. You listen to your opponent. You may have noticed some logical mistakes, missing data, or whatever. Then you shore it up the best you can. At that point, you go to it with a blow torch. 😉
The steelman argument is not what Superman does when he argues with Lois Lane, but the best version of the argument that your opponent could make. In normal discussion, it is best to summarize what your opponent said, bring up the ironman argument, then bring up the steelman argument. After that, you hand the steelman argument kryptonite and call it a day. 😉
The point of all this is that you have considered not just your own position but others. By looking at the best arguments opposing your idea your will either:
- make your argument stronger
- find a better third way
However, if you don’t practice debate (at least with yourself) then you will never get to either of these. You end up with a poorer quality decision. That would be a shame.
Bad at debate leads to not getting the point across
A key part of debate is clearly articulating your point so the other side can understand it. This can require practice and skill, as well as knowing how to form arguments.
In competitive debate you will have time limits. This can be anywhere from a couple of minutes to seven or more. It really depends on the format. But because your time is limited, you need to state your arguments clearly and concisely.
You are going to need to organize your arguments and put them in a clear format that is easily understood by the listener. You can simply do this by first saying how many points you have. Then you can go over them one by one. Finally, you summarize your points.
However, the thing is that you can just state your claims and be done. Any argument will require three things. These things are :
Because of the format and also because you will be speaking in front of others, you will be tested on how well you can get your point across to other people. So, you need to use basic frameworks as well as speaking techniques to convince the general audience and the judges.
There is a lot that can be said in speaking well in a debate, but for people starting out the two most important things are speaking concisely and having logical and clearly understandable points.
Debate will save the world!
As odd as that above sentence sounds, healthy debate can make our lives much better. It can help us understand how other people think and increase our own reasoning ability. Through this, we begin to understand that it is less about me vs thee and more about different people coming to different conclusions about things.
I think that even if you are not on a debate team you can practice by yourself or with family and friends. You can work on improving your logic so you can come to the best decisions. You can also work on improving your ability to get your opinions across to others. If your thinking is sound and you are persuasive enough you can help those around you too. Wouldn’t that be great!
If you are interested in learning more about how to practice debate, public speaking, etc. please continue looking at other articles on this site. If you have questions, comments, etc. Please leave those here.