Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Skills of debating

I don't know if there is a text on the art of debating. This is a very interesting discipline. Let me list a few strategies that can be used in a debate. Please remember that any weapon can be used for the good or for the bad, depending on the wielder.

I am not talking of the list of logical fallacies, which are a primer for any debater, and should be quickly identified if the opponent resorts to any of them. I am also not talking of the arts of sophistry, rhetoric, evading information and the diversion of attention (also known as politician-speak).

In this post, I will write on some sublime strategies for winning a debate against worthy adversaries.

1) The principle of least information revelation :

This is probably the most important tactic in debating. One should not reveal more information than is necessary for the debate in question. Any unnecessary information can be contested and important time will be lost. One should never give the opponent a chance to stereotype oneself. Revealing more information than necessary will permit the opponent to brand one as an extremist, or to divert the attention on unrelated issues.

2) The battle for the middleground :

The debater should make an attempt to rephrase the opponent's views. This will convince the audience that the opponent is being listened to. The primary battle in any debate is to capture the middleground. Any attack from the middleground will be more vicious than usual.

3) The art of providing examples :

The debater who can provide a right example to elucidate or summarize the scenario gets a huge bonus in the fight. This technique is an art, and gets better with practice.

4) Accession to a wrong strongpoint :

To weaken the opponent's argument, the debater should concede to a faulty strongpoint in it. This would project a false win for the opponent, and divert the attention from the more vicious strongpoint.

The debater would essentially set the language in which the debate is conducted.

5) Invitation of attack on a wrong weakpoint :

It is important to waste the opponent's energy in the battle. And more time spent on a wrong weakpoint of a debater, means less time spent on a real weakpoint. So the opponent should be lured into attacking a wrong weakpoint.

6) Identification of the unpreventable :

If there is an issue that the opponent opposes, but which happens as an inevitable consequence of a host of other issues unrelated to the debate, it has to be identified at the earliest. Such an issue will make the opponent lose credibility. Even though the debate is not actually won, such a pseudo-win will make the debater look good.

7) Juicy trail for the opponent's escape :

The debater should actively lay down a trail for the opponent to escape from the debate. No opponent will succumb to a painful death in a debate. Most debates are won when the opponent escapes, as in "I will have to read on this and get back to you", "This looks very interesting, I am not aware of this" or "I know you are wrong, but cannot tell you why". Such escapes should be accepted graciously, and the opponent should be thanked for escaping ('Thank you. We can discuss more on that later'). In fact, the debater should lay down juicy morcels all along the escape route, so as to lure the opponent.

8) Identification of inconsistency :

When the opponent makes mutually inconsistent claims, this should be identified immediately. Such an exposé would be deadly to the opponent, more so than a revelation that an opponent's claim is false.

9) Projection of the image of cool :

One need not always keep one's cool in a debate, but one should definitely project one's cool to the audience. Voice should be raised only most sparingly, only to stress certain phrases amidst a monologue.

The personality of the opponent should be held distinct from his viewpoint, and the former should always be shown the utmost respect. Never should the audience be given the impression that the opponent is shouted down.

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