Why every manager should learn how to debate!

During the last four years of my life, I have been building a passion for debating. At the beginning of my fourth year of high school, I got in touch with the debating club at our school. Between 2013 and 2016 I participated in three Dutch Championships, three years of ‘Op weg naar het Lagerhuis’ and some other, regional as well as national, tournaments. Besides that, I have been a teacher in a course of debating for younger pupils of my middle school for about 2 years. At the moment I am on the other side of the judges’ table every now and then; I am one of the judges at the Benelux debating competition, organized by one of the biggest debating institutions in the Netherlands, the ‘DebatUnie’.

During these days full of young people debating with each other about lots of different subjects, it strikes me time after time that lots of them have more charismatic presentation skills than the average guest speaker at university. I then often think to myself: those guest speakers, who often are managers at some of the biggest companies in the world, could really develop a lot of essential skills to become a better manager (than they already are) by learning, or at least practicing how to debate.

What is the first skill that comes to your mind when thinking of debating? Indeed, argumentation. Without good quality and solid arguments, you will never be able to win a debate. Also in peoples management, this skill of argumentation is a vital one in multiple respects. Both ‘upwards’ and ‘downwards’ a good manager uses this kind of skills. Upwards when, for example, trying to convince (potential) shareholders to invest in the company or trying to convince the top-management to receive a larger part of the total budget for their own division. Thinking of downwards usage, you could think of explaining certain decisions made by the management to employees, that may disadvantage them.

Second: while debating, you significantly improve your speaking- and presentation-skills. These are skills that, I believe, everyone should own. However, especially for team leaders I think it is essential and very useful to own. Concrete examples of situations in which owning these skills can come in handy are innumerable, but you could think of leading meetings, participating in meetings with other managers or presenting a subject to a bigger group of people. Besides such specific examples, a well-balanced and charismatic way of speaking and presenting makes you more credible in general.

Lastly, another great thing you can quickly learn or improve while debating are your empathic abilities. Whilst debating, you will sometimes have to defend perspectives or opinions that aren’t (or are even contrary to!) your own. This is also something that will come into play while working in peoples management. Sometimes you’ll have to empathize with your employees and really try to step into someone else´s point of view to make a deliberate decision. For example when determining the conditions for unpaid leave or making decisions about the division of labor within your department when multiple people are applying for the same function.

Let me get this clear, I do definitely not think all good debaters would be great managers. Being able to let a group of people work together fluently, requires a unique set of skills and abilities. However, as said, I do think that every manager could improve above called skills by learning how to debate. A perfect method, while you learn by doing and develop a lot of different skills at the same time.

I believe even the leaders within some of the biggest companies in the world, who provide my guest-lectures can improve themselves by debating every once in awhile. In this way, I think the best can easily become even better and thereby improve the quality of management within companies worldwide!

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