How To Win A Debate
Mr Donald Trump and Ms Hillary Clinton at the Presidential Debate, Hempstead, New York, 26 September 2016. Photograph by REX Shutterstock
Ahead of the next chapter in the presidential race between Ms Hillary Clinton and Mr Donald Trump, we ask an expert how to win your own discussions.
With the Presidential Debate resuming on Sunday in St Louis, we thought it worth brushing up on some debating lore so we can all have a good discussion afterwards about Mr Donald Trump and Ms Hillary Clinton’s respective skills in the oratory department. Of course, we then realised that such skills are almost universally useful, whether you are indeed jockeying over the fate of the Free World, or having a bit of a set-to in the office about which picture to put on the corporate Instagram next. So we thought we’d put together a guide, and ask an expert. Step up to the lectern Dr Todd Graham – the director of debate at Southern Illinois University, who recently won the 2016 National Debate Coach Of The Year award. Here are his five top tips on how to win an argument – whatever the situation.
HAVE A THEME THAT YOU LINK BACK TO
“When presidential candidates are debating, they should have a theme. And they should try to manoeuvre a good portion of their answers back to it. My old debate coach used to call it your ‘major premise’. It’s the same when you’re having an argument with a friend in the pub, or with a loved one at home: stay focused on your theme and to try to go back to your major premise. When I teach my classes I always ask, ‘Have you ever been in an argument with a friend, and halfway through your argument has one of you said, “wait, what is it that we’re arguing about?”’ When we have arguments, we add too many things because we’re angry – this complicates the position you’re trying to get across.”
SIMPLE = GOOD
“Sometimes less is indeed more. I was talking to a friend recently and he said that he could remember some things Donald Trump said in the debate but could remember hardly anything that Hillary Clinton had said. That’s because he has fewer points that he wants to make, but he will make them a little bit more emphatically. The same principle applies if you want to win an argument with your boss at work. You don’t want too many arguments in there. Maintaining simplicity goes a long way.”
TRY TO BE LIKEABLE
“Remember that you’re arguing about a positon, not your opponent. People who do best in debates and in arguments avoid attacking the person. Don’t be aggressive. Be assertive – which is about being open, direct, honest and appropriate for any given argument. You can have a disagreement and still be likeable – which can go a long way to what I call ‘cooling down the argument’. Avoid those red flag words which you know will set off your opponent. Those words will turn the argument against you.”
PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR OWN STYLE OF ARGUING
“Usually, you tend to argue in the same way every time. You can see it in presidential debates and we tend to do it in our everyday lives, too. There are five main styles of arguing: people collaborate, compromise, defer to the other person, compete, or avoid conflict. Most people only do one of these. So pay attention to your style and vary your response repertoire. If you’re someone who always wants to avoid a fight, sometimes you should compete. If you always defer to the other person, try to collaborate.”
TO WIN AN ARGUMENT, SOMETIMES YOU SHOULD LOSE AN ARGUMENT
“This is my favourite tip. Generally, there is more than one topic in a debate. You aren’t always right. So it’s good sometimes to concede an argument. It gives you much more credibility if you win the bigger argument after admitting your opponent was right about a different aspect of it. Your opponent is much more likely to concede whatever it is that you want if you agree with them on some things. And everyone else is likely to think that you’re being honest.”