Good Arguments: How Debate Teaches Us to Listen and Be Heard

Bo Seo | 2023
Posted in: Social Psychology
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Two-time world champion debater and former coach of the Harvard debate team, Bo Seo tells the inspiring story of his life in competitive debating and reveals the timeless secrets of effective communication and persuasion

When Bo Seo was 8 years old, he and his family migrated from Korea to Australia. At the time, he did not speak English, and, unsurprisingly, struggled at school. But, then, in fifth grade, something happened to change his life: he discovered competitive debate. Immediately, he was hooked. It turned out, perhaps counterintuitively, that debating was the perfect activity for someone shy and unsure of himself. It became a way for Bo not only to find his voice, but to excel socially and academically. And he’s not the only one. Far from it: presidents, Supreme Court justices, and CEOs are all disproportionally debaters. This is hardly a coincidence. By tracing his own journey from immigrant kid to world champion, Seo shows how the skills of debating—information gathering, truth finding, lucidity, organization, and persuasion—are often the cornerstone of successful careers and happy lives.

Drawing insights from its strategies, structure, and history, Seo teaches readers the skills of competitive debate, and in doing so shows how they can improve their communication with friends, family, and colleagues alike. He takes readers on a thrilling intellectual adventure into the eccentric and brilliant subculture of competitive debate, touching on everything from the radical politics of Malcom X to Artificial Intelligence. Seo proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that, far from being a source of conflict, good-faith debate can enrich our daily lives. Indeed, these good arguments are essential to a flourishing democracy, and are more important than ever at time when bad faith is all around, and our democracy seems so imperiled.


He presents many helpful guidelines for effective debating.

Be sure of the specific topic and stick to it. Listen carefully to the other person.
Argument – how to make a point. The argument needs facts, judgment or prescription that one wants the listener to accept.

Add “because” – the main claim that you will aim to prove. Two things that an argument has to prove before it can have a chance of convincing a listener are truth and importance conditions .

Truth: Is the main claim factually correct or otherwise believable? Importance means that the main claim supports its conclusion.

The four W’s are: What is the point? Why is it true? When has it happened before? Who cares? These four W’s are essential to a good argument.

Allow time to clarify the listeners’ doubts and clear up incomprehension.
Bo Seo was taught that in the heat of argument, at precisely the moments that demanded urgent responses, the coaches said to slow down and consider the situation, repeatedly affirm areas of agreement. Dig until you find the real debate within the debate.

He also gives tips for dealing with a bully, but that should not be needed in Braver Angels’ debates!”