The ‘Steel Man’ debate method


Recently I cam across a debate method that I found really effective.

I was introduced to this method on the The Long Now Foundation. I cant recommend the content on this site enough for some some thorough presentations of important topics. They group focuses on taking the long view of addressing problems (think ‘slower/better’ instead of ‘faster/cheaper’) and the power of debate to change minds.

It is this debate format that I have found so useful. This format is nothing like the zero sum showdowns on cable news or political debates.

Instead, it goes like this:

There are two debaters, Alice and Bob. Alice takes the podium, makes her argument. Then Bob takes her place, but before he can present his counter-argument, he must summarize Alice’s argument to her satisfaction — a demonstration of respect and good faith. Only when Alice agrees that Bob has got it right is he permitted to proceed with his own argument — and then, when he’s finished, Alice must summarize it to his satisfaction.

I have tired this a few times and the results have been incredible. By doing this you create a much calmer and constructive tone for a real conversation.

Give this a try.