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During one of my earlier years of debate, I can recall a certain case that no one particularly enjoyed debating against. To the credit of the debaters who created the case, it was a well-written case with a strong plan. The issue was that people found it to be very manipulative emotional. Don’t get me wrong, emotions certainly have a place in a debate round; they bring awareness surrounding issues that may slip our attention. But we have all witnessed a round where someone took emotions a bit too far, leaving judges and audiences members unsure of any overall discussion about the round or confident in a voting decision. If you do not end up facing a debate case like this, then you will certainly face people like this. Thus, I would like to take a couple of paragraphs to continue the thought I left us with in the previous article in hopes of helping you approach this issue of persuasion. 

In framing the concept of Cognitive Dissonance for this discussion, the main point to emphasize is the purpose of strategies that use emotion. When done appropriately (and ethically), the debater will use Cognitive Dissonance to create a sort of discord that directs the judges toward believing that their plan is the optimal solution of resolution. To use the analogy from the first article, this discord is how you met your fate at the gym. You experienced a sense of conflict within yourself; you could not continue in your current course of action knowing that this conflict existed without modifying your behavior or ideas, and so you were persuaded to change your beliefs to resolve the inner turmoil. 

This situation is essentially a simplified version of what happens in a debate round. A problem is presented and in order to resolve the conflict that now exists, the judge must either a) modify their beliefs to justify non-action (that is, the negative side), or b) alter the status quo and adapt to the affirmative side. When the affirmative chooses to use an inordinate amount of emotional persuasion in the process of trying to create change, however, this creates an imbalance on the playing field, one that the negative is often left scrambling to fix. 

In order to reshape the round into something you can recover from, it is useful to turn to Cognitive Dissonance as a means of overcoming this barrier. You can accomplish this in a couple of key ways… 

  1. Use the Vocabulary of Cognitive Dissonance. One of the simplest advantages you can gain through CD is the vocabulary it offers you. Communication theories are generally very useful in this regard. They turn such issues in the discussion away from sounding like a “life is not fair!” commentary to an articulate analysis of your winsome perspective on their approach to persuasion. 
  2. Plan out a two-fold strategy when briefing
    1. If you have watched the case you are briefing against or are familiar with its ideas, then I would challenge you to sit down and identify the key areas of dissonance that they develop that can only be resolved with a ballot in their favor. Then, identify where you think they “go too far.” At what point in their line of persuasion do you believe they push the judge’s emotions too far? Once you have identified it, practice articulating an explanation of the train of thought that the affirmative is using while also describing where they go too far. 
    2. Develop your own train of thought to create discord. Although it may sound like I’m advocating that you use the same manipulation as the opponent, what I want you to recognize is that aff’s strategy isn’t inherently bad. That is, when you create your own train of thought, you can choose to be different. Choose to focus on the facts and be honest about when you are talking about something emotional. Use a phrase like, “I hope that the emotional aspects of this round serve to enhance your convictions, not blind them.” In these situations, the best thing to do is to be upfront with your judge and let them know when emotion has entered the room. 

Equipped with these tactics, I am confident that you will be able to winsomely debate against emotional mountains! Just remember, it always pays to be upfront with your judge – and don’t be afraid to call out your opponent, as long as you do so graciously.

Jala Boyer has earned numerous 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place medals and competed at the NCFCA National Championship in five categories. As an intern on the Student Advisory Council of the NCFCA, Jala worked alongside the executive director, Kim Cromer, to learn the inner workings of competitive speech and debate, helping students create long-term and meaningful success. Jala is currently an Honors student at Liberty University studying communications with an emphasis in politics. To book a coaching session with Jala, follow this link https://www.ethosdebate.com/ coaching/book-coach/

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