The presentation and examination of two or more opposing
viewpoints on a specific proposition with the aim of assessing
their compatibility and, if necessary, choosing between them.
Distinct from a negotiation, which aims to establish agreement or
consensus, and a discussion, which facilitates the exchange of
viewpoints without requiring a decision at the end of it.
When to debate
Situation and purpose Most appropriate form of dialogue
• Brainstorming, exploring options, conducting a
listening exercise to see where everyone stands
• Discussion – hear everyone out - no need to make
anyone pin their colours to the mast just yet
• Gathering evidence, fact-finding, surveying expert
opinion, researching case-studies
• Interview – focus on asking good questions and
collecting as much data as possible
• Comparing options, testing assumptions, making
decisions, and justifying consequences
• Debate – decision must be based on accurate
portrayal of best case for each available option
• Securing the support of those who lost the debate
and ironing out the final details
• Negotiation – goal is to build sufficient consensus
to ensure decision is implemented and honoured
• Resolving disputes and repairing relationships to
allow for process to be repeated in future
• Mediation – judge the dialogue on how it is
conducted rather than how it is concluded
Setting rules for structured debates
Obstacle in everyday disagreement Solution in structured debating
• Peer pressure
• Dissent not just permitted
but actively encouraged
• Bias or parochialism
• Speakers required to defend
positions other than their own
• Protected speaking time and
personal attacks forbidden
• Moderator to intervene if and
when speakers go off topic
• Designation of a specific forum
as safe space for debate
Setting standards for structured debates
Have both sides addressed
the issues at the heart of
as both sides are talking
about different issues.
Proceed to Stage 2
Have both sides made a
persuasive case for their
Debate inconclusive if
audience don’t consider
either side to be credible.
Proceed to Stage 3
Have both sides analysed
each other's evidence and
Debate inconclusive if false
claims and logical fallacies
Proceed to Stage 4
Have both sides compared
each other's positions with
Debate inconclusive if it is
unclear which side has
made the best case.
Proceed to vote
The ultimate goal?
Not to produce unanimous agreement
But to produce a decision that everyone can accept as fair
and legitimate even if they disagree with it
Building a case – the 3 Ps
Position – clarifying your stance
Problem solution outcome
Place the debate in context and explore why a decision is needed at all,
the viability of the options available, and the likely consequences.
Burden of proof
Sum up the points that the case for change will need to prove and that
the case against it will in turn need to disprove.
Points of clash
List the strongest arguments for and against on each point and then
decide which ones to concede and which to contest.
Philosophy – justifying your position
Framing the debate
Clarify what both sides assume to be true and how this influences what
they consider to be the top priorities when making this decision.
Connecting principles to position
Test the logical consistency of each side’s position by applying their
philosophy to the specific circumstances of the debate.
Test the logical consistency of individual arguments by screening them
for fallacies that prey on widely held cognitive biases.
Presentation – persuading your audience
Ethos – watch example video
Presenting yourself or your sources as a trusted authority, especially if
what you are proposing is counter-intuitive or unconventional.
Pathos – watch example video
Helping your audience to empathise with others by sharing experiences
that help them to see the world from someone else’s point of view .
Logos – watch example video
Using agreed facts or modes of reasoning that lead your audience to
conclude for themselves that your argument must be true.
Debate strategy – the iDEAs methodology
Opening speakers Middle speakers Closing speakers
introduce your arguments
Define your position and
burden of proof
Define the points your
side still needs to prove
Define the conflict at the
heart of the debate
Explain the reasoning
behind your position
Explain how they support
your side’s position
Explain the position of
both sides on that conflict
Analyse the conflict at the
heart of the debate
Analyse the arguments
made by the other side
Analyse the comparative
strength of both positions
summarise your arguments