Q&A: Dealing with Rude Debaters in Cross-Examination

Q: How do you deal with mean and rude people in Cross-Examination (CX)?


There is no short way to answer this question. In fact, I spend 34 pages of Beyond Resolved talking about Cross-Examination because it’s so complex and important. With mean and rude opponents, however, there are a few things you can do.

I’ve found that bad CX experiences generally fall into the following five categories: let the judge decide, bad questions, answering, presentation, and time management. Sometimes the same experience will appear in two categories. For mean and rude debaters, this issue generally falls under let the judge decide and presentation.

“Let the judge decide” means the experiences is ultimately  in the hands of the judge. Here, only the judge can determine how the problem affects the round. In these situations, there is little you can control. You have to trust that the judge will see the same mistake that you see. This means avoid pointing out that your opponent made a mistake verbally. Trust that the judge saw the mistake too, or reference it in your next speech.

Presentation is also at play with mean and rude opponents.

Here are a few specific scenarios of mean and rude opponents to be considered.

Your opponent won’t let you answer.

Whether you are against a bully in CX or a skilled debater, you need to ask questions and not simply give answers. The only way to get around these opponent types is to never allow them a chance to ask another question after you answer. I call this “dovetailing”. A dovetail is a type of woodworking joint that fits two pieces together through interlocking pieces. I see this as a beneficial image for CX because you have to interlock your answers with your questions. You must transition from your answer to a question seamlessly without giving your opponent time to interject with another question. Your transition could be, “I am going to ask a question now” if you need to be forceful.

Increasing Volume

CX often means “turn up the volume” for debaters. If it’s your opponent getting louder, remember to keep your volume at your normal place. If both of you are getting louder, pull back and make a short statement about cooling down and getting back to the topic. If you are getting louder, your partner should subtly do something to get your attention so that you decrease your volume accordingly. 

Unprofessional behavior

This includes your opponents referring to you by name, ad hominem attacks, and any other behavior that does not belong in debate. Always stay professional and calm. If there is an instance where your opponent chooses to make inappropriate comments, state that it was inappropriate. If your opponent personally attacks you, take a deep breath and say that personal information does not belong in the debate. Take the debate back to the actual topic as quickly as possible. Do not stoop down to your opponents’ level. Do your best to bring the debate back.

For more Cross-Examination tips, from constructing questions to strategizing, check out Beyond Resolved!


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