As a young child, I remember it being joked that I would be a great debater in the future due to my habit of persisting in arguments. And creating them in the first place. I enjoy having conversations about complex and often difficult subjects but now, as an adult, have no desire to participate in debates. In fact, I am trying as best I can to avoid them and opt for discussion instead.

In this post, I aim to compare these two communication methods to further understand their differences. I will also look their impacts on individuals and our society. It’s important to me to write about this topic as it is the basis for my blog, which I will touch upon in my final thoughts.

What is the difference between “discussion” and “debate?”

I think the best way to start would be to look at the dictionary definitions of both verbs to understand their specific actions.

To debate would be to “argue about (a subject), especially in a formal manner.”

Whereas, to discuss is “talk about (something) with a person or people.” It can also mean to “talk or write about (a topic) in detail, taking into account different issues or ideas.”

When looking at the word choice, it’s clear that each has a slightly different focus. Although both are concerning the conversation of subject matter, the emphasis of debate is on “argue” suggesting it’s more about the delivery than the topic. Whereas, to discuss is more casual, described as a “talk” and focuses on exploring the issue and doing so collectively.

This interests me because it appears that situation and circumstance may be important in determining which method of communication may be more appropriate. I’d like to begin the comparison by looking at how the use of both may affect an individual.

Individual effects…

There is undoubtedly great skill in debate. In order to be successful in terms of winning, it requires confidence, an ability to use effective persuasive techniques and well researched points. The skills I see in discussion however are different, the most difficult being open-mindedness. It’s this mindset that I believe would benefit an individual in any situation in life. Challenging personal views is a way for further education and in some instances, strengthening existing beliefs. Discussion is an invitation to do just that, free of judgement and full of curiosity.

The freedom of being allowed to change an opinion can be very rewarding as it enables, even promotes, self-growth. In a debate, the goal is to project an opinion to achieve a feeling of higher-ground over the other person. It can be seen almost like a sport and this winning mentality isn’t always helpful. If the issues are relativity benign, then it can be justified as a bit of fun. But when difficult issues with serious consequences are being dealt with, then I believe there is need for a different approach.


The larger picture…

Like it or not, politics matters. And in my opinion, there is a desperate need for more discussion here. As mentioned when looking at the definitions, it’s clear that the focus of debate is the debater themselves and when it comes to politics, that’s a problem. Sticking to a point and arguing it, knowing that the opposition will be doing exactly the same, just isn’t helpful. There is no opportunity for compromise or even some level of understanding. Therefore, solutions aren’t made efficiently and it’s disappointing for the people those decisions will affect. Being passionate isn’t the problem, it’s about not letting that passion over-rule and disregard everything else.

Social media has definitely had some level of influence over the way we communicate. The accessibility to connect and create conversation is powerful and shouldn’t be underestimated. Important issues can be addressed instantly and with great impact. Being behind a screen can give confidence and with little to no consequences, anyone can stir feelings of anger, sometimes intentionally. This is unfortunate because there are people using the platform thoughtfully to promote relevant subject matters and it’s not always being taken with serious interest. Instead, it creates public debate which seems to result in frustration felt by most. I don’t think we should encourage this type of communication and see it as standard but I can understand why it is.

Why discussion is more difficult…

The difficulty with discussion is that for it to work, all parties must be aware and actively participate. Maintaining a focus on the issue at hand, keeping an open-mind, and consciously considering all given viewpoints isn’t easy. What’s easier is to get emotionally involved and defensive if someone isn’t giving a presented view an equal level of respect.

I know that if there is to be progress of discussion, then this way of thinking must be encouraged more and opportunities provided to practise in. Perhaps the possibility of effective change in the world would improve if a greater number of people, especially those who hold power, were more inviting of alternative ideas and views. To lead by example.

close up of question mark on (my) notebook page

Final thoughts…

In trying to keep my own mind as open as possible, I do think that perhaps in the right setting debate could be useful. However, I would prefer it not to be the default of conversation when it comes to complicated issues. It’s the problems themselves that should always be the priority.

I want to create more opportunity for discussion and hope to continue sharing posts about a range of topics that interest me. Opposing opinions are welcomed! I believe it’s a positive thing that we all have different views and it can be in anyone’s interested to share them as well as listening to others’.

Intentions are what’s truly important and to value the issue at hand over personal feelings is something to be proud of in my opinion.


What do you think?

Don’t be shy – let me know your thoughts in the comments!

I am genuinely curious to know your views surrounding debate and whether you participate in or avoid them! I’m sure there are also some benefits and disadvantages of both that I have missed too.

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