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The Importance of Teaching Debate

Arguments can be deadly; debate notsomuch

Remember the Debate Club in high school? It was an excellent tool to help young people to start thinking critically about various issues and honing their communication skills to be able to intelligently articulate issues.

Debate requires someone to construct an argument. That argument can be pro or against, but it must incorporate research, analysis, reasoning, and sometimes synthesis and evaluation in order to establish and substantiate one’s position.

Debate also requires the debater to master their content, to practice both listening and speaking skills in order to counter the opposing side, and to not only be able to verbalize but also to speak persuasively about their position. These skills are known on Bloom’s Taxonomy as higher order thinking skills. Debate takes one beyond the ability to research and “know” information to the ability to construct something and do something with that information. 

One of the reasons that I like to utilize debate in my training designs is because it helps people to understand how to deal with conflict in a constructive and measured way. Countering an opposing argument does not mean name calling, introducing distracting or off-topic issues, or simply blustering louder than one’s opponent. That is an argument.  Arguments are rarely constructive and lead to hurt feelings and opposing sides. I can’t think of any appropriate situation – in the business world – where opposing sides is a good thing – especially if those two sides are within the same company. 

Debate can be taught in a “learning experience,” such as a classroom. This approach is often fabricated, however; for instance the instructor provides a topic or asks for one from the audience and it often is a topic that is already deemed to be controversial.  Another approach would be to teach debate in the regular course of our workplace meetings. Rather than rushing to a conclusion about a topic, stop and ask the group “What are the opposing arguments for this idea / decision?” Encourage attendees to voice their concerns and their arguments in support of those concerns. This will teach your employees that debating is a normal and expected conversational process.  Priming your employees to be accustomed to debating ensures they will be more comfortable voicing opposing viewpoints when decisions really matter.