Friday, 6 January 2012


Last night I stumbled across one of those 'debates' that erupt on Facebook every now and then. You know the ones - where one person posts their view and before you know it there are seventy or so post on the thread. You get the:

•the rationalist
•the idealist
•the militant conspiracy theorist
•the aggressor
•the misses-the-point-the-other-person-made-er
•the flippant
•the questioner
•the jump to someone's defence-er
•the academic with evidence

all putting their throbbing pennyworth in the pot. What fascinates me is how those 'debates' go. This particular one I would surmise had little impact in terms of idea development or opening up others' mind to accepting another viewpoints. In fact, because there was some aggression and personal comments I would go so far as to say it probably shut down a few minds.

This debate in part reflected the way we tend to approach conflict of ideas generally - in law, in education and in meetings: we are adversarial/oppositional. This links to my friend's Philosophy MA thesis - where she explored different ways of communicating to enhance idea development. She wrote her thesis on the back of feeling unable to contribute effectively to academic discussions (despite being extremely intelligent) because they were based on a person putting an idea forward and then everyone ripping it to pieces. (Thinkers - who receive the logic of a debate loudest can cope with this - feelers like my friend - cannot). This also links of course to Edwards De Bono's six thinking hats. Bono observed that in a meeting of egos people compete by shooting down other people's contributions to feel superior. So he suggested you align egos and make them compete not against each other; that you make the competition a race in the same direction so outdoing another builds upon ideas rather than knocking them down.

I guess there are rarely debates that actually ask, 'well what is it we are trying to achieve here?' because what is a debate ever trying to achieve?
•Consensus? No that cannot be right - we will always have different viewpoints.
•An agreed way forward? Yes that sounds better.
•Deepening individuals' understanding of the topic in hand. Yes - I'll go with that.
•develop ideas - yes!

I think effective debating might need an overhaul.

So after pondering all this, I finally went to bed and gave my chap a synopsis of what I had found and thought and he said, 'perhaps that will be the one thing Facebook teaches us!' An optimistic piss-take. He's funny!


  1. the debate is still happening on FB..!

  2. I enjoyed this. Agree wholeheartedly. I've given up attempting to have discussions for these reasons. I do find competing an element, but also that awful need for some to dominate, batter others verbally, but also peoples' need to find the comfortable, conforming position. The discomfort of difference. Got thinking about the 'drama triangle' again after reading your post. Thanks.

  3. A lot of interesting points.

    I have been disappointed with online debates for various reasons, not least because they tend not to enhance my understanding of the topic in question.

    In particular I am disappointed by people who skew their analysis of facts in order to support an existing viewpoint. I read a number of political blogs, and I find that my understanding of the situations they discuss is best enhanced by going to any original material they cite, and doing my own analysis.

    And don't get me started on political correctnes

  4. SFE - what is the drama triangle - that sounds interesting.

    Codgi - I wonder if a discussion format that took egos out of the equation (but was a bit simpler than De Bono's approach. Perhaps starting with the facts that we know for sure, then moving on to what these facts tell us, then opening discussion - with a clear discernment between fact and opinion. I guess the problems arise when the discussion is opinion lead rather than fact lead. Still pondering.....

    ....and neglecting my blog! It's becoming a place where I just jot down thoughts - it's always a pleasant surprise to get some feed-back but my relative absence from blogsville means I don't expect any!

  5. Hmmm, reading this made me think of Berne...he wrote a book in the 70's (you probably already know this) about ego states and how they define our communication. He basically said (sorry if you do already know this) that we have three ego states..the child, the parent and the adult. If we use our child ego state in a debate then we get personal and on the attack, if we use our parent one then things can get preachy and patronising however if we use our adult state then we open our minds to learning and understanding. I just wondered if that might be a simpler approach then De Bono's.

    C x

  6. Hi Carol - yes transactional analysis is great. In fact the psychologist said it was the best starting point tool for seeing attachment patterns (and therefore relationship issues). He said you get some couples happily ticking along where one partner is the parent and the other always adopts the position of being the child. Problems arise when both partners want to be the child or both want to be the parent. Of course, the healthiest relationship is adult to adult.

    In communication - likewise problems happen if the lines cross. i.e. someone talks adult to adult 'shall we wait and see what happens?' and the person responds as a parent ('what a ridiculous suggestion') or child ('do you expect me to think about that - it's not my thing) rather than adult ('yes - that's a good suggestion as it does depend upon ...etc) You have made me remember something I forgot Carol!


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