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Picking Your Debate "Battles" Wisely:

Updated on August 16, 2014

When you enter the debate world of hotly debated and controversial topics, it’s a given that not everyone is going to agree with you all of the time. In fact, depending on the topic, you may find that a large majority of people disagree with you. It’s the nature of the game, and willfully entering into a controversial realm should indicate that you can expect some controversy.

Some people strike up discussions that can be profitable. Both sides of the issue can be examined and discussed. While no one ends up drastically altering their position based on the conversation alone, all people involved can respectfully agree to disagree and maintain an attitude that promotes and supports future conversations going forward. Unfortunately, however, not all of your conversations are going to be that positive, and it’s something that should just be considered par for the course in the world of debates at large.

Some people have a chip on their shoulders before they ever wander across your path. They’re angry at the world – or may be just angry to discover that other world views exist that contradicts their own. They’re interested in only two things, and they’re not likely to stop until they’re achieved their goals. They want to assert that you are wrong to hold your position. In fact, you are so wrong that it doesn’t matter how many years you’ve spent researching, how intelligent you are or how well you phrased your case – you’re wrong regardless. Then they want to back you into a corner, accuse you of doing everything that they’re actually doing until you give up (so to speak) and refuse to continue the conversation – and then they can claim victory (at least in their minds) and rub your face in your wrongness again.

Do you find it easy to walk away from difficult debates or discussions?

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Recognize an Unwinnable Argument:

You have no control over who reads your work or who ultimately ends up commenting on it. You cannot filter out the good from the bad, especially in the age of the internet. What you can do, however, is learning to discern between the worthwhile discussions and the ones that are inevitably leading nowhere fast. While people you initially may have thought to write off may occasionally surprise you, these general guidelines can often give you a base for weighing whether or not a conversation is worth having.

1) They come out of the gate swinging with sarcasm, demeaning language or condescending attitudes.

2) They criticize the underlying subject of your work, not what you’ve actually written

3) They automatically write off any of your source material because they disagree with it – not because they’ve read it for themselves

4) They continually cry “personal attack” while mocking or criticizing you on a personal level simultaneously.

5) They are entirely incapable of recognizing their own mistakes, no matter how calmly or patiently you explain them, and they’re likely to accuse you of personally attacking them in the process


Know How To Handle These Conversations:

While it may be impossible to avoid these types of comments or conversations entirely, there is most definitely a right way (and a wrong way) to handle them when they do appear. Trying to back out of the conversation may be your first instinct, but even that isn’t necessarily effective. Trying to be the bigger person and avoiding the conflict doesn’t work in a situation where the other person is not thinking about things from a rational, logical point of view. If you graciously try to bow out, the other person is just going to strut around and claim absolute victory – and nothing you do or say is going to make a bit of difference. Knowing what to do and what not to do and what not to do is critical for your own sanity. These situations are exasperating and it’s not always easy to handle them maturely – or effectively.

2) Stick to the Topic and/or Facts:

If someone starts swinging at you right off of the bat and their refutations of your arguments and points are just flat out wrong, it’s hard to resist the urge to attempt to correct them. Keep in mind that there is a marked difference between facts and opinions. If someone has an opinion that differs from yours, they’re entitled to formulate their own conclusions based on the evidence available. If they’re rejecting or denying facts that are proven to be true, however, then you may have the opportunity to present your case. Stick to the evidence, and don’t start exchanging barbs or insults. Devolving into a scenario where you try to determine who can insult who more effectively means that productive and meaningful conversation has already ended. You do not have to get an admission of defeat in order to feel good about your debate. Realistically, you’re not likely to get one. Instead, pat yourself on the back for keeping your cool, presenting your case to the best of your ability and being intellectually honest throughout.

1) Don’t Get Angry or Let Your Frustration Show:

I’m guilty of this one myself on occasion. It may be my Virgo sense of justice or fair play, but when I see someone using dishonest tactics to try to prove a point, it gets my blood boiling. I may be calm at first, but as the conversation continues back and forth, my patience starts to wear thin and it’s easier for me to lose my cool than I’d like to admit. Getting frustrated and responding tit for tat is counter-productive and it’s not going to help your case. Instead of allowing it to get to you, recognize that some people are not going to agree and that they may not approach things the way that you’d like them to or adhere to the unwritten rules of debate behavior. The bottom line is that you should avoid being dragged back down to their level, where they’ll only beat you with experience.

3) Recognize That You Have Nothing to Prove:

Although debates in any venue can quickly become heated, when you’re discussing things online with a complete stranger or simple acquaintance, you need to keep one thing in mind – even though it’s difficult to wrap your mind around it in the heat of the moment. Just keep telling yourself a simple truth – it doesn’t matter. It’s human nature to want to prove yourself and present a cohesive and coherent argument to prove your case, but no matter what you do some people are bound to disagree. When you can feel the frustration starting to creep in, remind yourself that your knowledge and self-awareness do not rest solely on the opinions and beliefs of a complete stranger. They don’t know you and you don’t owe them a response, a justification or anything else. At the end of the day, you answer to yourself – not a stranger on the internet.



Not all battles can be won, and some people cannot be reasoned with. Some people are just closed-minded, and they’re not going to see things the way that you do – and that’s okay! Diversity is the spice of life. It’s what enables us to grow and to expand our knowledge while deepening our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. When you participate in topics that are contentious, you should expect differing and competing opinions. It’s par for the course. Instead of taking it personally and allowing it to get the best of you, take dissension as a compliment. It means that your ideas are getting out there and it’s prompting a reaction – even if that reaction is in opposition to your side of the story overall.


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    • jlpark profile image


      5 years ago from New Zealand

      Thanks for this hub, JM. I will have to take notes...I try to stay calm and collected, but often let my anger show through, which just makes them smell blood and keep going...vicious circle!.

      I think it's something we all have to learn - picking our battles. Thanks! Voted up!

    • JMcFarland profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from The US of A, but I'm Open to Suggestions

      I agree. It's hard for me to walk away from certain things at times even though I recognize that I'm getting stuck in an unwinnable quagmire. It's a lesson that I'm definitely working on learning for mself.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      The most interesting thing about this hub, though, is that it applies to absolutely everything, IMO, not just to debating. Life, it seems, is always about picking our battles. Some things are worth fighting for or against, but it's so important to recognize what is actually worth our energy and sanity.

      I know people who love to argue simply for the sake of argument, and I'm never comfortable with that.

    • JMcFarland profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from The US of A, but I'm Open to Suggestions

      While I have no desire to become an attorney, I do enjoy spirited discussions (as you know). Devon calls me a "contrarian" in many regards, and I've learned to accept that label proudly. Discussions and debates stimulate my brain, but they can also become incredibly frustrating. I'm working on the frustrating part, and these guidelines helped me to recognize which conversations were worth having - and which ones are best left avoided or kept to a minimum. Thanks for the comment, friend :-)

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Absolutely brilliant, this!! You should have become an attorney! Voted up, but only once because they won't let me do it again. ;)


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