The pitfalls of debating


It seems to be the norm for people to engage in debates even during social gatherings. The primary purpose of debate is not only to put forth one’s line of thought but also to gain the agreement of the other party as well. In our society, this is often considered normal and individuals who win debates are applauded. Over the years, prizes are awarded to teams in competitions whose members are able to debate well. Yes, there are strong associations that are established between debates and competitions.

While competition fuels progress, I personally feel that debates should be avoided. I will even go further and say that in the process of a social exchange of ideas with one or more individuals, we should not debate but listen. This is important because a good listener is often considered a strong conversationist. A powerful debaters pale in comparison and hence often do not share the same limelight. 

I personally have several experiences whereby I have won the attention of many acquaintances in social gatherings simply through the act of listening. In fact, other than employing the use of several listening techniques such as using prompters and nodding my head, I often do not need to speak a single word to gain their acknowledgment. People often wonder how I managed to build rapport with others so quickly and well. I often give this reply.

“Well, just don’t talk and listen first. Provide agreeable statements in areas that you agree with and keep them talking. You learn more at the same time. Only when they ask for my opinion will I respond.” 

In Singapore, we are often encouraged to be competitive.  I agree with this argument when it comes to upgrading oneself and staying ahead of the rest, both in terms of educational achievement and in work contribution. I also agree that competitiveness is one of the core elements that drives the progress of organisations and individuals forward.

However, when it comes to the art of conversation,  engaging in an act of debate kills rather than build the rapport with others.

 This is something that all of us – working professionals, educationists and students alike- should bear in mind.


3 thoughts on “The pitfalls of debating

  1. Your ideas here speak very strongly to me. The format of the “debate,” whether in the classroom or in a social context, seems to me to miss the point. I tell my students that, for me, at the heart of English studies is the need for human beings to understand each other. That means learning to express oneself clearly, but it also means learning to listen to the ideas and experiences of others and empathize with them. Debate allows one only to defend one’s own view; listening, on the other hand, allows one to truly understand the world and one’s fellow citizens better.


  2. Hi Siobhan,

    Thanks for your comments on my blog. It is very insightful.

    I agree with you that debate allows one to put forward his or her views while listening builds rapport. And (do correct me if I am wrong) I believe that you are suggesting that it will be good to strike a balance between the two. I especially like the term “empathize” in your comments.

    I agree with this wholeheartedly. The catch therefore lies in the “when” and the “how”.

    My blog actually refers to the first encounters with others.

    I always feel appreciated when an aquaintance whom I have just met will listen to what I have to say. Hence, I adopt the same technique when I communicate with others. Of course, if both of us are rather quiet, someone’s got to break the ice.

    When rapport and friendship have been established, I fee that this will be the right time to put forward our views. As for debating, I still have reservations about it. And hence, I often strive to maintain a win-win situation when ending the conversation by having the other party acknowledging the fact that while I respect his or her view(s), I do have one of my own.

    More often than not, it works. One of my friends has a phrase for this technique: “agree to disagree”.

    Warmest Regards,
    Patrick Tay


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