Skip to content

What it takes to “win” a discussion

You may have been to some kind of debate club at school, or at least had a debate in a class. If so, the debate you had was probably a competitive debate, and went something along these lines (causality is not presented as its usual wibbly-wobbly self to keep the sentences short):

  • A motion is proposed.
  • Someone presents a statement in favour of the motion.
  • Someone else presents a statement against the motion.
  • A second statement in favour is made.
  • A second opposing statement is made.
  • Questions are asked and answered.
  • A favouring summary is made.
  • An opposing summary is made.
  • Somehow one “side” or the other “wins”, perhaps by a vote.

Or you may have been to court. If so, you probably saw something that went along these lines:

  • A charge is proposed.
  • Someone presents a case, including evidence, supporting the charge.
  • Someone else presents a case, including evidence, refuting the charge.
  • Questions are asked and answered.
  • A supporting summary is made.
  • A refuting summary is made.
  • Somehow one “side” or the other “wins”, perhaps by the agreement of a group of people.

Both forms of conversation are very formal and confrontational. They’re also pretty hard to get right without a lot of practice.

And here’s a secret that the Internet Illuminati apparently tries to keep shielded from many people: not every conversation needs to work like that.

Back in the time of the war of the three kingdoms, the modern party system of British politics didn’t exist in the same way it does now. Members of parliament would form associations based on agreements of the matter under discussion, but the goal of parliament was to reach consensus on that matter. “Winning” was achieved by coming to the best conclusion available.

And, it turns out, that’s a possible outcome for today’s discussions too. Let’s investigate what that might mean.

  • Someone wants to know what tool to use to achieve some goal. This conversation is “won” by exploring the possibilities and their pros and cons. Shouting across other people’s views until they give up doesn’t count as winning, because nothing is learned. That’s losing.
  • Two people have different experiences. Attempting to use clever rhetorical tricks to demonstrate that the other person’s views are invalid doesn’t count as winning, because nothing is learned. That’s losing.

Learning things, by the way, is pretty cool.