Lesson 2.4

Discourse vs Debate vs Arguing

Dive into this topic by watching the video, followed by key explanations and exercises below:

Key Concepts:

  • Discourse is an exchange of different ways of thinking

    • It should be low pressure

    • It should truly be about trading different ideas and points of view

    • It involves active listening, and truly seeking to learn and understand

  • Debate is about sussing out the merits of different ways of thinking

    • Not every idea or point of view is the best, and it is okay to explore and bullet-test ideas—especially if you can keep your discussion from getting personal (more on this later!)

    • Debate works best when you’ve exchanged information and are operating from the same terminology and with a clear topic of debate

  • Arguing is making a case for something, but the term often puts people on the defense

    • Subtle changes to our vocabulary can help us have productive friction when we make an argument without putting people in a defensive place.

    • Instead of using the words “argue” or “argument,” talk in terms of thinking and theorizing.

    • It’s better to abstract yourself from the argument, so if you’re wrong it’s easier psychologically to change your mind: “My thinking is that…” or “My hypothesis is that…” or “My theory is that…” — these are better than simply “I think that…” because if your point ends up being wrong, you don’t have to be wrong—just your hypothesis.

    • Perhaps best, leave the door open for changing your mind in a painless way by instead saying, “My current hypothesis is that…”


Practice Exercise: Facts and Stories

One of the most helpful habits in discourse and debate is to clearly distinguish between inarguable facts and debatable theories. Click the image below to open this practice exercise:

Facts & Stories exercise recap:

  1. Pick something in your immediate environment that you can observe, and describe what you observe as objectively as possible. E.g. “I see that the barista at this coffee shop is making four people’s coffees at once.”

  2. Make sure not to editorialize, or inject any judgments into your observation. If necessary, qualify your observation by getting more specific or by making an objective comparison. E.g. Don’t say, “I see that the barista is rushing.” Instead say, “I see that the barista is working more quickly than I usually see baristas work.”

  3. Now say, “My story is…” and describe your snap judgment of why you think this is happening. This is not your interpretation, theory, or guess of what’s going on. E.g. “My story is the coffee shop did not estimate how many customers it would get on St. Patrick’s day, and this barista is stressed out.”

  4. Now step back and think of another story that might be the case. E.g. “Another story could be that this cafe is popular, and this barista thrives in a fast-paced environment.”

  5. The keys to using this exercise in real life are:

    1. Carefully distinguishing the objective from the subjective.

    2. Owning your story, identifying that it is what you’ve come up with in your head. No one can argue with this, and also this helps you admit the possibility of other possible explanations.

Speaking in-arguably, while separating facts from your stories, is an essential habit for productive debate and discourse. Practice it in your real interactions!