Why Are We Yelling: The Art of Productive Disagreement

Buster Benson’s book “Why Are We Yelling“ was one of my favorite books last year. I personally believe that everyone in this digital era of information torrent and opinion floodgate could benefit from learning and practicing the skill of arguing productively.

It’s a light read filled with real stories and 100 of Buster’s illustrations.

He boiled the book down to 8 practices:

  1. Watch how anxiety sparks. We’ll see how examining our anxieties within disagreements can reveal our strongest values.
  2. Have dialogue with your internal voices. We’ve inherited automatic responses to conflict, and we can listen to them without having to always obey them.
  3. Develop honest bias. Knowing that we’re all biased won’t make them magically go away, but if we learn to notice them we can repair the damage they cause.
  4. Speak for yourself. Instead of speculating what others think, invite your most worthy opponents to the table to speak for themselves.
  5. Ask questions that invite surprising answers. The more open the question, the more likely you’ll learn something new from it.
  6. Build arguments together. Your opponents can see your blind spots better than you can.
  7. Cultivate neutral spaces. Learn why it’s important to invite threatening ideas to the table, and how to do this without endorsing them.
  8. Accept reality, then participate in it. Denying reality doesn’t make it go away. we can learn to accept that problems exist, so we can participate in their solutions.

Even though the book can be distilled down to these 8 principles, I highly recommend getting and reading the book in full ($11.99 on Kindle now). As Buster said:

There’s one kind of knowledge that allows you to describe productive disagreements, and another kind that allows you to generate productive disagreements. This tour may give you the first kind of knowledge but I hope that reading the book and practicing will give you the second.

Couldn’t have said it better.

Quoting https://busterbenson.com/whyareweyelling/

10 difficult questions we’ll explore in this book…

  • How can I turn tense, frustrating moments into productive ones?
  • How can I remain calm even when I’m put on the spot?
  • How can I have productive disagreements without endorsing harmful ideas?
  • How can I learn from the anxiety I feel when I’m in the heat of a conflict?
  • How can I become curious about people I believe are dangerous and wrong?
  • How can I move forward when an argument has reached a dead end?
  • How can I see disagreements as opportunities rather than obstacles?
  • How can I avoid being taken advantage of in bad faith conversations?
  • How can I build stronger arguments in collaboration with my opponents?
  • How can I apply all of this to my relationships, career, and politics?

Other interesting resources from Buster

I have been following Buster since his cognitive bias cheat sheet went viral a couple of years back. The reflective and inquisitive nature of his writing also resonated a lot with me.

It’s a fun coincidence to realise that he and his wife are apparently the people behind 750words.com, the cloud-based journaling app I signed up for in 2012 and started heavily using in Dec 2016. If you are fellow text nerd, I also encourage you to check out Buster’s “life codex” which raw data he hosted at Github.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *