Four practices to become better in argumentation and debate

The Thinker statue presents a state of reflection, one practice that should be used religiously in debate and argumentation. Stacey Simon/Lariat

Whether we enjoy it or not, argumentation inundates all aspects of life. Personal or professional, learning to be a better arguer can allow you to not only win more arguments but identify some of your own misconceptions. It is a skill set that will be useful, regardless of what you’re doing.

“The ability to both construct and defend an argument is an essential skill set and I think we do it all the time,” said Saddleback College Communications professor and Debate team coach, Shawn O’Rourke. “Any additional training a student can have in that only prepares them for moving on to say, graduate school, and of course their professional lives as well.”

The benefits of learning such skills can go further than just academics. Many students who work to improve their argumentation skills feel that it gives them characteristics that benefitted them in the future, whether it be landing jobs or communicating in personal relationships.

“It taught me to listen,” said former high school debate team member Andrew Datka. “You can’t effectively argue against the other side without really understanding what they have to say. Also, being a better listener has just made me better at communicating my own thoughts in a more receptive way.”

The following practices can help you become a better arguer:

Consider your audience.

Oftentimes people will argue as if they are talking to themselves that have the same viewpoints as they do; at times, it works, but it usually doesn’t. Understanding your audience is essential. Once you know your audience, you can tweak the diction or tone of your argument.

Know what your goals are.

What are you trying to achieve? Clearly defining your goal is essential, as it makes it clear to your audience and yourself.

Learn from your mistakes.

If you are able to learn from your mistakes and correct them for the future, will help you slowly become a strong debater.

“I did sales for a number of years while I was studying speech and debate,” O’Rourke said. “The ability to stop and go ‘why didn’t that sales pitch work in this situation?’ reevaluate and change is really important.”

Consider future attacks or vulnerabilities.

Consider the issue well. You should prepare for criticism in advance and know what your audience is going to ask questions about.

“To me, it’s all about training yourself to think critically and that’s what’s going to help you in multiple areas of your life,” O’Rourke said. “It’s about keeping an open mind, thinking critically, and considering your audience.”

O’Rourke explains that the use of Ethos, Logos and Pathos in argumentation is used by a lot of students already, even if they don’t even realize it. Yet, the discipline in learning how to do it correctly is the most effective way to argue.

Bad habits of argument, such as the use of lies and fallacies, have worked for people in areas like politics, but O’Rourke says this is a deceptive practice and should be avoided, as they can often be abused.

“My big thing is that you don’t want to deceive people, manufacture or distort evidence,” O’Rourke said. “I think you need to avoid unethical arguments and attacking people; that’s why I made sure my class has an exploration of communication ethics as well. The individual has to train themselves to not only not use bad arguments, lies or fallacies, but also train themselves to detect it when others are trying to use it against them.”