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Basic Debating: Establishing Credibility



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Wed Jun 18, 2014 6:01 am
Kale says...



Credibility is essential to establish in a debate, otherwise the other side(s) will have no reason to consider your points. Fundamentally, credibility is the result of the fact that not all opinions or viewpoints are equal. Viewpoints which are based on flawed reasoning, faulty information, or personal biases are automatically less credible than viewpoints which are logically valid, factually sound, and attempt to avoid or otherwise openly acknowledge personal biases.

So how do you establish credibility?


Stay on topic.

While tangents do often occur in a debate, tying tangents back into the original topic or avoiding tangents altogether shows that you are serious about discussing the topic, and also that you are skilled enough at rhetoric to focus your arguments.


Be informed about other participants' viewpoints.

One of the worst things to do in a debate is to jump straight in without reading the other participants' responses. What often happens as a result is that the person jumping in posts an opinion or viewpoint that was thoroughly addressed earlier in the thread, and which the debate has long since moved beyond. Not bothering to read the rest of the thread additionally indicates to the other participants that you don't really care about the topic; instead, you care more about voicing your opinion for opinion's sake, otherwise you would have read the rest of the thread.

There are some cases where jumping in is justified, however, such as when a thread is too long to be read in a timely fashion, or when you are in the process of reading the debate, but encounter a point that you feel needs addressing. In those cases, it's best to at least read the first and the most recent posts to get a feel for where the debate started and where it currently stands. Additionally, it is also a good idea to admit up-front that you have not read the entire debate, as well as apologize in case you rehash a topic which was already covered in-depth earlier on, as this will incline the other participants to be a bit more understanding, which in turn means your credibility will be less likely to suffer.


Support your arguments with evidence.

One of the simplest ways to establish your credibility is to borrow it from an authority on the topic you are discussing. The more authorities you borrow credibility from, via citations of their work, the more credible you become.

The major caveat to this method is that the other side(s) of the debate must accept your authorities as being credible. If, for example, your opponent does not accept the Bible as a valid historical source, using the Bible as a source for historic events will not gain you credibility; if anything, it will lose you credibility.

Alternatively, you can...


Establish yourself as an authority on the topic.

If you have pertinent experience with the topic of debate, making that experience and the associated knowledge known will help establish you as an authority on that topic, which in turn will grant you credibility. After all, which would you be more inclined to immediately trust on a debate about drug side effects: a random person off the street, or a certified medical doctor?


Ensure your arguments are consistent.

Nothing destroys your credibility more effectively than switching your arguments in order to appear "right" no matter what. Debates are not about who is "right" or "wrong", but rather are exercises in how to form effective arguments and evaluate how effective others' arguments are.


Admit your biases and mistakes as you become
aware of them.

Nobody is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes and is blinkered by biases. However, paradoxical as it may seem, admitting that you are fallible and biased actually increases your credibility, as it shows that you are willing to fairly evaluate others' arguments as well as your own.
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This is by no means an exhaustive list of methods to establish credibility, and strict adherence to all of these methods is not required to establish your own credibility. Just as with the different Modes of Persuasion, different methods can be combined in varying proportions to establish your credibility, with the different kinds of credibility mirroring the Modes of Persuasion. For example, personal anecdotes are a great way to establish one's emotional connection to an issue, and thus strengthen one's credibility (and thus effectiveness) in using arguments of Pathos.

Essentially, when you are establishing credibility, you are persuading the other side to accept your views as legitimate. As a result, credibility by its very nature has a strong subjective component; it is not easily established, though it is very easily lost. However, if you keep the above methods in mind, you will be more likely to maintain and strengthen your credibility than to lose it.

And even if you should somehow lose your credibility, it is always possible to salvage it by sincerely admitting your mistakes and biases and learning from them.
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