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If my brother took a pencil from me and my first response was to call the police on him and charge him with stealing, most people would say I’m overreacting. I could have asked him for the pencil back first, if that didn’t work I could have gotten my parents involved to try to get my pencil back, and if neither of those worked I could just forgive and forget. It is just a pencil after all. Just because my brother technically broke the law by stealing doesn’t mean bringing it to the police is the best way to handle it. Likewise just because your opponent broke a rule and you can bring them to compliance, doesn’t mean that bringing them to compliance is the best way to handle it. In this post I’m going to discuss the negatives of bringing someone to compliance, some alternatives to compliance you can use if someone breaks a rule, and finally some actually good reasons to bring someone to compliance.

The Negatives of compliance

While compliance has good intentions, it is flawed just like any other group leading to a few problems with using compliance to adjudicate on your round.

  1. Compliance didn’t see your round.

Because compliance isn’t watching all the rounds looking for ruleviolations, often compliance can’t do anything unless there is physical evidence of a broken rule (such as mis-cited evidence) or your opponent admits to breaking a rule. Additionally even if compliance can determine that a rule was broken, they don’t know how seriously it impacted the round making it hard to determine an appropriate penalty

  1. Compliance is limited in ways it can adjudicate on broken rules

While in speech compliance can drop you fewer ranks for small rule violations than for larger ones, in debate you either win or lose and compliance can’t make the judge slightly more likely to vote for you. This means that compliance’s most common adjudications on round are to either overturn the round entirely or do nothing which are often either under or over reactions to the rule broken.

  1. Broken friendships

This one is probably the most obvious and worst problem with bringing someone to compliance. Bringing someone to compliance can build a wall between you and them and prevent or ruin friendships, especially if your opponent doesn’t think they’ve done anything wrong or thinks you should have just talked to them directly about it. While we should all strive to handle being brought to compliance maturely, sometimes it is best to find an alternative

Alternatives to compliance

Just because you aren’t bringing someone to compliance, doesn’t mean you have to do nothing, there are alternatives

  1. Call it out in round.

This is my personal favorite way to handle rule violations and I would recommend doing it in every round where you see your opponents break a rule since it allows the judge to decide how much the rule violation actually impacted the round and make a better informed decision, but I will admit it takes some skill to do well. In order to call them out you want to explain to your judge what your opponent did, what rule it broke and then impact it out to both the arguments your opponent made or supported invalidly and your opponents credibility as a whole.

  1. Talk to them about it directly

Politely and respectfully telling people when you think they’re doing something wrong is a valuable skill you’ll use throughout your life, this is a great place to practice. I’d recommend this approach especially when you think they genuinely don’t realize they’ve done anything wrong or when you think they would be open to talking to you and improving their debate etiquette. The most important thing here is to be respectful.

  1. Bring in a shared authority

If you’ve tried both of the methods above and neither works, another option you have is to bring in a shared authority such as a debate coach or mutual friend whose judgment you both respect to mediate your disagreement and offer their perspective. This can help to show your opponent that you aren’t the only one that has a problem with the way they debate or maybe even help you to realize that you let your feelings about the round cloud your judgment and your opponents actions weren’t actually that bad after all.

Good reasons to bring someone to compliance

While this article has been largely against bringing others to compliance, it is there for a reason, and there are some good reason to bring your opponent there

  1. Repeat offenders

Just because I don’t like bringing people to compliance doesn’t mean we should just allow people to get away with repeated rule violations, making the tournament worse for everyone they debate. If you or others have already tried the options above and they refuse to change, bring them to compliance, they need to learn their lesson, and you are doing all their future opponents a big favor.

  1. Serious offenses in important rounds

While the options I mentioned above can be great ways to handle a broken rule, they don’t necessarily fix any unfair advantage your opponent may have gained through their unethical behavior. If you feel the broken rule was enough for your opponent to unfairly win the round, you weren’t able to properly call it out in round, and this round is an important round for you to win, then you may need to bring them to compliance in order to get a fair outcome of the round.

Probably my most important advice in this entire article is to always take the high road. Think of what your opponent needs to hear in order to improve their behavior, not what feels good or you have the right to say. One debate round is almost never worth picking fights or ruining friendships over.

D. J. is an economics major at North Carolina State University. Her debate philosophy is that debate should be fun for everyone, so keep it ethical so your opponent can enjoy the round, keep it entertaining so the judge enjoys it, and keep it lively and humorous so you can enjoy the round too.

To learn more about D. J. you can read her bio here: https://www.ethosdebate.com/djmendenhall/ or book coaching with her here: https://www.ethosdebate.com/xl-3/

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