As people gear up for Presidential Debate Season: The Main Event, you might come away with the thought that debates are something the average person won't ever take part in, at least once out of school. But debates are only a more orderly forms of arguments, and we all have to take part in those.

Whether disputes in business or life, you sometimes have to fight to get what you want.

There will always be times that you have to convince others to see things your way and your charm clearly isn't swaying them. If you can't put some debating skills to use, you won't get what you want.

The idea of a debate in this case is a back and forth with another as you both try to support your view and reasoning. Here are some tips that can help.


Good debaters know they're only as effective as the information they have available. For the presidential debates, the candidates spend a lot of time in preparation, whether going through briefing books, watching videos of an opponent, or participating in mock debates.

Pull together all the information you can before getting into your debate. I can remember once pushing an unwilling service company into repairing, for free, a five-year-old refrigerator because I had reread the service contract and found the section proving my point. That meant not only that I prepared my case, but that my wife had intelligently filed away the document in case we needed it. Even your preparation requires preparation.

Sort through the various parts of reasoning

There are three essential parts to any process of reasoning: assumptions, facts, and logic. All three need to be strong and consistent to support an argument. Part of your research is to identify all three both for your arguments and the ones you anticipate the other party putting forward. See where the legitimate weaknesses are and focus on them. It also helps to have a firm grasp on some formal logic and the types of fallacious arguments people commonly use.

Listen and react

Listening is critical in debate. If you're focused on what you want to say, you'll miss the points you could counter. Also, while you may want to win the discussion, what if someone else is legitimately right? It might be that what you desire is unreasonable, or that there is a compromise position that the two of you could agree on, getting you past talk and into action.

It's also negotiation

The point of the type of argument we're discussing is really negotiation. Ultimately you're looking for action that goes beyond the nod of a head. Don't get so wrapped up in verbal battles that you forget to look for specific action. A Pyrrhic victory isn't enough.