7 Keys to Gentlemanly Debate 8

“Freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent, and debate.”

– Hubert H. Humphrey, 38th U.S. Vice President

Manly debate is an activity which few modern men understand.  Once a common interest of all Americans, true debate has been confused and discouraged.

Unfortunately, most debates today quickly become emotionally-charged arguments that end with hurt feelings and damaged reputations.

However, this does not need to be the result of all debates.

By applying the seven keys below to your own discussions, you can keep your debates logical and friendly.

#1 Be Prepared

In order to maintain an intelligent, logical debate, you must prepare beforehand. If you are not prepared, the discussion will quickly disintegrate into an emotional argument.

To be prepared for logical debate, work to gain a clear understanding of important issues. Although you obviously cannot be prepared for every possible topic, you can build a strong foundation in the most vital subjects.

If someone starts a debate on a topic with which you are not acquainted, politely tell your would-be opponent that you do not yet know enough on the topic. This strategy will help you avoid being drawn into fruitless, emotional arguments that damage bot your relationships and your reputation.

#2 Stay Logical

Throughout the debate, carefully keep your discussions logical and well-reasoned. Avoid falling into logical fallacies and do not give way to the temptation to attack on an emotional level.

If logic is forgotten, you debate will no longer help anyone learn.

#3 Be Calm

Especially when debating important issues such as politics or religion, it is easy to become passionate about the topic.

However, losing your temper can only sully your own reputation and ruin the debate.

When you start to lose your calm, remember the reason you are debating: you want to change your opponent’s mind and, perhaps, learn more yourself.

If you become angry and passionate, your influence you had with your opponent will most likely be immediately destroyed.

#4 Be Ready To Stop

If you see that the debate has reached an impasse or, worse, is becoming an angry argument, you, as a manly debater, must be prepared to gently, but firmly, end the debate.

If you allow the argument to continue, your relationship will be damaged and neither participant will gain.

Even if your opponent gets carried away by the excitement of the moment, it is your job to end any fruitless debates.

#5 Be Respectful

As a manly debater, you must, despite your disagreement, treat your opponent in a respectful way.

If possible, look for some point of agreement. By acknowledging this shared idea, you will not only avoid alienating him, but you may even convince him to truly consider your position.

Whenever you debate, remember that you are attacking a set of ideas – not a particular person.

#6 Ask Questions

Although logical statements are certainly necessary in a debate, well-planned questions can do more to make your opponent reconsider his own position.

When you make a statement, your opponent will naturally try to think of counter arguments.

When you ask a question, however, your opponent is more likely to notice the flaws in his own system of thought.

Just be careful to avoid wording your question in such a way that it really becomes a statement.

#7 Keep The Debate Friendly

Even in the middle of debating, you must remember that your opponent is your friend. Although you do disagree with some of his beliefs, you still do value his friendship.

When the debate ends, show your gentlemanliness and friendliness by thanking the other person for discussing the issue in a logical way.

Doing this reaffirms your friendship and helps to keep the debate from undermining your relationship.


By keeping your debates logical and friendly, you and opponent can gain a better understanding of important issues and build a strong relationship.  Debate does not need to damage friendships.

What debating “keys” have you found?

8 thoughts on “7 Keys to Gentlemanly Debate

  1. Reply bondChristian Mar 29,2010 10:48 AM

    Disclaimer: I’m horrible with debating. I’m tenacious and most of the time not too gentlemanly. I say that because I probably don’t have the credibility to offer any advice on this topic. But yet, here’t come… :-)

    #8: Know WHY you’re debating. What’s the goal? Are you trying to convince the other person, or just shift the other person slightly? Are you trying to reveal problems with their position, or propose an alternative? Are you trying to debate for the sake of others listening, not so much for the person you’re debating? Or are you debating just so you’ll stay right? (That’s probably a big one for me.)

    I think coming at the debate/discussion/whatever with a clear understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish can go a long way with keeping the conversation focused.

    #9: Be ready to be wrong… and admit it. In most debates, even if you’re right overall, you’re wrong somewhere. Be the first to point that out – be the bigger man. I have a ton of respect for people who do that.

    Excellent post, Nate. This is something I need help with. I especially liked the point about asking questions. Right on.

    -Marshall Jones Jr.

  2. Reply Nate Desmond Mar 29,2010 11:01 AM

    @ bondChristian – Great points! I particularly like your key #9. That is one I need to work on. :)

  3. Reply Stormbringer Mar 29,2010 2:34 PM

    Too bad most debates are spontaneous (humor at http://xrl.in/4xe6). Online, we can be nameless and act in ways that we would not act in person.

    In another forum, someone challenged me to a debate. This fellow had impure motives, and I believed that all he wanted to do was to rail and further attack my Conservative viewpoints, and to humiliate me so badly that I would leave that forum. I told him so. He insisted, and I continued to refuse. Messages from others in the forum told me I was making the right decision. So, this comment is related to your point 4, Be Ready to Stop. In this case, 4a, “Know when to avoid starting”.

    Hope you don’t mind, there are some other “a” points that I would like to add.

    1a. “If someone starts a debate on a topic with which you are not acquainted, politely tell your would-be opponent that you do not yet know enough on the topic.” I can go along and give a good debate, but if they go into territory that I am unfamiliar with, I have to say that I need to research that area.

    1b. Watch for a dodge, though. Sometimes people will spring from the topic at hand, and need to be brought back to the issue.

    2a. I love logic, and strongly recommend that people read up on logical fallacies. There are many sources for the basic fallacies available online. You don’t need to know the Latin, just the principle. Make sure they don’t catch you slipping up.

    3a. Some people will bait you into losing your cool. I’ve done it, I’ve irritated and ridiculed people for whom I have no respect (Chinese Communists defending their treatment of Tibetans), then trapped them in their mistakes. Great fun, but not for use with friends. Keep an eye on your opponents for these tricks.

    5. Be respectful? Difficult online, takes all the fun out of it. OK, kidding. That other stuff belongs in a flame war forum.

    6. I like this one about asking questions. Many times, I have saved myself embarrassment by repeating back in the form of a question, “Are you saying, then, that…” They can clarify as well, and get a chance to save face, as the Japanese say.

    For bondChristian, when you say that people should have an understanding of what they’re trying to accomplish, that works when debates are *not* spontaneous. When something comes up in conversation, it may still be accomplished by stopping and saying something like, “We’re just doing this for intellectual exercise, yes?”, or, “Just making conversation, not trying to change you or the rest of the world”.

    Then there’s the *real* debate. Twenty minutes for one, twenty for the other. Ten minutes for rebuttal for one, ten minutes for rebuttal for the other. Then five each, and closing comments. Cuts down on interruptions!

  4. Reply Nate Desmond Mar 29,2010 2:42 PM

    @ Stormbringer – Excellent additions! If you ever want to write an article on Practical Manliness you are certainly welcome to!

    I love the way that you communicate important points in a manner that keeps me laughing right to the end of your post!

  5. Reply bondChristian Mar 29,2010 3:19 PM

    Stormbringer, yes, I should have clarified that. I meant for you (the general “you,” not you personally) to figure out why YOU’RE arguing. It doesn’t have to be agreed with the other person though. If you try to match with the other person, you’ll probably just wind up in another debate.

    Actually, I’d give the “why” advice for any situation. Knowing why you’re doing something is crucial.

    -Marshall Jones Jr.

  6. Reply Stormbringer Mar 31,2010 2:50 PM

    Marshall, I was just expanding on your comments, did not mean to imply that you did something wrong by any means.

    Nate, thanks for the kind words. If I can come up with something “man specific”, I’ll run it by you.

    Something else happened that inspires this brief remark: Know when they’re playing. If you both are going into the discussion to do it for its own sake, fine. But if you realize that the other guy is just messing around on a topic that is important to you, especially if he wants to goad you, walk away. Politely, but I suggest you let him know that you’re onto his game and no longer wish to play.

  7. Reply bondChristian Apr 1,2010 6:56 AM

    Yes, I was with you, Stormbringer, but thank you. Also, excellent point about walking away.

    -Marshall Jones Jr.

  8. Reply Stormbringer May 18,2010 3:27 PM

    I had to return and express my outrage that more people are not interested in doing things in a civil, let alone gentlemanly, manner. Also, I have to admit that sometimes I slightly regret coming back to my faith, because I want to go full “flame on” with some people.

    I had been writing some articles on the folly of atheism and the way I have observed atheists acting, both online and in person. Also, I participated in a couple of comments sections in Weblogs. Not only was almost everything that Christians said ridiculed and put down (often with extreme profanities), there was no logic, nothing civil, nothing gentlemanly in the overwhelming majority of the cases. And can you believe it, now I have cyber stalkers? Had to shut down the comments sections on my own Weblog.

    Instead of discussing issues, it’s fun to harass those with whom you disagree. We need more people willing to set a standard and act like gentlemen even in disagreements. (By the way, I had someone totally misunderstand me and lash out, and we’re on the same side. Almost funny.)

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