IF YOU ARE AN AMERICAN, then the idea of debating is not new to you. Every week in the US, schools and colleges field debating teams to do verbal battle with each other. To have been a member of one of these teams suggests to potential employers that you possess quick wit, intelligence and the ability to form a logical and structured argument at the drop of a hat.
If you are British then, whilst not new to you, the idea of debating will conjure up slightly different images in your mind. Neither Jeremy Paxman’s sneering at the intellectual inadequacies of his political guests or MPs in cigar ash stained suits, waking up briefly to shout ‘Hear Hear’ for a colleague or ‘Shame…..Resign!’ to an opponent, are likely to provoke positive thoughts about the art of debate.
As a fully paid up British citizen I fall into the latter camp, with the possible addition of the lively discussions that football fans share across the terraces. However, having just taken part in the ClarkMorgan Great Debate to decide whether ‘Leaders are born or made’, I have become a convert to the benefits of debating as a workout for the brain.
Even before the debate began, all six of the participants had privately agreed that they felt the correct answer fell somewhere in the middle of born and made. However, the exercise was not so much to find the real answer, but rather to see if we could convince an audience to support our opinion.
The beauty of the debate was the need to think on your feet. To be able to react rapidly to an opinion and break it, not with an aggressive response but by careful and logical disection of the weaknesses. As one of our opponents found out when firing an inaccurate statement at a member of my team, the former Australian Ambassasdor to Beijing, get your facts wrong or just hope to sneak something under the radar and you are asking for trouble.
By organising debate events within your country you will have the opportunity to challenge your staff to step out of their comfort zone. A number of companies in Beijing already hold regular ToastMaster events and this is a good start. However, there is a big difference between standing up in public and giving an uninterrupted, rehearsed speech, and having to stand up in public armed with plenty of facts but not knowing if, when or how you will use them in response to an opponents ideas.
Developing your staff’s abilities to think on their feet, structure arguments and support statements with corroberated fact has to have a beneficial knock on effect to their meeting skills, communication skills and their value to the company in general. Go on, try a debate or two. You won’t regret it.
Oh and in case you were wondering. Our team won the debate and thus the audience were convinced that leaders are in fact made, not born. Video proof of this is available here.