1. Start with where you agree
Jordan Peterson does this a lot: He listens to the opponent’s argument, takes it in, evaluates in his mind, and then, he tracks down all the little things that they actually may have an agreement on. This might sound like an impossible task because the whole point about a debate is in fact to disagree and to find a way of getting your opponent on your side. However – if you take a look at a couple of Jordan Peterson’s debates, you’ll come to realize that there are actually a lot of ways that you can agree. Now, how does this make you more superior in the argument? Well. It’s pretty simple: By starting with where you agree, you immediately show yourself off as a kind, understanding and tolerant human being – and no matter how controversial your opinions will present themselves to be – your opponent will see you differently and you’ll be guaranteed to be treated with more respect and integrity throughout the remaining parts of your debate.
2. Forget about who they are
What usually happens before you sit down to argue with a person is that your mind will prepare itself with a set of expectations and preconceptions about who they are, what they stand for and how they’ll argue their way for it. This is a very common mistake in debates -, especially among politicians. The problem with this is that you’ll start focusing more on the person debating their cause than the actual cause itself. Perhaps you’re already intimidated by this person. Perhaps this person insulted your sister last week and now you’re ready to take your revenge. Or perhaps this is a politician or an activist from the left wing, you’re from the right wing – and you’re already infuriated by this person (who you don’t even know anything about) because of the general preconceptions that the media presents to us about people on the left. If you instead, forget about who they are and only focus on the argumentations of their cause, you’ll immediately be regarded as stronger and more powerful in the discussion. You’ll be taken seriously and you won’t be judged as much – regardless of what your opinions might be.
3. Avoid getting personal
This might be the one thing that determines whether you’re a professional debater or not. When you debate a cause, you want to seem like you’re interested in the cause only, not your’s or your opponent’s private life. I know it seems tempting to pitch in that story about when you had to have an abortion because you were too young and vulnerable – when debating with a pro-life activist. But please. Hear me out: Don’t do it. It will only shed darkness on your abilities to stay cool and unaffected. Your story might make you emotional, you might cry and you might call your opponent horrible for calling YOU a murderer – and that’s when you’ve lost the whole argument. Now, I’m not saying either one of you is right to do this. I’m just saying that the very second you told that personal story – it suddenly became a hundred times easier for your opponent to take you down and to announce themselves a winner. Remain an emotionless robot, if you can …
4. Be careful with attacks
I know, I know, I know. But what if I’m debating with an irrational human being? you might ask. And trust me. I know exactly what you’re talking about. I know the pain: That person, who, in the middle of the debate starts shouting, calls you a fascist, points their finger at you and commands that the world would be a better place if someone wiped off every single person who shared your political views – that person is probably an asshole. Still, don’t give in. The reason why this person has – all of a sudden – become the biggest asshole on earth, is simply because they feel threatened by you. Perhaps you’re debating with a woman and you’re playing around with the idea of shutting down the woman’s right to vote. From her point of view, she has a right to react. She has a right to wish you dead – because at that moment you verbally abused her gender. Now, you didn’t do that, of course. Because all you did was verbalize an opinion – which, everyone should be allowed to do at any time. However, in her world, hearing an opinion about the gender of women is the same thing as hearing an opinion about her. So in her eyes – you were actually pointing a finger at your opponent, suggesting that she didn’t deserve the right to vote. Now, this puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? Imagine hearing from your opponent that you don’t deserve the right to vote. It’s not very pleasant, is it? So – before you start attacking her back (and becoming just as unreasonable and immature as her) you got to put yourself into the shoes of the reactor. Why did they react so much? Perhaps they’re not used to hear the word women and NOT immediately relate it to themselves as an individual? Perhaps they’ve been taught by their parents that their gender defines them and that whoever verbally abuses their gender, also, simultaneously verbally abuses them as a person? Most likely, they have a right to react. Because they see things from another perspective than what you do. So why not – next time your opponent becomes aggressive – why not evaluate their position in the argument, before going into attack-mode? Why not ask your opponent: “Why did you get angry just now? Do we have a miscommunication? In that case, I’d love to hear about it, so that I can fully understand your way of reacting. Because right now, I’m clueless.”
5. Never begin with “So what you’re saying …”
In the famous debate between Jordan Peterson and Cathy Newman, it’s easy to pin down her first significant mistake; Namely, the sentence: “So what you’re saying …” Now, if you break it down, you’ll see that the reason why she chose to begin her sentences like this, is in fact, quite understandable. Yes, we’ve all done it before. We have all been a Cathy Newman; She did it because she started to feel threatened, and as a natural reaction to this, she unconsciously decided to regain her power over Jordan Peterson by making her own summary of his every opinion and demanding that whatever he said, her perception of it was the right one. It’s an innocent sentence – “So what you’re saying” – but the meaning behind it and the way it’s received is far more aggressive than what you might think. As a result of Cathy Newman’s powerplay, Jordan Peterson immediately felt as if he was put in a spot, unable to utter anything because he knew that whatever opinion he came with next would be attacked by Cathy’s own version of the truth. The conclusion to this is – never assume that your version of what someone else is saying is the right one; Because when you start going down that path, you’ll be perceived as “the bully” and you’ll have lost the whole debate.
6. Try not to generalize
This is a tough one because we all do it from time to time. As humans, we simply can’t help putting people in a box by categorizing everyone’s behavior. Our brain hates chaos, therefore, we unconsciously create order. And how do we do that? We make our own answers to unanswerable things by putting them in boxes with our own invented labels. (Society in a nutshell!) This is not a bad trait. However, when you’re debating an opinion or an issue with someone, generalizing too much can actually make you look ignorant and onesided in the eyes of your opponent. We never want to be the villain in a debate. So here are a few things you can do as to not generalize too much:
- When you want to argue that a vast majority of a group is so and so – try finding the actual percentage online. Don’t say “All men are rapists” or “All women are submissive”. Just because you’ve had a couple of bad real-life experiences with a certain type of gender, it doesn’t mean they’re all the same. Remember that if someone generalized your gender (unless you’re a psychopath with no feelings) I’m sure you wouldn’t have liked it.
- When you want to say “Most people are so and so …” say it, but add “But there are exceptions of course.” Yes, we all know there is the exception to everything and it’s too obvious to even mention, but saying it actually helps a lot to improve your character in the debate. Not only will you be perceived as tolerant, but you also, simultaneously warn your opponent that the rest of the generalizations you’ll be pulling in the future of the conversation should be taken with a grain of salt.
7. Support yourself with facts
We’ve all been there – it’s physically painful to be the one who’s poor on facts, while your opponent has graphs, numbers, and dates – all memorized in their head. You feel inadequate, unable to support your side even though you know its the right one. So what do you do next time? You study. Study hard, meet your opponent one more time and hit them with the truth. Trust me. Nothing feels better than when your recent downloaded knowledge makes you more able to argue for your side.
8. Argue as if you desperately want your opponent to change your mind
Steven Crowder is a master at applying this specific method in his debates. What he does is that he sits down with someone who has an opposing view and before anything else, he says: “Here is my view, you’re more than welcome to change my mind.” Now, how does this little sidenote affect the entirety of the remaining debate? It’s simple: With a statement like that, you are in essence admitting to the possibility of being wrong. Ergo; You’re a person who constantly practices self-improvement, which involves – always questioning your own beliefs, always willing to process the other side of a story and always open to criticism on your viewpoints. A highly intelligent man is someone who covers all those things mentioned above. And a first-impression like this can go a long way in any debate.
9. Never point fingers or assume something about your opponent
If you’re debating with a stranger, be careful with your assumptions. Remember that you don’t know their story or their background. Mutual respect for whoever they are and whatever they’re going through is crucial if you want to keep your superior role in a debate.
10. Adjust your voice and posture
This is probably Jordan Peterson’s best trait; He is one of the few people on the right who never goes out of line with his voice or temperament. Notice his way of behaving in debates; He’s steady, he’s calm and he has the audience listening immediately. Why? Because not only is his tone of voice serene and pleasant to listen to, he also takes time with his sentences. He pauses a great deal – which is yet another effective way of capturing the opponent’s full attention. Try it yourself: When you’re arguing with someone, suddenly pause in the middle of your sentence, look at your opponent to see if they’re actually listening to you, then look down, stroke your chin and continue where you left off, slowly. This method is highly effective in any circumstance (not only debates) because it makes you seem powerful and in control.
Take a look at this video of Jordan Peterson’s debate with Cathy Newman. Notice how he uses both techniques throughout the entire discussion: His posture stays the same – laid back, calm and cool – his tonality remains the same and he does the “pausing thing “every now and then.
11. Implement humor
Jordan Peterson does this in the video above when he takes the liberty to laugh at the way Cathy Newman always seems to misinterpret what he’s saying. This is in no way agonizing or bullying – because the way he does it (contrary to the bullies) is very inviting – as if he is telling Cathy Newman; “Isn’t it funny how we’re not on the same page at all?” Another reason to why he does this has a lot to do with strategy: Jordan Peterson doesn’t want this argument to turn into a fight between two opposing views – because that won’t do good to anyone and it won’t convey the right message to the audience. So when he feels like the energy is about to get a little too tense, he rescues himself back with a little laughter or a joke – this way, he won’t be regarded as the villain, the audience will cool off and so will the opponent. After all, it’s not warfare. It’s just a debate.
12. Make the other person feel understood
Going back to the importance of being humble: It’s very very important to take the side of your opponent even when you don’t agree with their viewpoints. How do you do that? This is how: Imagine that you’re arguing with someone about an emotional subject. Let’s say “The transgender community”. Okay. So your opponent considers themselves to be of no gender. You don’t believe in that and you’re very against gender pronounces. Your opponent begins to explain how they didn’t feel at ease with their gender while growing up, and that they were often bullied and misunderstood. Now, you have to be very smart here – you have to not be like the bullies that your opponent experienced in their childhood. Because if you begin to insult them, they’ll only get the trauma back from their childhood, they’ll hate you and you will have lost the debate (in their eyes). So, what you’ll do is that you’ll nod, stroke your chin, say comforting words like “Yeah .. that must have been hard.” and “I can’t imagine what that must have felt like …”. Forget about what they stand for – just for a moment. Realize that this is an actual human being who has experienced suffering. It’s an emotional subject for them. Don’t be the villain. Try to understand their point of view. Now, after you’ve given them your comforting shoulder, you can begin to calmly explain why you don’t believe in the LGBTQ community, while still making them feel understood. And that’s how you win the debate darling:)
13. Use Visual imagery
In my life, I’ve seen this a lot. And it’s very very effective. Why? Because sometimes, your opponent might not understand the argument you’re giving them. You might be using advanced terms and databases that they have not yet been able to look into. What do you do? You come up with an example that they can understand – something they can relate to their own life. That is visual imagery: You immediately invite your opponent into a world of visualizing a specific situation in their head. Don’t be the villain and say: “Oh, you haven’t heard of this term? What are you, stupid?” (Maybe Donald Trump can say this but I urge YOU not to!) Instead, try to make them understand by putting them in an alternate situation with key components that apply more to their life.
14. Admit it when you’re wrong – it actually makes you look stronger
Actually, I have to compliment Cathy Newman on this. She did it once in the interview with Jordan Peterson, and I’m telling you – if she hadn’t done that – if she hadn’t admitted to her mistake just once – she would’ve been A LOT more ridiculed in the media. Trust me on this. When I saw her admitting to her mistake, I actually grew more respect for her. (Now, I wish she could’ve done it more but once was enough to make her seem … hmmm … just a tiny bit more powerful in her position!)
Take a look at Cathy Newman admitting to her mistake:
15. Ask yourself: Do I want to be right or do I want to learn?
Or rather .. do I want to be the villain or do I want intellectual stimuli?
Sometimes you have to choose one. Because it’s inevitable that you will – some time or another – be the wrong one in a discussion. Now, I have come to the point where I want to be wrong, just because I find it more fulfilling and definitely more entertaining. It depends on the way you look at it. Perhaps you love to win, that’s fine. Just … please do me this favor and … admit to your mistakes if you know you’ve made one. There’s no use in making yourself look better when your audience already knows that you’re loosing. In life, you’re supposed to be the student, not the teacher. And even if you are a teacher to some people, you’ll remain a student for someone else. That is how you become an intellectual.
I hope you liked this article and that you learned something new! Now, keep on debating that heartfelt issue of yours!
Aftur S. Nerdrum
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