To debate, or not to debate, that is the question

– The role of debate in our 24:7 technology-driven world

When we think of debate we typically imagine politicians in the House of Commons wagging their finger and arguing their point with a raft of their party behind making appreciative “aye” and “hear hear” noises. But in today’s modern world debate has evolved. Technology means debate is happening everywhere, every minute of the day. While the House of Commons debates still plod on, debate is happening in your sales meetings, over your email, in the comments of LinkedIn, and on your twitter feed.

However, whilst debate may go on around you with astounding speed and incessantness facilitated by our 24:7 technology, good debate is a skill. And one that, if you can fully understand it and engage with it, will give you the edge.

What is debate?

We talked above about the typical image we hold of debate between politicians, but actually, often they aren’t even debating. They are speaking, yes. But debating, not always. So what’s the difference?

104 London Debaters in action

Speaking or debating

Speaking is where you talk to put your own view across. This can be done charismatically and very persuasively – think of your favourite TEDX talks for example. But a debate is something different. Debaters take opposing arguments head on. Rather than avoid conflicting views, a debater will consider opposing points – may even accept the strength of them – and will weigh up the argument to reach a final decision. Do you see the distinction? A speaker will passionately talk about their own view. A debater will talk about all the views and persuasively rationalise why, on balance, the answer is what it is.

Debating or negotiating

Debating should not be confused with negotiating. Negotiation aims to find a balance of views and come to a compromise that everyone is happy with. In a debate all views are aired and discussed, but a final decision is made once all views have been considered.  Debating won’t necessarily find a final solution that all sides want, but it will come to one that everyone thinks is fair.

Why debate?

Debating holds power because all sides come out of a discussion feeling they have been listened to and that, even if they don’t agree with the final outcome, they do feel that outcome ultimately is fair. In your professional life, the skill of debate is an important one and one that will give you the edge.

Technology has changed debate

More opportunities to debate

Technology has changed the way we do business.  Social media platforms have transformed our communications, so not only do we have the one-to-many model of information sharing, we also widely experience many-to-many information sharing, and many-to-one.

We have written in more depth about this if you want to read more but for a top line understanding, we mean:

  • One-to-many: one person shares information to a wide audience e.g. a writer posts a blog
  • Many-to-many: information comes from multiple sources and is shared by multiple different sources e.g. social media activity where lots of people may be discussing the same general hot topic
  • Many-to-one: information comes from many different people or sources, through to one e.g. a company reviewing customer comments.

With information coming in so many different ways, and being shared so freely among groups of people, debate is a vital skill. The ability to consider all sides of an argument, to tackle opposing views head on with clarity, to summarise why the final view has been reached. This is persuasive and sets you apart from the noise.

More important to debate

We are living in an information-rich world, but not an accurate world. We are bombarded with news – and also increasingly, fake news – opinions, views….and we ourselves can write or share this information at the click of a button without much thought. Debate holds information to account. Taking the time to properly consider and set out an argument, considering the validity of all sides – this is what gives you the edge. We are surrounded by the noise of opinion, be the voice of consideration that rises out above the noise.

The skills of debate

As we have seen above, technology has altered the form of debate. No longer is debate confined to a stage of two opposing speakers. Debate can take place anywhere, at any time. Online debate is now as relevant to our lives as the debate in the board room.

While the form debate takes may have changed, the skills of debate has not. The very same skills we use to debate in person are the very same we use in written form – identify and define the issue, analyse the arguments, summarise the decision. It is about opening up dialogue, not being afraid of counter-arguments, but considering the evidence on all sides and making decisions with clarity and confidence.

Key take away

The skills of debate have never been more important. In a world of AI, fake news and deepfake videos, debating is an essential format for an exchange of ideas and decision making.

How to learn about debating

Debates/workshops that we are involved in:

Books that we have found useful: