For some unknown reason, I have been subjecting myself to the pain of competitive debating for around 7 years now — ever since I entered my Junior year in high school up until I graduated college. I’ve taken breaks in between and would total the amount of time I’ve spent debating to about 5 years. With that much time and effort invested into it it’s not uncommon for any competitive debater to meet statements like “bet you never lose an argument to anyone” or “you probably always have a good comeback prepared”.
The thing is though, we’re likely to deny that and convey how different disagreements are from arguing against an opponent inside a classroom. We think about the rigidness of competitive debating, of how our speeches actually have templates and there is a set amount of time to speak. But I think there’s actually a lot we can lift from competitive debate and apply in the everyday-arguments we have with our friends, partners, or family.
A basic we learn in debate is “matter, manner, method”. For most debaters, it’s often the very first thing we learn and the foundation for everything. All it means is that good debating relies on 3 things: matter (information), manner (style), and method (strategy). Apply that to arguments in-real-life and it’ll go a looong way.
First off, matter in debate is all about knowledge — knowing things but also being wise in using what you know. It’s keeping up with current events, necessary statistics, or understanding a wide variety of concepts. In any actual argument you have, it’s good to come in the most prepared, with the most things to fire at people. So maybe the equivalent in real life is keeping receipts to back up your accusations. Get reliable sources for the information you’re working off instead of just gossip. A good memory is key if the problem is unfulfilled promises and the like.
Next, we have manner. This aspect refers to how you conduct yourself within a round and easily translates to the same when having a fight. Manner is considered important because it has to do with being able to get your point across clearly and definitively. In a fight, try to keep in mind that you never want to lose your cool. You always want to look like the most reasonable, the most logical one — sad to say that this goes doubly for women. It’s easy for people to write females off as just being “emotional” during an argument so we have to work twice as hard to show that we’re right (which we usually are).
The last part, and probably most important, is method. This would be the most difficult to define as each debater has their own tips and tricks for constructing a full-proof strategy. Not to mention, it also heavily relies on who they’re going against, what the topic is, and all these external factors. But some tried and tested practices I’ve used in real-life arguments include framing, weighing, and questioning.
In framing, you just have to remember that it’s all about how you present your points. It’s building a narrative around why those points are the most valid. For example, if you’re upset at someone for breaking off plans at the last minute don’t just talk about being hurt, explain why you’re hurt: the investment you had in those plans, the time you set aside for it, the effort put into getting ready. It’s phrasing your issue in such a way that conveys everything you want it to.
Weighing is looking at the different perspectives or claims within an argument and considering which is the most sound or the fairest to take. When arguing with someone over a choice you disagreed with you can use this by asking if maybe it did more harm than good, or which outcome is more likely to stem from that particular choice.
Finally, questioning concerns comebacks more than actual arguments. In debate, we form rebuttals by asking whether something makes sense or even has a place in the parameters of the round. Likewise, in real life, it’s easy to take down another’s arguments by attacking whether what they’re saying is even reasonable in the first place or if they’re letting their anger make wild accusations for them. It’s also important to question if what they’re throwing at you is relevant within your current argument or if they’re bringing up past hurts or statements intended to insult.
Of course, there’s no full-proof way to be in the right absolutely every time because let’s face it — sometimes we’re wrong. And sometimes we have to admit that we’re wrong too. But for all those times that we’re not wrong and just can’t find the right way to show it, try applying some of these next time.
Share your own tips for winning any argument with us in the comments!