College, Culture, Politics, Work

6 must-read tips for handling debates at work or school


Particularly in light of the harrowing recent events in Charlottesville, the political conversations around my workplace have been heating up. My workstation is in a room with two guys I respect greatly, but we all have pretty different political ideas. One is a very traditional conservative, the other is a leftist libertarian, and I’m about as apolitical as you can get while working at a newspaper. As a general rule, we get along really well amongst ourselves and with the others at the office, but there is definitely friction around grim issues from time to time. I’ve also had many a heated debate with classmates in the past (none this year, oh blessed gap year) and expect many more in the future. I’ve learned a thing or two over the years about how to show the truth (or at least my opinion about it) in love, keep things professional or academic, and be persuasive without being pushy.

#1: Show grace

This is number one for a reason: it’s the most important and the hardest to follow through on. Speaking as a Christian, if I put together an amazing argument loaded with flourishing rhetoric and irrefutable facts, but I’m a complete jerk about it, I’ve probably just alienated whoever I was trying to convince in the first place and they will now consider me the stereotypical Bible-thumping bigot. Paul said it best in 1 Corinthians 13:1: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” We’re not reflecting Jesus’ love if we’re being arrogant, rude, dismissive, or unkind in how we express our views. Remember that the person you’re talking to might never have heard the truth before, and that you don’t fully understand their background. Show their beliefs the respect you would want them to show your beliefs. (Assuming of course that they are not openly speaking hatefully or something like that — I’m referring to the case of a disagreement, not hate speech.)


#2: “Winning” isn’t everything

This isn’t the debate team, so don’t tally your points. Odds are, if you’re in a passionate discussing, you’re both speaking from firmly held beliefs or at least ingrained opinion. You’re probably not going to be convincing someone to do an 180-degree-turn over lunch. You can certainly plant a seed, and I’ve seen brief conversations held with a friend or acquaintance over the course of weeks or months really bear fruit, but don’t expect your classmates and coworkers to capitulate at the end of every discussion, or feel tied to a need to perfectly express or defend your viewpoint. It’s all about sharing the truth that you know lovingly in order to help others, not vindicating your own viewpoint.


#3: You might be wrong

Unless you’re directly quoting Scripture, your viewpoint could actually be wrong. Or partly right. Admit that, accept it, and always be challenging yourself to research and study what you believe in. Even if you are looking at Scripture, there could be a different interpretation than yours that’s equally or more valid. Remember that unless something is irrefutably stated in the Bible or is implicitly indicated, you need to proceed with caution. Is God very clear about his views on abortion? You bet! Does He provide us with strong guidance on how to reform the welfare state? Not so much.


#4: Know what triggers you

There may be some subjects that are just too painful for you to discuss in a given context without becoming overly emotional, and that’s fine. Hopefully you’ll be able to work through that, but if for example you lost a best friend to suicide, don’t feel pressured to weigh in if a discussion of a new method to prevent teen suicide comes up. You probably have extremely relevant and valuable insight due to that experience, but it may be too wrenching for you to discuss that event with people you don’t know well. Don’t expect too much of yourself. Be willing to say, “I’m sorry, I really don’t feel comfortable discussing this for personal reasons,” or “Hey, I really would rather not talk about that.” If you aren’t able to discuss something gracefully, you don’t have to just because it comes up at work! That being said, being willing to transparently discuss something you have a personal experience with can be really great for discourse between people. Just know your own needs, and be willing to stick up for them when it’s needed.


#5: Don’t let difference of opinion change how you relate to people

I’ve found that when I had a really tough conversation with my roommate or my editor, the thing to do was to close with a firm but open statement, and then go right back to being laid back and open. With my roommate, I’d offer to make tea and mention a hilarious YouTube video that made me think of her, with my editor, I’d crack a joke about a recent email from admin or update him on how a story I was working on was going. This is a great time to think, “How would I want them to relate to me?” You don’t want things to be awkward, so don’t make them awkward. We live in a society where people disagree on a lot of things, we can’t let that ruin our relationships with the people around us. It’s really uncomfortable, and won’t help us live out our testimonies to be aloof with people because they vote differently. As we read in Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”


#6: Have facts as well as opinions

I’m not saying that you should be a walking, talking Wikipedia article, and I left this for last because it’s less about heart and more about just being an effective communicator. Chances are, you believe what you believe for a good reason, but especially when talking with those who aren’t believers, it’s optimal to be well-informed about the relevant facts and statistics before you launch into a topic. If you’re not, be up front about it. The other day my editor and I were discussing the minimum wage, and I did state my opinion, but I didn’t go into a lot of detail and I basically said, “Frankly, David, I’m not very well informed on the topic, but this is pretty much what I think. What about you?” You don’t have to be an expert to discuss something, but don’t go out guns blazing and realize you don’t have any really concrete facts to back up what you believe in, if it’s a non-subjective topic like economics or foreign policy or infrastructure.


Thanks so much for reading, take a moment to comment and share if you know someone who’d benefit from reading this! Stay posted for an upcoming free start of the school year prayer challenge for you or a student in your life.





Images by Matthew Henry and Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

5 thoughts on “6 must-read tips for handling debates at work or school

  1. Neva, these are great points. I especially like #5 & #6. We do need to be informed and talk from factual points and be up front and honest about what our opinion is rather than trying to state it as a fact. It’s so important to realize that we all come from different backgrounds and through processes. We will never completely agree on all the issues so we must learn how to have conversations filled with grace and love that draw people in instead of turning them away!

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