How Matthew Learned to Create a Productive Partnership

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Matthew's Story


Established Successful Long-term Debate Partnership


"Committing to a partnership means that you must handle conflicts differently."

- Matthew Yang


What have you learned about long-term partnerships?

I have been debate partners with Marilyn for over two years, and I learned recently that there are fewer long term partnerships in the debate community than I had imagined. I have learned a lot, and here is some advice I would like to offer new debaters on the subject of partnerships. These observations are drawn from my experience with Marilyn, but many apply equally to short-term partnerships.
I believe that a long-term partnership allows for much stronger cooperation. Often times teams suffer from a lack of communication, and this leads to things like redundancy and contradiction. When Marilyn and I began debating in Public Forum style, we had a lot of problems with repeating things in both my summary speech and her final focus speech. Fortunately, as long-term partners, we are able to assess our debates and work through any problems we encountered together. That way, we avoided suffering from the same problems twice.



Every debater has their own style that affects their structure and content. For example, when we are closing house in British Parliamentary (BP) debates, I tend to give very long extensions and Marilyn provides line-by-line rebuttals. After a few rounds of BP debates together, Marilyn and I have adjusted our speech content to fit with each other’s styles. I usually spend my entire speech on extensions and integrate a few rebuttals in my extensions. Marilyn will give the more complete set of rebuttals in her speech.
After every round, Marilyn and I will give each other feedback. I think that this helps us a lot in the long term. Feedback is probably the most important part of debate, and your partner usually pays a lot of attention to your speech, so their comments and suggestions are doubly valuable.


On Differences of Opinion

For some debate topics, Marilyn and I hold quite different views. Contrary to certain beliefs, debate actually teaches one to respect differences in opinions. After learning debate, Marilyn and I have become much more willing to listen to the other side of the story, and we are a lot more accepting of conflicting ideas. After all, if you only stay in your own tiny bubble of ideas, you are just fooling yourself.



Having different opinions also makes preparing for topics much easier for us. Imagine if both you and your partner thought exactly alike — you would only have the mind power of one person. The difference in opinions is what creates strong arguments and increases the breadth of analyses. 
For example, once we were given the motion “This House supports the narrative that sacrifice is necessary for success” and we were the opposition side. My personal beliefs inclined more towards the government side, and I did not know many opposition arguments. However, Marilyn personally believed more in the opposition side, so she knew that side well. Ultimately we wrote a winning case thanks to our combined knowledge.


Conflicts and compromise 

Committing to a partnership means that you must handle conflicts differently. 
Communication is the key here. When there is something wrong, you must go speak to your partner about it. If you hold in your anger, the silence will make your partner feel tense without knowing what exactly is wrong, and it is much easier to talk it out when the issues are still small than holding it back and exploding someday. Over the years Marilyn and I have been quite frank with each other. If there is something we would like the other person to change, we speak it directly. This habit really makes debates run a lot more smoothly.
Of course, you still need to be nice and care about the other person’s feeling when you talk with your partner. Partnerships don’t justify anyone being rude, despicable, or uncivilized. I am not saying that you should be overly petty about every small thing, though. Strong partnerships require patience and respect from both sides. You need to work out the right balance.
The most important part is to never blame your partner for losing. This is so often spoken but so often neglected. None of us likes losing, but know that your partner feels as equally terrible about losing as you do, and it is a selfish thing to try to make yourself feel better by making your partner feel more terrible. Even if your partner made a mistake that caused the defeat, it is just one defeat and one tournament. We are only human and we all make mistakes at some point in a tournament, which means that your partners will also need to bear with your fatal mistakes. I think that one reason Marilyn and I have been able to continue our partnership for over two years is that we still give each other constructive criticism if we make mistakes, but we do so in a civil manner and never place blame on one another for failure.  


In Conclusion

Long term partnership allows very strong cooperation because it allows you to understand your partner’s style well. Celebrate difference in opinions, because that makes your team more informed.
Always communicate with your partner and be sincere and mutually respectful.

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