Why Are We Yelling? | Buster Benson

Summary of: Why Are We Yelling?: The Art of Productive Disagreement
By: Buster Benson


In a world where disagreements easily escalate into heated arguments, it’s more important than ever to learn the art of productive disagreement. ‘Why Are We Yelling?’ by Buster Benson provides valuable insights into how to understand our own anxieties, recognize cognitive biases, and cultivate empathy for others, in order to have productive and meaningful discussions. This book summary delves into various strategies and techniques that help pave the way for more informed and collaborative decisions, navigating contentious issues with an open mind, and fostering deeper connections.

Anxiety in Disagreements

Anxiety can trigger or worsen disagreements by bringing valuable perspectives into conflict with different viewpoints. Low and high-stake disagreements, such as slicing bagels or political voting, can provoke anxiety in us. However, anxiety is unique to each person and originates from various sources. This uniqueness prompts us to categorize the argument-triggering anxieties into three broad categories: anxieties of the head, involving information and thought; anxieties of the heart, related to emotions; anxieties of the hands, dealing with practicality. To have productive disagreements, we need to develop self-awareness and empathy towards others’ anxieties as well as communication techniques that address these anxieties.

Voices in Your Head

In today’s society, polarizing topics such as climate change, vaccination, and gun control are dominating public discourse, resulting in a shortage of middle ground. This is due to a phenomenon known as cognitive dissonance. The greater the difference between your beliefs and opposing perspectives, the more anxiety you feel. When it comes to heated debates, there are four types of inner voices that come into play – the voice of power, reason, avoidance, and possibility. The first three voices aim to shut down disagreements whereas the voice of possibility seeks to create a dialogue, preferring to understand different viewpoints. By utilizing the voice of possibility, you’re not required to change your stance; instead, it opens up space for productive discussion and a deeper understanding of diverse perspectives. Thus, it’s crucial to recognize these inner voices and listen to the voice of possibility to foster mutual understanding, even in the face of opposing views.

The Pros and Cons of Biases

When it comes to decision-making, biases can be both beneficial and detrimental. While they can help us conserve energy, they can also hamper our ability to disagree constructively. One example is the availability heuristic, where we only consider what’s readily available to us. Our perceptions can vary because we all have different heuristics. This can lead to disagreements with opposing opinions. In-group favoritism is another bias, manifesting as a tendency to favor our own groups during disagreements. Only considering our group’s arguments is limiting and unproductive. Acknowledging our biases and considering alternative perspectives is essential for open-minded and productive disagreements.

Speak for Yourself

Our strengths lie in our ability to understand and inhabit our perspective during disagreements. However, speculating our opponent’s point of view often leads to oversimplification and demonization. The story of two friends, Bob and Sofia, who had a disagreement relating to the 2016 US election, emphasizes the importance of listening to our opponent’s perspective, even if we do not agree with them. By inviting others to speak for themselves, we gain a better understanding of their motives and reasoning, leading to more fruitful discussions and relationships.

Productive Disagreements

The art of asking the right questions is essential for having productive disagreements. Instead of using closed questions to sink arguments, try adopting the spirit of Twenty Questions. This game encourages participants to ask open-ended, imaginative, and unexpected questions, fostering unexpected connections and broadening understanding. Asking the right questions can even lead to closeness and connection in friendships. The key to having enjoyable disagreements is asking questions designed to illuminate the other person’s perspective rather than confirm our own.

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