Don’t Debate Anyone Who Is Unable to Lose Why Winning Shouldn't Be the Goal of Debates
I love to debate, and I love watching debates. Yet I seldom see debates which lead to resolutions or positive outcomes. Each side just digs in their heels and verbally assaults one another. This has become commonplace because so many people are not able to lose. For them losing is humiliating, so they just don’t allow themselves to lose.
Debates become wrestling matches. A zero sum game producing one loser and one winner, which is rarely useful in leadership or in life. Unless…
Both parties are able to lose. Here’s what I mean.
I’ll present to you two types of debates:
Type 1: Fight to Be the Winner
If you are on a debate team in school, your job is to never relent, but to defend your position at all costs. Similarly, if you are a contestant in a presidential race, your job is also to defend your position at all costs. And for most that means making sure their opponents look as unfit as possible in the process. If you watched the initial Republican debate this week, you saw this first hand.
The goal of this type of debate is simple: win.
But when we make this type of debate a way of life in our personal and professional relationships, and in our leadership, debating becomes futile and injurious. You see this clearly with many married couples. They debate to win. They are tense, emotional, and hurtful. They throw verbal punches at one other, neither willing to lose. To clarify, neither are able to lose. Why? Because the entire premise of their discussions is usually pitted from the beginning to produce a winner and a loser. A winner that will gloat, and a loser that will be humiliated.
I see the same pattern among teams. Yes, lively discussions are needed, but not humiliating exchanges that prove people wrong. It’s natural that someone may be proven wrong, but that should not be the end goal of the exchange. So if you are not on a debate team or a running for a political office, I recommend that you be especially careful not fall into such a trap.
I prefer to look at debates in the following way.
Type 2: Find the Best Answer
To find the best answer, we must be willing to be wrong. Both parties. When am I willing to be wrong? When I am able to be wrong. When the entire relationship (or discussion) is not staged to embarrass me if I “lose.” Also, when I am confident, strong, and ultra-aware as I enter discussions and debates, that it’s okay not to emerge the “winner.”
The most important attitude to have for this type of debate to be successful is this: The other party feels just as strongly about their perception of the truth as I feel. But we both cannot be right. So, humility says: I could be wrong, even when I am so sure I am right. It takes a mature and confident person to believe that. I try to live up to this standard, but sometimes I fail.
This is the bottom line: If a person does not come to the conversation with these mindsets, I usually avoid discussions with them because they lead to futile contests versus productive discussions.
Therefore, a good debater is not one who does whatever it takes to win, but one who is willing to lose in order to find the best solution possible.
Next Step: Next time you are preparing to engage in a debate, ask yourself, “Am I able, and is the other person able, to lose?” Psychologically speaking, are we creating a safe place for someone to lose their position as we seek to find the best resolution together?
Book I just read: Leadership: Inspirational Quotes to Create a Wise Leader from an organization called TheQuoteWell.
For Further Reading: