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Have A Healthy Debate

All too often arguments lead only to more bad feeling and disagreement. However, it is normal and natural for people, even those close to each other, to have differing views. Learning the skill of healthy debating can increase your mutual understanding and respect. You may even learn something important that means life and relationships go better for you.
  • Don’t take things personally
  • Stay with the present
  • Stick to the point
  • Really listen
  • Don’t interrupt
  • Avoid accusing
  • Be prepared to compromise
  • You can come back to the subject later
  • Sometimes take notes




Most of us take it personally when someone disagrees with us.  If a friend argues with you about your political views you may feel attacked.  If your partner wants to make different decisions regarding finances, holidays etc. you may feel misunderstood and resentful.  But if you can remember that a disagreement is just that, not something you need to take personally, then you have much greater chance of having a healthy debate.  You may also have a greater chance of getting your own way in the end!



Most arguments are not about the matter in hand.  They are about old resentments and incompatibilities.  For instance you may be arguing about where to go one evening and before long you’re having a full scale row about the fact that one of you always gets their own way, or similar.  
If you’re upset about your partner’s selfishness that’s an important subject.  Maybe you need to bring that up as a separate issue when you can have an in-depth discussion, rather than end up with a ruined evening and nothing settled.


Lets imagine that your partner wants you to both to go to a family member’s place for the weekend, but you don’t fancy that idea at all.  It would be all too easy to trawl in lots of earlier incidents, such as the time you were left to go alone to your mother’s birthday celebration etc.  It’s quite natural for resentments to build up when you feel your partner is not being fair, but it is unlikely to help the debate.  This is because your partner will then bring in other past circumstances, and the ‘debate’ may then degenerate into a ding-dong about who-did-what.
Try to stay with the here and now as far as possible.  Explain why it’s going to be hard for you to go this time, and leave the past out of it.  There may be many things that happened in the past that have left you unhappy, but what’s the point resurrecting them, unless you want your partner to do something specific, such as acknowledge your feelings or make it up to you.  If you feel really hurt about something then that’s fair enough, but it may be a subject for a separate debate.



You may feel that the person you’re arguing with is well out of order – and you may be right!  But rather than accuse them of unfairness, bullying or similar, tell them how you are feeling.  If you say ‘I don’t feel fairly treated’ you have a better chance of a proper hearing than if you bellow at them ‘You’re a selfish pig!’ – or worse!  However upset you are, try to stay calm because it can make you more powerful.




When feelings are running high, it’s very easy to believe you’ve heard something correctly when you haven’t.  Or the other person may have chosen the wrong words.  Try to listen carefully and dispassionately.  In some situations it may be appropriate to take notes rather than interrupt (see below).  If you don’t understand, ask for clarification rather than charging in with poorly-prepared replies.




It can be very, very hard not to interrupt, especially when the other party says something outrageous, or inaccurate, or just strays from the point.  However, if you do interrupt, your exchange could easily become a slanging match.  Try to be patient, remember what you want to say and bring them back to the point when you can.



This may sound like strange advice but in some debates it’s good to take notes.  If you are having an animated discussion with your partner or close friend, this could be difficult, as they might take it the wrong way.  However, you might be able to jot down one or two points, explaining that you’re taking what they say seriously and wishing to return to it later.  Of course, if you have a good enough memory, simply memorise the points.  Note taking may be preferable to interrupting.
There are some debates during which it is very desirable to take notes.  Work meetings or any formal discussions may go better if you are seen to be taking them seriously.  The fact that you are writing down what others say may make them think twice before making pronouncements.  However, you should always be guided by the way the person or people you are talking to are reacting and by the usual customs of your social or working group.



Compromising doesn’t mean ‘losing’ or ‘giving in’.  Don’t be too stubborn to find common ground.  It can often make things so much easier for you – and that’s more important than being ‘right’.




In the heat of the moment it’s possible to forget important factors.  Or you may feel guilt-tripped or confused.  Remember you can always revisit the subject later.  If you feel dissatisfied, there’s no need to accept that the subject is closed.




We have looked at the importance of not taking things personally, sticking to the point, staying in the present, really listening, not interrupting avoiding accusing, making notes, compromising and returning to the subject later.  All of these should help you have a healthy debate.  If your encounters with others are leaving you upset and confused, however, you need some advice that’s impartial but empathic.  Just call one of our insightful Readers who will make the whole matter so much more manageable for you.


PUBLISHED: 19 July 2017

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