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Why Are We Yelling?: The Art of Productive Disagreement

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Have you ever walked away from an argument and suddenly thought of all the brilliant things you wish you'd said? Do you avoid certain family members and colleagues because of bitter, festering tension that you can't figure out how to address? Now, finally, there's a solution: a secret framework that frees you from the trap of unproductive conflict and pointle Have you ever walked away from an argument and suddenly thought of all the brilliant things you wish you'd said? Do you avoid certain family members and colleagues because of bitter, festering tension that you can't figure out how to address? Now, finally, there's a solution: a secret framework that frees you from the trap of unproductive conflict and pointless arguing forever. If the threat of raised voices, emotional outbursts, and public discord makes you want to hide under the conference room table, or if you're simply sick of unresolved arguments that never produce useful results, you're not alone. Conflict, or the fear of it, can be devastating. And the process of minimizing, deflecting, or avoiding difficult people can leave you brimming with repressed emotions. But as this powerful book argues, conflict doesn't have to be unpleasant. In fact, properly channeled, conflict can be the most powerful tool we have at our disposal for deepening relationships, solving problems, and coming up with new ideas. As the mastermind behind some of the highest-performing teams at Amazon, Twitter, and Slack, Buster Benson spent decades facilitating hard conversations in stressful environments. He found that even smart, eloquent people struggled to stay calm and keep their heads clear when differences of opinion arose. So he set out to find a better way to argue, staging a succession of experiments and informal debates, and studying the participants closely. He took note of the scripts people defaulted to and the chain reactions they caused. Slowly, patterns began to emerge. Buster's findings shattered his assumptions about what makes some arguments productive and others not, and dramatically improved his relationships at work, with his wife, and with strangers online. In this book, Buster reveals the psychological underpinnings of awkward, unproductive conflict, and the critical habits anyone can learn to avoid it. Armed with a deeper understanding of how arguments work and why, you'll be able to: * Remain confident when you're put on the spot * Diffuse tense moments with a few strategic questions * Facilitate creative solutions even when your team has radically different perspectives * Get through to the most stubborn people by understanding their motivations Freed of your fear of disagreement, you'll find yourself eager to engage with intimidating people and uncomfortable ideas. You'll end up having fewer repetitive, predictable fights, not because you're avoiding or squashing them, but because you're finally able to identify your biases, listen with an open mind, and communicate well. As your confidence grows, you'll shake off lingering memories of interactions that made you feel tongue-tied or incapable, knowing that it's in your power to steer the conversation wherever you want it.


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Have you ever walked away from an argument and suddenly thought of all the brilliant things you wish you'd said? Do you avoid certain family members and colleagues because of bitter, festering tension that you can't figure out how to address? Now, finally, there's a solution: a secret framework that frees you from the trap of unproductive conflict and pointle Have you ever walked away from an argument and suddenly thought of all the brilliant things you wish you'd said? Do you avoid certain family members and colleagues because of bitter, festering tension that you can't figure out how to address? Now, finally, there's a solution: a secret framework that frees you from the trap of unproductive conflict and pointless arguing forever. If the threat of raised voices, emotional outbursts, and public discord makes you want to hide under the conference room table, or if you're simply sick of unresolved arguments that never produce useful results, you're not alone. Conflict, or the fear of it, can be devastating. And the process of minimizing, deflecting, or avoiding difficult people can leave you brimming with repressed emotions. But as this powerful book argues, conflict doesn't have to be unpleasant. In fact, properly channeled, conflict can be the most powerful tool we have at our disposal for deepening relationships, solving problems, and coming up with new ideas. As the mastermind behind some of the highest-performing teams at Amazon, Twitter, and Slack, Buster Benson spent decades facilitating hard conversations in stressful environments. He found that even smart, eloquent people struggled to stay calm and keep their heads clear when differences of opinion arose. So he set out to find a better way to argue, staging a succession of experiments and informal debates, and studying the participants closely. He took note of the scripts people defaulted to and the chain reactions they caused. Slowly, patterns began to emerge. Buster's findings shattered his assumptions about what makes some arguments productive and others not, and dramatically improved his relationships at work, with his wife, and with strangers online. In this book, Buster reveals the psychological underpinnings of awkward, unproductive conflict, and the critical habits anyone can learn to avoid it. Armed with a deeper understanding of how arguments work and why, you'll be able to: * Remain confident when you're put on the spot * Diffuse tense moments with a few strategic questions * Facilitate creative solutions even when your team has radically different perspectives * Get through to the most stubborn people by understanding their motivations Freed of your fear of disagreement, you'll find yourself eager to engage with intimidating people and uncomfortable ideas. You'll end up having fewer repetitive, predictable fights, not because you're avoiding or squashing them, but because you're finally able to identify your biases, listen with an open mind, and communicate well. As your confidence grows, you'll shake off lingering memories of interactions that made you feel tongue-tied or incapable, knowing that it's in your power to steer the conversation wherever you want it.

30 review for Why Are We Yelling?: The Art of Productive Disagreement

  1. 5 out of 5

    Adithyan S Raj

    This was a really helpful book that helped rebuild my relationship with my father and helped me have more productive disagreements as the title rightly declares. I would recommend this to anyone like me who is having a hard time with their loved ones or even their boss. The rules of this book are universal and very practical and can be applied immediately.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Carmen Tracey

    First, a confession: I went into this book with very little information, thinking it was about interpersonal conflict. It is not; rather, it mostly discusses the organizational and societal aspects of disagreement. This is a book clearly born from Facebook flame wars and Silicon Valley breakout groups, not hissed arguments between spouses behind closed doors while the kids are asleep. In fact, aside from a brief account of an argument with his wife and a rather precious anecdote about his son's First, a confession: I went into this book with very little information, thinking it was about interpersonal conflict. It is not; rather, it mostly discusses the organizational and societal aspects of disagreement. This is a book clearly born from Facebook flame wars and Silicon Valley breakout groups, not hissed arguments between spouses behind closed doors while the kids are asleep. In fact, aside from a brief account of an argument with his wife and a rather precious anecdote about his son's favorite pink train, there are very few examples that touch on familial, pragmatic, one-on-one conflict resolution skills. Conversely, a large part of the author's premise is that approaching conflict with a goal of resolving it is fundamentally mistaken. Although he largely (not completely) succeeds in making his case, this case was not the one I was interested in reading about, and therefore I can't in good conscience give it more than three stars. (I'm committing to giving books honest reviews about my subjective experiences in reading them, rather than judging them on totally imaginary "objective" metrics as I've fallen into doing, in 2020, but I digress). The author is a clear stylist who effectively builds a persuasive argument for curiosity as against certainty, for accepting anxiety around our beliefs rather than avoiding or suppressing it, and for tolerance versus fanaticism. This last bit fails at times, as Benson falls into individualist, neoliberal tech-bro tropes. Still, he unflinchingly addresses racism and Islamophobia to a greater extent than is usually even attempted in this type of organizational psych/social science pop tome. However, there were moments when I had to roll my eyes, most notably when he compared the deplatforming of figures such as Alex Jones and Milo Yannopolis (sp? can't be bothered to Google the prat) to the martyrdom of Jesus, Socrates, and Giordano Bruno (made sure to Google that one, though). Then again, that might just be my "voice of power" trying to avoid a disagreement between viewpoints which might be better settled by curious exploration and open-ended questioning. I doubt it, but thanks to this book I took the time to think about it, which goes a long way to show how thought-provoking it is. It is a good-faith plea for a more open-minded, tolerant society which never resorts to punching down or devil's advocacy, which is refreshing. The book is well-researched, decently original, and wide-ranging with a bibliography full of great sources. It is also fundamentally utopian, which is a tough pill to swallow in a world on fire, but its frequent flashes of realism, confrontation of privilege, and bravery in engaging in an imperfect world make it at least a partial success, although ultimately I would have preferred to listen to a TED Talk on the subject instead. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes popular psychology and who has an interest in organizational psychology, cognitive biases, media (social and otherwise), rhetoric, and/or decision making. The infographics throughout were cute (he uses emojis to map data points) and got basic points across clearly, but they fell somewhat short of the level of quantification I prefer--if you're going to have charts and graphs, they should indicate real information including numbers, not just general sweeps. Illustrations and three-panel stick figure comics were fine and even clever at times, corny at others, and 99% of them could have been omitted without any loss of understanding or meaning.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    I had high hopes for this book. The first half was really good. The second half was full of rambling about gun violence, poilitics, paranormal, ouija boards, paranormal and ghosts.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Robyn Hammontree

    Highly recommend this book for anyone who: -Regularly works and lives in spaces where you come into conflict. -Is afraid to disagree with someone or something. -Recognizes that silencing your own disagreement has impacted your mental health.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Valerie

    Very useful food for thought for how to respond to disagreements more productively. He calls this more of an art than a science and I agree. Since reading this book, I have tried to approach conflict with his tips in mind, not in all cases successfully yet. I will keep working on this because I’m sold that the alternative he proposes — approaching openly and listening generously— is a better way to live. Disclosure: I worked with Buster and have seen his productive disagreement skills firsthand.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    This book has some good moments. The early chapter on sources of anxiety, for example, is not original, but the author describes the ideas well. The book gets far more muddled in the application. For Benson‘s approach to work as promised, the stakes of all arguments have to be relatively low and more-or-less equitably distributed among those arguing. If, for example, a group of exclusively middle-class white men was getting together to argue about abortion policy (not that that would EVER happen) This book has some good moments. The early chapter on sources of anxiety, for example, is not original, but the author describes the ideas well. The book gets far more muddled in the application. For Benson‘s approach to work as promised, the stakes of all arguments have to be relatively low and more-or-less equitably distributed among those arguing. If, for example, a group of exclusively middle-class white men was getting together to argue about abortion policy (not that that would EVER happen), Benson might say, “Hey guys, let’s agree to embrace the voice of possibility and identify what’s mutually valuable in our differing perspectives, and maybe let’s also consider inviting some women into your group so you can hear their views.” Both of those are good ideas, under the circumstances. But Benson never substantively wrestles with the bigger idea that the women and the men (or lower and middle income people) have very different stakes, social power, political influence, etc. relative to the argument in question. That failure to wrestle with real differences of influence, access, and consequence leaves a book that never really gets beyond the level of “how to argue better in your college dorm room (or your Silicon Valley staff meeting).” Benson occasionally gestures at deeper things. He talks, for example, about reading Robin DiAngelo’s (excellent) book White Fragility, but then he proceeds to try to apply it to EVERY kind of argument (incorporating it into his model)—and thus, for me, demonstrates that he fundamentally failed to get DiAngelo’s point. In the end, Benson offers some good food for thought about how you approach arguments, but it’s very important to keep the limitations of this approach clearly in mind.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Marcus

    Useful and sorely needed book. The first half is really good but the rest feels like filler.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Brandon

    Stopping at half way on this one. Found some of the concepts to be thought provoking about understanding another person's side of things. Nothing I would consider groundbreaking. But there were some extreme efforts to discredit or downplay truth that I couldn't get my head around.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    I've got a bit of a love-hate relationship with books like this. This is one of a number of books I've been reading on how to have a better dialogue. It turns out it's a difficult subject, and I think I might be tapped out on the learning I can do through reading. This wasn't a particularly scholarly book. But the writing style was pleasant and enjoyable and engaging. Given that the author doesn't appear to be a social psychologist and the references aren't copious I knew to take this with a gra I've got a bit of a love-hate relationship with books like this. This is one of a number of books I've been reading on how to have a better dialogue. It turns out it's a difficult subject, and I think I might be tapped out on the learning I can do through reading. This wasn't a particularly scholarly book. But the writing style was pleasant and enjoyable and engaging. Given that the author doesn't appear to be a social psychologist and the references aren't copious I knew to take this with a grain of salt. It was a nice read, and it highlighted a few ideas for me that were new and interesting for me. But in the end I just didn't see enough evidence for some of the ideas presented and much of the advice given was vague and I struggle to see how it actually can be implemented.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rehmat

    Productive disagreement takes aggression out of the equation. After reading this book, you’ll learn how to recognize your triggers of anxieties, identify inner voices and vigil your biases before they lead to unproductive disagreements. With understanding these cues, you will be capable enough to respond to situations rather than react to them; and express your emotions in a healthy, constructive and self-control way even to the most controversial topics. It’s common perception that arguments ar Productive disagreement takes aggression out of the equation. After reading this book, you’ll learn how to recognize your triggers of anxieties, identify inner voices and vigil your biases before they lead to unproductive disagreements. With understanding these cues, you will be capable enough to respond to situations rather than react to them; and express your emotions in a healthy, constructive and self-control way even to the most controversial topics. It’s common perception that arguments are negative which should be best to avoid them. The truth is otherwise. Since life itself is nothing but an argument; so productive disagreements are essential to healthy argument. Hence, the author expounds that we all should learn to disagree productively, then we’re all winners in the argument.

  11. 5 out of 5

    ben marshall

    Thoughtful review of why and how we argue Helped me to identify the different types of arguments I have and what they are focused on. Voices of power, reason and avoidance as well as head heart hands is useful conceptually to frame how you approach a difficult discussion with competing points of view. I could feel my own defensiveness flair when certain topics were being discussed which just further demonstrated the biases and responses described in the book. Overall good read, didnt agree with e Thoughtful review of why and how we argue Helped me to identify the different types of arguments I have and what they are focused on. Voices of power, reason and avoidance as well as head heart hands is useful conceptually to frame how you approach a difficult discussion with competing points of view. I could feel my own defensiveness flair when certain topics were being discussed which just further demonstrated the biases and responses described in the book. Overall good read, didnt agree with everything but good practical takeaways.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Darryl Burling

    Lots of good, but doesn't close the loop This book has lots of great ideas and research in it but I couldn't help but feel that the author was like an archer aiming at a target behind a deflector shield. The arrows seemed to fly straight and true only to dart off in the wrong direction at the last moment! I suspect this was due to his own(and possibly my own) cognitive bias, but at least we had a conversation about it. 😁

  13. 4 out of 5

    Eakan Gopalakrishnan

    Truly the art of productive disagreement. Never been good at disagreement. However, after every disagreement, I go do a replay in my head thinking I offended someone, whether I was too harsh etc. But never really managed to focus on how to make a disagreement productive. This book reminds us of what we could do to make arguments better.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Oliver

    The practical advice in the second half of the book isn't especially practical, but the first half introduces a useful framework for thinking about disagreement.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    This book has some great background around the topics of conflict, anxiety, cognitive biases and practical strategies to make conflicts more productive. I also appreciated his open ended approach.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Arien

    I love this book. I started learning more about biases and systematic thinking after reading Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow. That led me to wanting to learn a new cognitive bias every day, from a wiki page I found some years ago, and it turns out that page was by Benson. (He references the page at the start of this book.) This text cannot be more timely. The current environments we are trying to navigate both socially and professionally are messier than ever before, and conflicts are no longer I love this book. I started learning more about biases and systematic thinking after reading Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow. That led me to wanting to learn a new cognitive bias every day, from a wiki page I found some years ago, and it turns out that page was by Benson. (He references the page at the start of this book.) This text cannot be more timely. The current environments we are trying to navigate both socially and professionally are messier than ever before, and conflicts are no longer about whose guns are bigger or voices are louder. Voices alone cannot shift perspectives, without the willingness to listen and explore possibilities. Benson’s book categorically lists down ways for us to have better conversations and spark possibilities well within personal capabilities. What is a society if not its people? If more people learned ways to engage with purpose, to avoid using power and reason as tools to shut down discussions (agreements or disagreements), more perspectives can be provided and hopefully, with solutions to these crisis we are all facing today. The concepts are articulated in an easy-to-read manner, yet embodies an ideal more optimistic than finding a CoVid vaccine in the next 3 months. But I stay hopeful that all of the above can happen and are well within our capabilities.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Stevo Brock

    This book was Stevo's Business Book of the Week for the week of 11/24, as selected by Stevo's Book Reviews on the Internet and Stevo's Novel Ideas. Frees you from the trap of unproductive conflict and pointless arguing. Find more Business Books of the week on my Goodreads Listopia page at https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/9..., and find many more recommended books on my Amazon Influencer page at https://www.amazon.com/shop/stevo4747. This book was Stevo's Business Book of the Week for the week of 11/24, as selected by Stevo's Book Reviews on the Internet and Stevo's Novel Ideas. Frees you from the trap of unproductive conflict and pointless arguing. Find more Business Books of the week on my Goodreads Listopia page at https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/9..., and find many more recommended books on my Amazon Influencer page at https://www.amazon.com/shop/stevo4747.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Addison

    This book helped me understand deeper reasoning to disagreements and how to ask specific questions to better understand other perspectives.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kressel Housman

    When the book was about the psychology behind arguments, I was into it, but when it got into specific political questions of debate, I got bored.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Andrea Hill

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I came across this book via the author's twitter feed, but it took me awhile to actually buy and read the book. I'm glad I did! Like many others, I get nervous about conflict. But I recognize that bottling things up doesn't really help. In this book, the author introduced some simple frames through which to look at disagreements, to increase the likelihood that they can be fruitful. Benson purports that there are three types of arguments: those of the head, the heart or the hand. Often people eng I came across this book via the author's twitter feed, but it took me awhile to actually buy and read the book. I'm glad I did! Like many others, I get nervous about conflict. But I recognize that bottling things up doesn't really help. In this book, the author introduced some simple frames through which to look at disagreements, to increase the likelihood that they can be fruitful. Benson purports that there are three types of arguments: those of the head, the heart or the hand. Often people engaged in a disagreement may be actually having DIFFERENT arguments! This is about whether the argument is about what's true, what's meaningful or what should be done (about whatever it is). I was immediately able to reflect on recent tense conversations I've had and see that this was the problem; we were having two different arguments! He also introduces four different voices that we may use within an argument: the voices of power, reasoning, avoidance and possibility. Spoiler: the voice of possibility leads to the highest likelihood of success, as it can may shift the interaction from a zero-sum game. One of the most effective things Benson does in this book is to evoke controversial or evocative topics: belief in ghosts and the supernatural, vaccinations, gun control and immigration enforcement. These are great examples that draw the reader in, and then demonstrates how being open to new information can shift an untenable disagreement into something more positive. I really enjoyed this book, and believe it will change how I engage with others.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    The first couple of chapters were great! I started thinking this book was what I needed to learn about productive disagreement. Then the author started showing his political side. In Chapter 4, he went full-on political, and then stated that he couldn't handle any sort of political discussion, so he went into full avoidance mode. That's not exactly productive disagreement. Everything he wrote after that seemed hypocritical. I can't recommend this book because the author clearly does not understa The first couple of chapters were great! I started thinking this book was what I needed to learn about productive disagreement. Then the author started showing his political side. In Chapter 4, he went full-on political, and then stated that he couldn't handle any sort of political discussion, so he went into full avoidance mode. That's not exactly productive disagreement. Everything he wrote after that seemed hypocritical. I can't recommend this book because the author clearly does not understand what productive disagreement is.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Shani

    This book is good starting point to consider ways in which we argue and how to practice active listening. Benson list ways in which we fail to successfully argue and how the climate in the US is shifting from engaging in discussion in which we disagree with people to not willing to hear different opinions. The examples Benson's uses were well chosen and presented a good way to challenge our individual methods of approaching discussions in such controversial topics. Specifically when he discusses This book is good starting point to consider ways in which we argue and how to practice active listening. Benson list ways in which we fail to successfully argue and how the climate in the US is shifting from engaging in discussion in which we disagree with people to not willing to hear different opinions. The examples Benson's uses were well chosen and presented a good way to challenge our individual methods of approaching discussions in such controversial topics. Specifically when he discusses mercy killings and how that entire talk was misunderstood and a missed opportunity to have a meaningful discussion on race and social framing. I felt at times Benson used too personal of descriptions for the point to resonate with me as a reader. I understand the value of using himself as an example, but I would have appreciated more examples that involved others which did not include himself.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Synthia Salomon

    So happy this was my book of the day on Blinkist. Accordingly, “We’re conditioned to believe that arguments are negative and best avoided. The truth is, productive disagreements are essential to healthy communication. We need to recalibrate the way we approach disagreements, and make connection, growth, and understanding the end goals for our arguments. When we disagree productively, we’re all winners! Actionable advice: Try your (pot)luck! There’s something about sharing a meal around a table that So happy this was my book of the day on Blinkist. Accordingly, “We’re conditioned to believe that arguments are negative and best avoided. The truth is, productive disagreements are essential to healthy communication. We need to recalibrate the way we approach disagreements, and make connection, growth, and understanding the end goals for our arguments. When we disagree productively, we’re all winners! Actionable advice: Try your (pot)luck! There’s something about sharing a meal around a table that brings out the best in people. If you and your acquaintances always seem to be getting into heated arguments over email, Slack, or on social media, why not try moving the discussion into real life? Hash your issues out over a potluck supper instead of typing angrily into a comment box.”

  24. 5 out of 5

    Brittany

    There are some books you wish everyone would read and take to heart. So well done.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Soul

    If you want to get started on the path of productive arguments :) then this is the book; the section with voices specially resonated with me and how these four types "Power", "Reason", "Avoidance" & "Possibility" enfluence the direction in which everything will flow. Ignoring Ideas we don't like doesn't make them go away!! Thank you Mr B for a compiled list for easy lookup. If you want to get started on the path of productive arguments :) then this is the book; the section with voices specially resonated with me and how these four types "Power", "Reason", "Avoidance" & "Possibility" enfluence the direction in which everything will flow. Ignoring Ideas we don't like doesn't make them go away!! Thank you Mr B for a compiled list for easy lookup.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    Very nice book, excellently explaining the movements in our minds, that kick in when there is someone with opposing ideas. Recommend to everyone who talks to people and comes to negotiations.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ema Sumema

    We’re conditioned to believe that arguments are negative and best avoided. The truth is, productive disagreements are essential to healthy communication. We need to recalibrate the way we approach disagreements, and make connection, growth, and understanding the end goals for our arguments. When we disagree productively, we’re all winners!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lucy

    One of my favourite elements of this book; “....Luckily, there’s another voice, the voice of possibility. This voice sees disagreement as a beginning for dialogue. It seeks out new angles and perspectives. It might ask, “Why do you feel that way?”...”

  29. 4 out of 5

    Esther Keller

    Fascinating, but not what I expected. It didn't' feel like this would help me in my day to day disagreements, but certainly gave a blueprint for thinking about larger and more theoretical ones.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    I found his idea about responding to a statement you disagree with by asking questions that invite surprising answers to be the most helpful advice. Instead of arguing that their opinion is not logical or valid, ask what happened in their life that led them to feel this way. You will learn more about them and start off on a less confrontational foot. Would liked to have heard more about how he used his skills in the workplace to resolve issues. Astonished that he didn’t understand his wife’s reque I found his idea about responding to a statement you disagree with by asking questions that invite surprising answers to be the most helpful advice. Instead of arguing that their opinion is not logical or valid, ask what happened in their life that led them to feel this way. You will learn more about them and start off on a less confrontational foot. Would liked to have heard more about how he used his skills in the workplace to resolve issues. Astonished that he didn’t understand his wife’s request to watch their son while she ran errands until afterward. But at least he figured out how she felt, eventually.

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