No doubt there is an art to debating. Learning how to debate effectively and still respect others’ different viewpoints is a skill that can serve you well as a college student and beyond. Learn more about tips for debating without belittling that will make you a more effective and empathetic communicator.

Debate is everywhere

During the recent political season, there were plenty of strong and different viewpoints about the candidates. As a result, learning how to debate and respect others who you disagreed with could have been a constant challenge. But debate happens every day about a multitude of issues.

Austin J. Freeley in his book, Argumentation and Debate, 13th edition, explained, “Much of the most significant communication of our lives is conducted in the form of debates. These may take place in intrapersonal communications, in which we weigh the pros and cons of an important decision in our own minds, or they may take place in interpersonal communications, in which we listen to arguments intended to influence the decisions of others.” (Freeley, 17)

Agreeing to disagree

One key tip for college students to remember when establishing how to debate a topic is that you do not have to disagree with every statement the other side makes. Your reflex may be to try and refute every point, but that may not be as effective as you think, according to Debate And Critical Analysis: The Harmony of Conflict by Robert James Branham. He wrote, “By so doing, the debater will often miss the most important opportunities for strategic gains: those instances in which your opponent’s arguments may be granted and put to use in support of your side.”

Sometimes the most effective way to make your point is by co-opting the other person’s point and using it to refute what they are saying. By using your opponent’s own idea against them, it’s harder for he or she to disagree with you. It’s also an effective way to put a more positive, rather than argumentative, spin on the discussion.

How to debate

Having different viewpoints is simply a fact of life, and learning to respect others’ opinions is essential. But college students, and everyone, can always use some additional tips for doing so in a friendly and non-divisive way.  You want to express your viewpoints, without belittling others who think differently than you. Here are three tips for how to do this:

  1. Show that you understand the other person’s situation. We all have unique opportunities and challenges we face that shape our different viewpoints. Indicate that you get the other person’s reality.
  2. Show that you understand the other person. It’s also important that the person you are “debating” with feels you see them and have a personal awareness of their needs and goals.
  3. Take that understanding and create a positive path. After you show that you “get” the other person, the next step in how to debate without belittling is to offer some positive suggestions for a solution or progress. Talking down to someone about his ideas is not a way to foster better understanding. Frame your thoughts in a positive light if you want to achieve any agreement.

Do you have any advice for how to respect others’ different viewpoints in a debate? Let us know in the comments.

Reference: Freeley, Austin J. 2014. Argumentation and Debate, 13th ed. Boston, MA: Cengage.