Why Are We Yelling? Book Summary - Why Are We Yelling? Book explained in key points
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Why Are We Yelling? summary

Buster Benson

The Art of Productive Disagreement

4.4 (116 ratings)
23 mins
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    Why Are We Yelling?
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    Get comfortable with your anxieties.

    In March 2019, Twitter user @alekkrautman uploaded a picture that showed a box of bagels sliced vertically like a loaf of bread, rather than horizontally, as is traditional. The internet promptly lost its collective mind. Replies to the viral tweet included “First of all, how dare you” and “Who told you this was okay?” 

    This disagreement about the correct way to slice a bagel was light-hearted and low-stakes. Still, it’s worth asking: Why did something so simple provoke such a heated response? 

    The answer is, it created anxiety and anxiety can trigger or exacerbate disagreement. 

    Anxiety arises when a perspective that’s valuable to us is brought into conflict with a different viewpoint. This anxiety is present in low-stakes disagreements, like whether a bagel is better sliced vertically or horizontally. And it’s present in high-stakes disagreements, like whether to vote for a left-leaning or right-leaning political party. 

    Anxiety is an unpleasant emotion to experience. That's why, when we experience something angst-inducing, our impulse is to dismiss it or even attack it. That's exactly what many Twitter users did when they saw the offending bagels. But when we refuse to thoughtfully engage with things that trigger our anxiety, we also shut down the possibility for dialogue, understanding and growth. In short, we deny ourselves the opportunity for productive disagreement.

    There’s another complicating factor at work here. Our anxieties are unique to us and they come from a myriad of sources. In a disagreement, you and your opponent might be bringing completely different anxieties to the same argument. That’s why it’s helpful to divide argument-triggering anxieties into three broad categories. Anxieties of the head are anxieties to do with information and rational thought. Anxieties of the heart are concerned with emotion. Anxieties of the hands center around what’s useful or practical.

    Imagine the parents of a twelve-year-old child. They’ve planned a night out, but their babysitter cancels at the last minute. They can’t agree whether they should leave their child at home or not. One partner says they don’t feel safe leaving their child unsupervised at home. This partner is bringing anxieties of the heart to the discussion. The other partner tries to close the argument by saying that, in their state, it’s perfectly legal to leave a twelve-year-old child home alone. But this tactic appeals to anxieties of the head. It can’t resolve an argument triggered by anxieties of the heart.

    In order to disagree productively, we need to cultivate awareness of our own anxieties and what triggers them, and exercise empathy in trying to understand the source of others’ anxieties.

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    What is Why Are We Yelling? about?

    In Why Are We Yelling? (2019) Buster Benson destigmatizes disagreement. Arguments aren’t bad, says Benson, unless they’re unproductive. What’s more, learning to disagree well can help you strengthen your personal relationships, perform better professionally, and broaden your perspective on the world. 

    Who should read Why Are We Yelling??

    • News addicts who feel freaked out about today’s polarized political landscape
    • Conflict-phobes who would rather do anything other than argue
    • Frazzled couples who can’t stop rehashing that one tired fight over and over again

    About the Author

    Buster Benson has over 20 years experience as a product leader at some of Silicon Valley’s most established companies. He has seen firsthand how unproductive disagreement can derail projects and how productive disagreement can boost performance. Now Buster specializes in teaching some of the world’s leading firms how to argue constructively. He’s collaborated with Amazon, Slack, and Twitter, among others.

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