June 23, 2003 spout

The Danger of Good Debate Skills

I have been in technical arguments many times where I knew I was right and used every once of my debate skills to convince the other person of their terrible wrongness. This can go four ways:

  1. I’m right and they eventually agree
  2. I’m wrong and I turn to their point of view
  3. They get worn down and stop listening
  4. I’m wrong, but they fail to convince me

Being right is fun, of course, as is finding someone that’s willing to change your mind (lots of folks don’t like to argue). Wearing a person down is no fun at all, but by far the worst is that I’m wrong and I stay wrong. Unfortunately, as a professional communicator for the better part of a decade, #4 is a real possibility and it’s something to really watch out for. Being right is easy. Recognizing that I’m wrong is easy when I’m arguing with someone with good communications skills. Recognizing that I’m wrong when the person I’m arguing with isn’t quite up to the task, that’s hard to detect and fix.

Of course, even harder is being wrong and having no one to tell you you’re wrong, but I can’t blame that on anyone but myself. : )