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The 5 Directives of Friendly Debate

Disagreement can enhance a friendship if you handle it the right way.

Debate doesn’t have to get personal.

Facebook has had me shaking my head the last few weeks. Silently witnessing discord between “friends” with words driving wedges between them. Social media has that unique ability to make people feel protected while being exposed. Much like an outraged driver who’s inside his car yet completely visible.  Some contributors forget that the internet is not a cloak but a spotlight.

During the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, Facebook reminded me of a hurricane. While hurricane Isaac was threatening the RNC, another storm was brewing on Facebook. The more comments and “likes” on brutal political commentary, the more the storm gained momentum. Like fanning a fire, posts turned to vicious personal attacks. Not toward their enemies. This was friendly fire.

I believe debate can be constructive, beneficial and enjoyable. Especially amongst friends. Disagreement can stimulate ideas, widen your horizons, and help solidify strong relationships.

An evening out with another couple where conversation goes beyond “Who won the soccer game?” to “What do you think about a flat tax?” creates an engaging discussion that enriches friendship.

We don’t compromise our values by respecting others’ views.  As long as we follow these directives.

1)  Be open to broadening your own understanding of issues.

The stronger you feel about an issue, the more you may want to influence. In order to influence, you need to persuade others to buy in to your opinion.

Those that disagree with you are your best educators. By listening to opposing points of view, you have 3 potential gains:

  • Gain insight as to weaknesses in your argument so you can be more persuasive.
  • Learn to address concerns of the opposition to further your position.
  • Learn something you didn’t know that may reveal a compromise.

2)  Avoid adjectives, adverbs and generalizations.

As stated in my Sid’s Sense series, descriptive terms ignite negative emotional responses. They shut down debate rather than encourage it. If you say, “All Republicans are selfish,” or “President Obama is a liar,” you’re speaking cowardly by not giving your opponent opportunity to debate specifics.

Instead, present an issue or a fact that engages debate. Such as, “I don’t believe those with higher incomes should carry more of the tax burden.” Then give your reasons why. Now your opponent can hear the basis of your opinion and respond accordingly. Debating the tax burden forwards the conversation. Trying to defend the selfishness declaration is futile.

3)  Practice tactful understanding.

As I stated in my post, Tips to Tact, consider beginning responses with comments like these:

“I hear what you’re saying but…”

“The part about ….is a valid point but I think….”

“I know we both want….”

“I hadn’t thought about it quite like that. Have you thought about this?…..”

“I understand those that fear……but what if those people looked at it this way?….”

“If you were to go along with me on this, what do you think you would risk?”

4)  A friendly debate always begins with pure motives.

I saw 2 approaches by speakers at the political conventions. Humor was often injected into speeches through snide “low blow” characterizations. A few times I heard candidates acknowledge positive motives of their opponents. Unfortunately, the humor always drew more applause. The compliments, however, drew pause. I found that interesting and promising. I expected boos.

When you’re speaking and draw serious pause from your audience, I think that’s when they’re really listening.

Speaking for myself, I listened more intently when the candidate said, “I know that our President is a smart, kind man who wants the best for our country, but I disagree with his decision to…..” OR “I admire that Mitt Romney has proven to be a successful businessman, but I disagree with his plan to…..”

5) Effective debate that leads to progress is always a parallel mission.

Whoever said good communication requires eye-to-eye contact was dead wrong. At least when it comes to politics. A compromise is more likely to be reached on the golf course than the oval office.

I loved when former President Clinton talked about the incredible work he and George Bush Sr. had done to help people around the globe. From opposing political parties, they united in a common mission. No pointing fingers at each other. Side by side, their pure motives created a union that faced one direction–forward.

With the current state of our economy, there’s plenty to do if we begin with what we agree on. Until we engage in friendly debate instead of friendly fire, we can’t even uncover our similarities. Nobody wins when we’re stuck.

While Americans are begging politicians to quit bickering and work together, social media is exploding with derogatory, hurtful, and stereotypical generalizations between friends? It’s hypocritical.


As we march toward the election, I hope we can do so hand in hand and not fist to fist.

Even if we’re walking on different sides of the track, we can still be friends.


"Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck. "


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