Debate is different from an argument where people fight over who is right or wrong.
It's the art of convincing a person to make a decision or a compromise. In a debate, there are multiple solutions available, and, even more beliefs and emotional complexes at play. So you can bet on your audience being unsure about the best path to take.
It's more like seducing someone. -for them to be interested in what you are offering, you must push the right buttons and at least have something in common.
The debater who wants to win must be crafty in laying out the relevant options to get the audience's full emotional appreciation of his agenda. Article on mastering the basics structuring a debate case.
Simply put, your chances of winning depend on how you appeal to your audience's search for a solution.
This article will show you how to win by engaging with your audience's emotions and curiosity. But more importantly, how to have a productive debate.
Be the agent of chaos
When you are debating, think of yourself as an agent of chaos.
Chaos is uncertainty. It is the source of indecision and it's everywhere. It is the gap in our knowledge. The ever-present degree of error in every situation where a judgement must be made.
Debate exists in areas where this chaos is at its peak. Your job as an agent of chaos is simply to find it in every solution presented and explore how deep the rabbit hole goes. Adopting this mindset keeps you from jumping into conclusions too early which might ruin your credibility in the debate.
Most people are quick to argue why their solution is the best. If you do this, your audience and opponent will automatically start searching for that gap in your system to prove that you are wrong. - and there is always something.
Instead, aim to raise their awareness on the uncertainty (chaos) they are currently facing. And, help them navigate to a compromise which you want them to reach.
Why creating chaos works
You persuade people by the depth of uncertainty and chaos you present not arguments. When you create uncertainty, you are also creating anxiety. Their anxiety is your source of power.
Nobody likes being undecided. Especially when they were previously sure of how their position.
This means their decision and search for a reasonable compromise will be propelled by the fear and terror you create with your words. Usually associated with the fear of losing something.
Robert Greene’s 31st law of power: Control the options: Get others to play the with the cards you deal.
Here is an example of where this worked.
In early days of the Coronavirus pandemic, most people were totally against the idea of vaccination and had all sorts of unfounded conspiracy theories against it.
It didn't matter that the bulk of them were alive because of vaccines, and, all scientific arguments from biologists and doctors couldn’t convince them.
However, this changed because the media painted vivid images of death and created uncertainty, chaos and the possibility of isolation forever creating fear and anxiety which then convinced people that vaccination was the best solution out.
Obviously not the best example out there, but I hope you get the point: people are convinced to compromise because they are choosing the lesser of two evils not because they completely agree with you.
The practical: How to do this.
A conversational tone is the best if you want to have a productive debate. Keep it friendly and always be comparing.
Below, is a demonstration on how you can use a simple "No-Yes-No-But" 4-step method to create enough uncertainty for your opponent to opt for your compromise.
Consider this debate between two co-founders of a Tech-start up on the verge of collapse.
“[The first No – your stance] I don’t think the brand identity you want us to preserve is all that important right now. We must change if we want to adapt with the times and survive.
[The Yes – common ground] But, I agree with you that all the work that we done so far is too valuable to throw away just like that. It feels like we are abandoning our original vision doesn’t it? We may have to work on key things we must not lose.
[The second No – the threats, chaos] But as we do that remember we haven’t grown meaningfully in the past 2 years. If we don’t change now, what do you think will happen? Are you ready to watch all this go down? (Add more fear) Even multi-billion-dollar companies are changing their values because they are afraid. It would be best if we did the same.
[But – the frame, more chaos] I get it if you are scared to change too fast. Market forces (universal factors) are still volatile right now, which means there is a great window of opportunity. We can come up with a plan to change which doesn’t completely ruin us but also paves a clear path for the future… [Bring in the solution] I think we should do this and that… consider ABC (Be as technical and clear as possible) "
The first No: Your Stance
Clearly state your stance or point of clash and what you believe in. This will put you in direct conflict with your opponent. Try not to attack them at this stage, otherwise you will end up having a yelling contest.
Be precise and clear in what you say. A poorly expressed stance can lead to a fatal disaster. Check out my previous article, on why clarity is necessary and how to achieve it structurally.
The first Yes: Creating common ground
Progress comes from cooperation between people who share common values. People will listen to you if they believe you are on the same side or share a common goal. At this stage aim to establish common ground and to present yourself as someone they can work with.
Look into the things that you both value and don't want to lose despite your principal differences.
To score maximum points, affirm the validity of their attachments and emotions about that thing. You have heard this before, we are emotional not rational beings, so try not to downplay your opponent's values. Or else, you will only come off as a prick.
In the next section, is meant to prevent you from compromising your position.
The second No: Give your stance an identity
After establishing common ground, make sure to dismiss any wrong associations which might be implied from the common concern you share.
i.e, A shared common concern about the management of illegal immigration = Trump Supporter = White trash ≠ Racist Nazi.
I will emphasize this again: CLARITY IS VERY IMPORTANT.
Aim to show the threats and ugliness of the current situation. Numbers scare and convince people so be sure to use data from reliable research, surveys, and examples. There is a reason why you see these stats everywhere: 60% of new businesses fail within the first 3 years. 1 in every 3 women has been physically abused. The idea is to show that no one is safe, anyone can be easily affected. unfavourable devastating trade-offs which your opponent must avoid.
If you do this right, the chaos you introduce will get your opponent reflecting on their model and metric of evaluation.
Three things to remember:
- Protect your stance from being wrongfully affiliated with terrible ideology.
- Direct the debate to specific issues (it’s usually a question of execution).
- Illustrate how your opponent’s stance threatens the integrity of your common goal or value.
The first But: Brokering a reasonable deal
Remember: Control the options: Get them to play the cards you deal
Your goal here is to frame the search for a solution in the debate. Unless you are being radical, this where you define the key boundaries for the compromise you are trying to broker. Secondly, you introduce your opponent or audience to how your solution works.
In this section, focus on doing two things.
1. Address the most common and powerful possible objections against your worldview.
2. Introduce an objective frame. Its best to use universally limiting factors which must consider when searching for a solution? These may be unchangeable things like time, availability of resources, climate change.
You may not like this conclusion
I believe that the real win in a debate isn’t convincing a person but getting the best possible route to improve your perception around a problem. - some people just don't want to listen but that doesn't mean you can't learn from them.
In debate much like in the world, Murphy’s law applies, anything can go wrong, anytime, anywhere. (especially with your proposed solution). This strategy won’t work all the time but it can tremendously improve your chances. The best solution doesn’t claim to solve all the problems but understands that nothing is truly stable and everything falls with time. So, it works to mitigate, to fill in the gaps so that there can be progress.
Paradoxically, the best debate looks for chaos not solutions.
Be the agent of chaos and win.