Debating allows young people to gain skills that will serve them well in further education as well as their careers in today’s fast-paced and rapidly-changing world.
In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring practices by crunching every piece of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998. The results of their research shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise (science, technology, engineering and maths) comes in dead last! The seven top characteristics of success at Google are:
being a good problem solver, and
being an agile thinker.
There is an activity that helps students develop all of the top seven qualities… You guessed it – it’s debating!
Collaboration is the ability to work effectively as part of a team. Indeed, the world’s number one job site, cites collaboration as “essential for nearly every job role and industry”; 86.3% of employers listed it as a skill they were looking for in Job Outlook 2020, the yearly survey conducted by the National Association for Colleges and Employers (NACE). Debating, by its very nature as a team-based communication activity, is excellent for developing collaborative skills, from brainstorming to task allocation to conflict resolution. Each speaker has a meaningful team role that cannot be filled by anyone else and the degree of success is determined by the whole team’s performance, ensuring that nobody can sit back and let others do all the work any more than one person can take over and dominate the process.
2. Communication Verbal communication is orally conveying strong, persuasive ideas. Nearly 75% of employers listed interpersonal and communication skills among the most important qualities they were looking for in employees, according to Graduate Careers Australia. The ways in which this relate to debating need little explanation – ‘conveying strong, persuasive ideas’ is practically the definition of debating! It is important to recognise here an advantage that debating holds over public speaking: debating requires that teams listen attentively to one another and engage with one another’s ideas, training the two-way elements of verbal communication in a way that simple speech-making does not.
Written communication - specifically, that which is quick, accurate, and effective. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 69.6% of employers in 2020 want a candidate with strong written communication skills. While the verbal aspect of debating is more obvious to the audience, debating also teaches vital writing skills, from researching the topic to mastering clear, concise, simple prose, to the essential skill of editing. The ultimate exercise of ‘quick, accurate, and effective’ written communication, however, is in rebuttal, when team members must handwrite clear, legible responses to the opposition’s argument, which the next speaker then delivers without any opportunity to discuss the communication aloud or ask for clarifying details.
Negotiation is about reaching goals while building relationships. Negotiation is vital for success in life because it is the tool by which we acquire the resources and support we need, as well as the recognition and rewards we earn. Erica Nicole, Founder and CEO of YFS Magazine, uses debate techniques to illustrate the principles of negotiation, noting that “while you’re not likely to find yourself in a formal debate, debate techniques are useful (from contract discussions to formal presentations and investor relations) – primarily in negotiations.”
Empathy is the ability to see things from others’ perspectives. Empathy has been a highly sought-after skill since the 2016 Empathy Index revealed that the top ten most empathetic companies had increased in value more than twice as much as the bottom ten over the calendar year, and generated 50% more earnings. Debaters must research both sides of an argument, looking at a usually-controversial issue from opposing perspectives and discussing it with tact and sensitivity. It’s common to be assigned a point of view, rather than arguing the side that corresponds with the debater’s own opinions. Nicole Williams, a former debater, notes, “I actually found my strongest arguments were for points of view I didn’t personally hold. As I had to work harder to understand the view, I was able to build a stronger case than by relying on personal experience." Through exploring and examining all sides of an argument, it becomes automatic for debaters to look for where others are coming from, and to see common ground
Problem-solving involves defining the issues, brainstorming alternatives, sharing thoughts, and making sound decisions. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, problem-solving skills are sought after by 91.2% of employers in 2020, making them the most universally desired quality for potential employees to have. The efficacy of debate as a way of teaching these skills has been extensively researched, most notably among groups whose critical thinking potential outstrips their linguistic abilities. Debate’s step-by-step problem-solving strategies teach students to “clarify the nature of a problem, gather and organize relevant information, evaluate the reliability of that information, analyse the information to draw conclusions, express those conclusions logically and persuasively, and finally appraise their preparation and performance for future improvement.”
6. Agile Thinking
Agility involves extrapolating from experience to navigate unfamiliar situations. Consulting company Korn Ferry conducted a study that identified learning agility as “the single best predictor of executive success, above intelligence and education. There are no absolutes, but agile learners tend to get promoted faster and achieve more.” This is because today’s graduates face a skill shelf life of only three years, making the ability to apply existing skills to new situations more vital than professional experience. Debaters never tackle the same topic twice, applying the experience and feedback they’ve gained from previous debates to new and unfamiliar subject matter each time.
7. Resilience Resilience is the ability to bounce back in the face of obstacles and failures. Resilience has also been identified as one of the most important determining factors for positive youth development. Kamal Sarma, one of the world’s leading experts on resilience, says that the key to development is being allowed to fail and experience stress in a safe environment; and because public speaking is one of the most common fears, it is ideal for building resilience.
With the Rise & Shine method of teaching, debating is so much more than just arguing a topic and trying to persuade others of your view, although that’s a part of it too. It helps young people to build their confidence, collaborate and communicate, practice courage and creativity and think big. Debating is uniquely poised to teach and refine the skills most important for success in life, though debaters are usually having too much fun to think about how much they’re learning along the way.