Lesson 2.6

The Rules Of Productive Debate

Dive into this topic by watching the video, followed by key concepts below:


Key Concepts:


A good debate keeps things in “The Zone.”

  • A debate is about exploring the mountain range of potential that exists between different perspectives and ideas. This is often uncomfortable, but if it doesn’t get too intense or personal, it can lead a group to find things that no member could find on their own.

  • A productive debate can involve any number of participants, so long as they participate fully and thereby don’t leave potential ideas on the table.

  • There’s no universal “right” number of people for a debate, though two is the easiest to manage, especially if there’s a chance that people might hold back in front of a larger group.

There are 5 basic Ground Rules for productive debates:

  1. Start with a well-defined objective and a spirit of inquiry.

    • We’re trying to explore a specific topic, with a specific goal.

  2. Everyone is on the same team.

    • We’re comrades, not adversaries.

    • There is no “winner.” The team wins if we make progress.

    • Everyone is an equal participant; no hierarchy or special treatment.

    • Assume that everyone’s intentions are good; we are all coming from a good place here.

  3. No making things personal.

    • No name calling or personal attacks.

    • No “how could you believe that?” or “why can’t you see?” questions. Pose questions instead like “what makes you feel that way?” or “what has led you to that conclusion?”

    • Give people the benefit of the doubt.

    • Nobody loses face for changing their mind.

    • Reward people for pushing the group forward, not for being “right.”

    • No taking things personally yourself.

  4. Keep the debate about facts, logic, and the topic at hand.

    • The debate is not about who cares more, who’s loudest, who’s most powerful, or who's most articulate.

    • If things get emotional or personal, gently identify it and reset.

    • Distinguish between facts and interpretations (stories).

    • Identify logical fallacies and step back.

    • Check the validity of assertions of fact, and analyze the quality of evidence, not just the evidence.

    • If the debate veers into other topics, identify it and reset.

  5. Be intellectually honest and humble.

    • No tricky rhetorical tactics.

    • Listen to and respect every viewpoint, even if you disagree.

    • Admit when you realize you’re wrong, and concede when others have good points.