519: How to Have Productive Disagreements with Buster Benson

By December 2, 2019Podcasts

 

 


Buster Benson discusses how to conquer your fear of conflict and start disagreeing well.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The surprising cost of avoiding conflict
  2. Eight crucial steps for productive disagreement
  3. What to do when you disagree with your boss

About Buster

Buster Benson is an entrepreneur and a former product leader at Amazon, Twitter, Slack, and Patreon. He’s now editor of and writer for the Better Humans publication on Medium, creator of 750Words.com which brings private journaling to a safe place on the web, and developer of Fruitful Zone, an online platform facilitating healthy discourse. He is also author of the Cognitive Bias cheat sheet with over one million reads.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Buster Benson Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Buster, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Buster Benson
Thank you. I’m really excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to be talking to you. There have been no other guests who have created a poster that hangs in my office.

Buster Benson
Oh, wow. Cool.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you have that unique distinction. “The Cognitive Bias Codex,” it is a work of art. And could you maybe share the story of that because I’m thinking it’s so cool?

Buster Benson
Yeah. It was a really strange and long story but like, basically, I have been interested in cognitive biases fairly pretty much my whole life and yet I always felt them really hard to remember. There’s just so many of them, there’s 200 plus, they all have really weird names, like the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon so there was no easy way for me to actually internalize what was happening here. And I’ve decided to take a couple of weeks, a couple of years ago, in 2016, to essentially try to eat this entire body of knowledge and figure out how to synthesize it into something I can understand.

And so, what came out of it was this framework where, instead of thinking about biases as mental bugs where your brain is glitching out, they’re actually all there to solve hard problems, like there’s too much information in the world, so we do have to filter some things out. Nothing really makes sense so we do have to connect the dots and fill in the gaps with sometimes generalities and stereotypes. And we also have to do things, like we can’t just sit and talk about it all day long. We got to go out and make decisions and take action, and that means that we have to be confident even though we don’t have all the information in front of us.

And so, all of the biases in the world fit into these categories. And when this poster was written, I figured I might as well make it a visual because this is already still such a hard topic, but make it look really nice, and the poster came out of that. And with a friend of mine, John Manoogian. and he really helped make it look like something beautiful, like a work of art.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Well, it is and it hangs there and I’ve been wondering if it’s possible for me to get that as a sound wrap, like an acoustic panel, you know, and that’d be the visual so it serves a double duty.

Buster Benson
Oh, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
But, anyway, so thank you for that. It’s really cool. And I love some of those names, they’re funny. Some of them are crazy and some of them are intuitive, like the IKEA effect, it’s like, “Oh, that’s exactly what I think it would be.”

Buster Benson
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“I spent all this time assembling something I think it’s worth more because I invest in that.” Is there a particular cognitive bias that shows up for you a lot still today even after all of your research and work?

Buster Benson
Well, that’s the thing is they don’t go away just because you know the name, unfortunately. Yes, so the confirmation bias is obviously one that really affects us today where we tend to not only prefer information that confirms us but, now, we’re actually also just only seeking out sources of information that confirm our biases. So, that’s an important one to think about.

There’s also the one called naïve realism which is really interesting and somewhat depressing, I guess, if you think about it too much. But it’s this idea that we think that what we think of people is what they’re actually thinking, and this happens a lot in conversations and debates and disagreements. We might say, like, “Oh, wait. I don’t understand why you think this.” And suddenly you brain is like, “Here’s a reason why they think it. It’s because they’re dumb,” and then we believe that, and that’s a strange bias that we do because we can’t read minds. We have to fill in the gaps there. But we could also ask the question to fill in the gaps, and especially if they’re right there in front of us. So, that really is on my mind recently.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Well, and a perfect segue to your recently released book Why Are We Yelling: The Art of Productive Disagreement because I think that’s quite one way that things go sour real fast is if you say, “Well, the reason that person thinks that is because he or she is a moron, or a racist, or hates me.” That gets you into some trouble. So, maybe let’s zoom out a little bit and, say, sort of what’s the big idea behind your latest work here Why Are We Yelling and, yeah, let’s get oriented that way?

Buster Benson
Yeah. So, similar to the cognitive bias approach, I felt like there’s all these books about negotiation and rationality and persuasion that were really useful in particular context, like work, or sales, or debate in the courtroom, that kind of stuff. But there weren’t that many ways to really make it real for my everyday life. Like, what’s going to help me have a better conversation with my friend over a meal? What’s going to help me have better conversations as I’m going on a walk with my son? These things where we don’t have the tools, we haven’t been really taught how to have these conversations in a productive way.

And so, we resort to just these trial and error attempts, and some of us have luckily stumbled into the right approaches and some of us didn’t, and there’s no real way to help people develop that skill. So, that was my impetus for writing this, first, for myself, because I really need these skills and I want to synthesize it in a way that made sense to me, but also for other people because I feel like more and more these days we just feel stuck and frustrated with the way that our conversations are going.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love it if, do you have any data that sort of tell that story? Like, I’m wondering if things sure seem nastier and more hostile these days and less productive in our disagreements, but do you have any proof?

Buster Benson
Yeah, there’s proof everywhere you look. So, depending on which avenue or domain of the world you want to look, there’s different ones. So, one of them I found is that, in a work setting, for example, which is one of the safest ones, 85% of people believe that they have some crucial information about the business, about the company, and they’re not talking about it because they don’t want to start an argument. And so that’s where conflict avoidance has really risen to the surface.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow! Woo, I’m sorry. That’s huge.

Buster Benson
That’s shocking, right?

Pete Mockaitis
That is just… that’s huge. I think that’s like the core of so much dysfunction right there, it’s like, “I’ve got some info and I’m not telling you not because I’m diabolically trying to sabotage anything but just because, oh, man, this is going to cause a big old argument. I don’t want to deal with it.”

Buster Benson
Yeah, if you don’t feel it’s a safe environment to have disagreements or you don’t know how to have them, you’re not going to move forward and you’re not going to have that conversation, and that’s just going to linger and get worse, and eventually pop up in some other person’s lap. And this happens not only at work but obviously also in the political sphere. We don’t necessarily think that we’re trying to go out there and solve problems, where we all know what the problems are, and we’re just unhappy about it and yelling about it.

I think there’s ways that we can move away from this conflict avoidance stance, which turned out to be way more common than the unproductive disagreement stance. Most people are not having that many unproductive disagreements. They’ve given up and that’s even worse in some senses in terms of like, “Well, if you’ve already given up, how do we get you back in the game so that we can actually work through these problems?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, do tell. How do we do that? So, you’re feeling like, “Oh, that’s just going to cause a big argument. I’m not even going to bring it up, not even going to go there.” What’s sort of the next step?

Buster Benson
Yeah. So, one of the first things we need to do is remember that other people are humans and other people are as complex as us. So, to do this, when we go into a situation where we’re feeling like, “I think that they aren’t as smart as I am, or I think they don’t get it,” that’s an opportunity to fill in the gaps with real information. So, having someone in front of you that has all these information and perspective is actually a blessing. You can ask them, “Tell me, I just don’t get how this works for you. Like, what’s the story? What’s the background? How did this happen? Help me get there. Help me see the world through your perspective,” just because that’s information that we don’t have, and until we have it, we just feel confused and baffled. And it’s frustrating. It doesn’t feel good.

So, use these people that you might normally think of as opponents or enemies as a source of information that can help you feel a little bit more relaxed about the world if you can understand their perspective better. And that’s really the first step is just think about, “What are the openings? What are the stories we can glean from each other in a safer setting to have a wider perspective of the world?” Not necessarily to change minds or anything, but just to see it from one more, a little bit higher on the plane of perspectives so that we can see, “This person exists because this happened to them and this is their story, and I’m like this because this happened to me, and I could see now why we both exist in the same world, and we both think we’re doing the right thing.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, so when you say, “How do you get here?” you don’t specifically mean, I don’t know, why you did the project a certain way, but, like, their whole life backstory, history picture.

Buster Benson
Yeah, we oftentimes resort to what are the facts, what are the evidence. The facts and evidence are there to prop up our story once we already have it for the most part. So, asking for that is really about continuing the information, bludgeoning, you find the gotcha information. The stories behind the facts are the real reason we believe things, and that’s what we should go after because those are rich. Those are really filled with interesting detail, they’re exciting to hear about, they’re new. And our brains are trained to really delight in hearing these kinds of stories. That’s why all of fiction is story-based, it’s not about, “Here’s more facts about the world.” Worldbuilders spend all the time telling you about the small details. You get bored real quick, you want the story, you want the plot.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, could you maybe give us some examples of what a rich backstory sounds like, and how it can color, shape and inform a position or an opinion, and how a different backstory would give rise to maybe a contrary opinion or view?

Buster Benson
Yeah, so I try to tackle gun control in one of the chapters and I tried a bunch of different things online and in person. What ended up working was having a salon or a potluck in my house and inviting a bunch of people that have different experiences with guns. And we went around the table and each shared their own personal story. There’s someone who was a former NRA member. There’s someone that had a bunch of assault rifles. There’s someone who just bought a shotgun, and there’s a bunch of people that have never fired a gun before. There are people that have had suicide in their family. There’s people that had violence in their family.

And so, just going around, and saying, “Oh, wait, I know some of you, I don’t know some of you, but I don’t know any of these stories.” And the variety was just so eye-opening just to begin with, and that was really great. But the interesting part came when we decided to figure out, “What’s a policy we can all come to? What policy we think is going to have the biggest impact on gun violence. And let’s come up with proposals and then we’ll tear them apart together just for fun and we’ll see where it goes. Because if we all have the answers, this should be easy.”

What ended up happening as we all went into small groups and came back and now had proposals, and they were all terrible ideas. We all found flaws instantly. And this was eye-opening not because we learned that we didn’t know a whole lot about this issue but the fact that, “Oh, wait, this is complicated. And my simplistic position on it going in is incorrect.”

And that’s not necessarily changing your mind, but saying, “Okay. Well, in order to really do justice to this problem, I’m going to have to really know a lot more than I currently do.” And that can be both exciting and, if that’s not what you want to do, you could be like, “Well, I don’t have time to do that, but I know that the answer is out there somewhere. I hope we can facilitate conversations because we don’t have the answers right now.” And that’s an example where I came in with a really narrow perspective and came out thinking, “Oh, wait. Yeah, this is more complicated than I thought. I shouldn’t feel as self-righteous about this as I did before.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I really appreciate that example, and I guess I’m always a little skeptical when some people seem to know everything about everything, it’s like, “You know…” Oh, I forgot who said that quote but it said, “Some people are more sure of everything than I am of anything.”

Buster Benson
That’s very true. That’s one of the biases, right? Overconfidence is a big chunk of them, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. So, that’s, well, in a way that’s a “call me an optimist.”  I mean, in a way, that’s sort of discouraging, like, “Oh, man, this problem is going to be not resolved quickly because of its difficulty and complexity, but my optimism says okay.” It sounds like some people had some epiphany, some awakening, some understanding about other people’s viewpoints and were enriched as a result by being able to engage in those conversations and, well, I don’t know if you’re editing the story, but it doesn’t sound like anyone just started screaming someone else’s head off and stormed out.

Buster Benson
No, definitely not. Having food there also helped a lot because food calms you down, it sort of regulates your blood pressure a little bit more, and there’s also this culture element, like, if you’re sharing food with someone, you sort of see them as a peer or as a member of your tribe more than if you’re shouting at them over Facebook comments or something like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so there’s one quick tip right there. Hey, food is handy. I guess I’m wondering what are sort of like the general principles such that we can disagree with folks and walk away sort of with our relationship, at least, not harmed but hopefully improved? I think that’s sort of challenging is folks believe and sometimes it’s true that, “Boy, if I go here and we argue about this, they’re going to respect you less, or I’m going to respect them less, or it’s going to get ugly in one way or another.” So, how do we not have that happen?

Buster Benson
Yeah, it’s intimidating because it is a hard skill to acquire and a hard skill to practice, and if we’re not aware of where our skills are, we’ll oftentimes put ourselves in situations that are above our skill level. And so that’s why I advocate, let’s just start with small steps and get better in safer places and then move into harder ones, more challenging ones.

So, one way to think about it is that we don’t need to answer every problem. We can think of the world as a bunch of problems that are happening, a bunch of different people that are out there. And what is the one, or the two, or the three, that we are most well-suited to really deeply immerse ourselves in, understand from the inside, and to proactively act on?

And the feeling of when things happen in the news, and you have the answer in your head, and you’re like, “Why doesn’t everyone just do this thing that’s obvious to me?” That feeling goes away when you start to understand some of the problems deeply and you can respect that there’s probably more complexity going on.

And, secondarily, it helps us propose that we do have unproductive disagreements more often because unless someone is thinking about this and working on it, nothing is going to happen and this problem is just going to get worse. So, this mix of, “What is going to help me feel better? What’s going to lower my anxiety about just watching the news, or reading the news, or having family dinners?” Part of that is just being okay with this ambiguity of like, “These problems are harder than I thought they were.” But also, what can we do to make each other better at having these conversations?

First, we have to know what that means for ourselves but, secondly, we have to respect each other and help people get there because nobody taught us this, we don’t learn this in school, we don’t learn it at work. Yeah, it’s something that we should all be better at.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, when it comes to developing these skills, I mean, what are some of the practices, or action steps, or things we should do to get them going?

Buster Benson
The easiest one just to begin with is just to want to do it. And I think it sounds sort of trite but we go about most of our day in a pre-reactive mode where we’re like, “Okay, this bad thing happened. I’m going to go attack that. This bad thing happened, I’m going to go attack that,” versus like, “Okay. Well, what would it take for me to just pay more attention to what my reactions to these things and to think about if I did the same over and over again, things aren’t going to get better, so let’s just pay attention to it.”

I say, like, starting a disagreement journal is a great way to do that, if you’re into journaling, or just like talking to yourself and going on a walk, and like, “Let’s go back in that conversation and think about where I went off the tracks, where the thing that triggered me made me change from one that’s like asking open questions to one that was more like defensive, or even insulting, or whatever it is, and see what was it that was important to me that got challenged?” And maybe even follow up with that person the next day and say, “Hey, remember that conversation we had? I realized after the fact that I felt a little bit threatened because this is a value I held. Do you have that value? Is this something that you are really thinking about? What is your perspective on that?” And you might be able to use that as a bridge because there might be something, “Well, yeah, of course, that’s important. But I was talking about this other thing, completely different from that topic. And I’m sorry for lashing out.”

And so, you can use this as a way to go back after the fact and repair that relationship, and then use it as a way to connect it and make sure that the next one is a little bit better because it’s really hard at the moment to know what to do until you’ve sort of reflected on things a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’ve got, specifically, an eight-step process here to become better at productive disagreements. Could you give us perhaps a one-ish minute or less on each of these steps?

Buster Benson
Sure. So, there are eight of them. Each one of them is about summarizing a big field of work. So, the first one is watch how anxieties sparks. This is what we’ve been talking about mostly, like this mindfulness about that moment that you switch from the calm, curious, open person to the defensive, sort of protective person, and sort of really understand that, where that switch happens, and use that as a way to identify your own values.

Number two is to talk to your internal voices. We all have inherited these, some voices that are very authoritarian, some voices that are very calm and reasonable, and some voices that are like, “Screw this. I’m out, then I flip the table and leave,” and I call it, that’s the conflict avoidance one. And it’s different in each of our heads, and we oftentimes think these thoughts and then we speak them out loud. And so, our internal voices turn into external voices.

And to understand why we say things the way we do, we can sort of go back and think about, “Where does that voice come from? Who in my life am I mimicking in that voice? Do I still need it?” and think about that. That’s cognitive behavioral therapy and sort of the many-minds theory of like, “Oh, gee,” which is really interesting. It can help us tease apart, like, “These thoughts aren’t as necessary.”

Number three is developing honest bias which is sort of the further step past the poster you have. Not only like the what are the biases but what do we do with them? How can we use this information to have better conversations? And I think developing honest bias is the key here. Rather than trying to un-bias yourself, or point out the bias in other people, look for the damage that it does and repair that because that’s tangible, it’s practical, it’s right in front of you, it’s something that you can actually have impact on, versus trying to change the wiring in someone’s mind that’s going to be really, really hard and frustrating.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, to do that, are you just sort of identifying, like, “Hey, this is some things that show up for me in bias”? Or what are you doing exactly?

Buster Benson
Depending on what the situation is, you can say, like, in the work situation, we have this hiring flow that is biased towards candidates that come out of Ivy League colleges. Just fix that and say, like, “Okay, who knows who set that up and whose bias was the one that designed it?” But you can actually fix the process itself. The same goes for if you’re looking for a new job, you’re looking for a new place to live, or any decision that you’re trying to make, you can say, like, “Okay. Well, regardless of what my initial state is, I might seek out familiar things, or I might seek out a safe thing, or I might seek out the thing that makes me look the best.”

What options did you undervalue that you can add back onto the list before you make a decision? And so, there’s these 13 questions you can ask yourself about, like, “Am I favoring the bizarre, interesting, adventurous answers over the seemingly boring ones, even though the boring ones might be better answers for me?” and just add them back on the list, and then look at them altogether. So, you don’t have to change your bias, you can just fix the results of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Thank you.

Buster Benson
So, number four is speaking for yourself. This is one that we do all the time where we speak for others, right? So, we will say, “That party is doing this for these reasons,” or, “That person is evil because they think this.” Rather than doing that, try to invite them into the conversation and ask them to speak for themselves, and also share your perspective from your own stance rather than trying to imagine what they’re thinking. That’s sort of what we talked about at the very beginning.

And it’s a hard habit to break because, I know, speaking from experience, we are just so used to using group labels, and saying, “This group of people has this intention, is doing these things for these reasons,” and we don’t question where we got that from, because we obviously can’t read their minds, and we don’t talk to them a whole lot. So, how can we know? Let’s go ask them directly. It also shows that these groups aren’t as homogenous as we think they are. There’s a whole lot of variation in our own groups and there’s a whole other variation in the other groups, so you can find reasonable people on both sides.

Number five is asking questions that spark surprising answers. There’s a whole list of questions you can just put in your back pocket and pull out right when you’re feeling flooded, you’re like, “Okay. Well, I don’t know how to address this. Okay, I’m going to ask a question,” because we oftentimes tend to ask questions that are black and white but are very limited in possibilities, and we often already prejudged many of the answers to the questions we ask. So, those aren’t going to return a lot of information about the other person that could surprise you. So, open questions, where no matter what they say, it’s going to be interesting and surprising. I think that that’s a better approach, and we can just make a list of these and use them.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you give us one or two right now? I like that way of articulating it, asking questions that invites surprising answers. So, that’s even a little bit more than just not just yes or no, but it gets you thinking about even better questions. So, can you lay a couple on us?

Buster Benson
Yes. So, one that I use a lot is just like, “What am I missing about your perspective that would help me understand you better?” I like to say, “How has this belief been useful for you? Who do you admire?” All these questions are ways of pivoting into their perspective and seeing the world through their eyes, which is always surprising.

In fact, the more different, the more bizarre they are in terms of their worldview, the more surprising it’ll be. And this is a self-reinforcing system because if you do this once, and you get an interesting answer, you’re going to like it. It’s going to be entertaining and meaningful to you. You’re going to want to do it again. You’re going to now have more information to ask even more interesting questions. So, it builds on itself in a really great way.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is fun. I guess I’m thinking about things like, “What TV or movie character do you most sort of relate, connect, identify with?”

Buster Benson
Oh, exactly, yeah. There are so many ways to bring your own personality into the questions and ask the ones that you think has some overlap with you, because you can embed that shared interest in a question, and say, like, “Hey, we both like this story. Let’s talk about it,” and through that, talk about the world.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Very good. What’s next?

Buster Benson
So, sixth is to build arguments together, and this is an interesting one. It requires the other, speaking for yourself, asking questions that spark surprising answers, building arguments together means, “Let’s put aside whether or not your argument is right. Let’s just work on it together and make it as good as possible.” Because any argument, any position, has a best version of itself. Even something like the flat-earth theory of the world has a best argument for it.

And it’s interesting because by bringing yourself to this question, you can be creative, you can sort of start building something that you may never have thought about before. And flat earth is sort of, in the topic, but like to just illustrate the point, it’s just interesting to build that up and think about, “Okay. Well, I obviously have a lot of problems with this. I can help you address these. Like, let’s find the answers to all my questions, and then you’ll potentially will build up to a point that you can convince me from this argument, then that’s a win-win as well.”

So, it’s one way of just turning the conversation from combative to collaborative that can turn out to be really fun. You do have to have some trust built in there because you don’t want to come across as, like, “Oh, I’m going to go in and let’s play blocks and treat your argument as a game.” But assuming that you can pull it off in terms of like, “Yeah, I really do want to build this up for you, and I want the best person and the best people to represent your position so I understand it,” then it can lead to really interesting places.

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha.

Buster Benson
Seven is cultivating neutral spaces. This is one of the hardest ones because think that arguments exists in the land of abstractions and ideas. Really, they exist in the world of words, sounds, body language, lighting, and power dynamics, and rooms, and sort of it’s really important to think about, “Which ideas are allowed on the table in this conversation? What are the power dynamics between us that maybe I’m not going to share everything because I know that if you don’t like it, you can fire me?” And then there’s also the question of, “Who can be in this conversation in the first place? Who can enter the room? Can I leave the conversation if I feel like it’s no longer being productive?”

It brings to the surface a lot of the power dynamics that have to happen. And these have a material impact on the success of the conversation. You can always turn something that’s really not a neutral space into something that’s more neutral. And we do this instinctively by saying, “Let’s go on a walk,” or, “Let’s go get dinner tomorrow,” or, “Let’s do something where the dynamic is different and the space feels a little better.”

Pete Mockaitis
Or if there’s sort of anonymous inputs in terms of we don’t know whose name is on that idea.

Buster Benson
Right. Exactly. And there’s people, you know, we don’t even see faces, or there’s no accountability, and people can drop in and drop out whenever they want. That’s another thing to consider especially online where these things happen, yeah.

And the last tip is to accept reality and then participate in it. And this is the most abstract one, but, really, it’s a call to this desire that we shouldn’t try to reject the world that exists and just refuse to participate in it until it is more likable. It is the way it is, and the only thing we can do is be a positive or a negative influence within it.

And I see disagreement as this opportunity for us all to say, “Okay, we’re not going to be unscathed, and we’re not going to be on the sidelines just critiquing all the bad things happening. Let’s get into the mix. Let’s be part of the solution. Let’s even be willing to be vulnerable and compromise in those situations and admit how we’re complicit in them,” because that’s the arena that these can be resolved in, and that’s really the way to participate in the most productive way.

So, this idea, like we can just exile, or censor, or ban all the things we don’t like is the opposite. Let’s bring everyone in and let’s figure it out.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so much good stuff here. And as you kind of walk through these eight, what really stuck with me, or struck me the most, is that “speak for yourself” bit. And I remember, this will be super quick, but, boy, when we were closing on our house, we had what we call split close where this other side was in a different room with their team and they were talking through the cellphone to, say, our lawyer. And there was this one point, like, “Oh, a little bit.”

And so, our lawyer was, say, “Well, hey, we would like this and that as a result of this,” and then she hangs up the phone and says, “Yeah, they basically say, yeah, they think this is a shakedown.” And then our real estate agent says, “A shakedown? For them to impute our integrity in this way,” and it was so funny, like they didn’t use the word shakedown. Our lawyer summarized for them using the word shakedown, and then the real estate agent took Umbridge at the words they never said, and I was just like, sometimes lawyers, not to point fingers, they come back and stuff happens.

Buster Benson
And this happens all the time, the tiny small steps can really derail a conversation so quickly, so quickly that we don’t even notice that it happened. So, yeah, that’s really a good example of just how easy it is to go on the wrong direction. But there are ways to notice them and say, “Okay. Well, let’s hear it from them. Can we just confirm that this is what’s happening?” because there’s more to be gained by a positive outcome for everyone than to just leave the conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
And, speaking of that, well, I guess a shakedown is probably not one of them. But I want to get your take on some common phrases that can show up in arguments that tend to make things unproductive in a hurry and show up a lot, and some superior alternatives to those.

Buster Benson
Yeah, and there are just so many. Choose a genre of conversation that we can tease apart a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. We are professionals in a workplace considering what is the best option to complete an objective in terms of, “Should we invest in A, B, C, or D?”

Buster Benson
Right. Okay, so many things there, yeah. One of them you might be familiar to is, “Let’s take this offline,” is a really, really common one in the world of, okay, that just basically means, “There’s too many people in the room. We want to have this decision between a smaller group of people. And I’m going to decide who those people are.” That’s unproductive. I think that there are ways to identify the goal instead of just saying that the entire conversation should be taken offline. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with that. But there’s also, let’s see…

Pete Mockaitis
That makes a lot of sense in terms of it’s quite a power grab, really.

Buster Benson
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, okay. You can just unilaterally declare that these topics are not going to be discussed here and, apparently, at an arbitrary later time with a group of people to be determined, it may or may not be discussed. Thanks.

Buster Benson
Yeah. And it is a tool that works but it’s also a tool that’s slightly dysfunctional if it’s misused. So, I think that a lot of these tools, they have good intentions. They’re like, “Okay. Well, we’re not ever going to go around the room and get everyone’s opinion, and then figure out what this is going to be”  because we think that that’s the only other option. But there are ways to move fast and make decisions and include people at the same time. It’s not a tradeoff you have to make, as much as it feels like that in the moment sometimes.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s great. And do you have, could you share, what are your favorite approaches for pulling that off?

Buster Benson
Yeah. So, I was thinking of, as a product leader, I have many projects where your team is spending months working on something, and at the very last minute, the leadership is like, “Oh, I don’t know about this. Have you considered this possible downside?” And usually you have but you only have a very limited amount of time to talk about this. And so, this can turn a project from launching to taking months and months and months.

And then they’re like, “Let’s talk to more people. Let’s take this offline. Let’s revisit this in a month,” or whenever. One way around that is to say, “Okay. Well, let’s just go through worst case and best case scenarios of this so that we can mitigate those possibilities that are bad and sort of look forward to the ones that are good,” because then they’re heard. You can say, like, “I think the worst-case scenario is that all of our advertisers, they’re going to leave, or our users are going to revolt.” And they can say, “Okay. Well, here is how we’ll know if that’s happening. We’re going to launch it with a smaller group of people. We’re going to roll it out slowly. And if this starts happening, we’re going to stop. But we’re going to start going and find out if that’s true or not.”

So, trimming it from like, “Is this going to be a problem?” to, “Let’s find out if it’s a problem as quickly as possible, and keep the ball moving forward,” can save months and months of time in a lot of situations.

And that could be used in a lot of situations where people are risk-averse and feel like they don’t want to move forward until they feel more confident. But the way you feel more confident is by learning, and so there’s ways to make a prediction, “Let’s learn, let’s move forward. And if it turns out that I’m right, great. If it turns out that you’re right, we’ve learned something. Either way it’s going to be okay and we’re both going to win.” So, that’s really one of the simplest ways to move things forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And, quickly, I also want to get your take on is there any best practices, approaches, or tips you’d suggest for when we’re disagreeing with our boss or someone who outranks us?

Buster Benson
Yeah. So, I always like to turn it into, “What would the evidence be of…?” especially with power dynamics, there’s like, “Do this,” right? And you’re like, “Oh, but that’s a bad idea,” or, “I don’t want to do that,” or, “I’m not good at that,” or sometimes it’s a judgment saying, “You’re not good at this,” or, “You’re not the right person for this,” or, “Your promotion is not going to happen.” Those kinds of things, that are really about a judgment of the worth of something, sometimes you, sometimes your work.

The way to turn that into productive disagreement is to say, like, “Okay. What would you see in the world if I was performing at a higher quality? Or what evidence would there be if I was ready for a promotion? Or how do you see it?” Just so it turns it from something that’s a judgment call into something that can be found in the world. And that’s also a great way to summarize what they’re really trying to say, which is like, they’re going to ultimately going to use signals in the world to make decisions, and it brings clarity to that.

So, turning it from something subjective to objective, saying that in the future if you had done these three things, or if you had spoken for the company and those things that happened, then I would sort of think that you’re prepared for the next step. Versus, like, “Oh, you’ll know when you see it,” or, “I’ll let you know,” kind of thing which is really vague, ambiguous, and can only increase your anxiety over time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Buster, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Buster Benson
Yeah. So, the last thing I’ll say is that the real challenge here is not to solve all disagreements, be like a perfect disagree-r, but just to have one or two to experience what that’s like, how enjoyable they can be, what it’s like to actually use disagreement to connect, what it’s like to actually learn a bigger perspective through disagreement, because if we can feel that feeling and sort of see that as the antidote to the anxiety we feel, then we could begin to expect it from our leaders, from our politicians, and the world more broadly, because right now we just don’t expect a whole lot from people because we haven’t experienced it for ourselves. So, taking baby steps and saying, “Okay. I just want to feel this and sort of see it in other people as well,” in the long run is the challenge here, and my hope that this sort of brings out.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Well, now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Buster Benson
So, not to be too trite, but, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” is a Gandhi quote, but I think that that is one that has really influenced my approach to the world. It goes back to this accepting and participating. Don’t just be the critic. Be in the mix. Get all messy in the mud and get something done. If that’s what you want everyone else to do, then you got to do it too.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite study, or experiment, or bit of research?

Buster Benson
In the news recently, I saw that this Stanley Milgram experiment has been debunked, which is really interesting to me. The interesting thing I think with experiments that I love the ones that had been falsified just because it helps us understand science as an evolving process. And one of the worst biases out there is publication bias where we only look at the studies that sound good as a headline, and that can sort of validate something about our lives.

So, I love any experiment that feels like it should be right that gets disproven just to add a little bit of that complexity back into our conversation. So, we can’t just listen to what feels good in our studies. So, Stanley Milgram is the prisoner experiment is going to be one that I would recommend reading or listen to, but the fact that it was revised and that we’re now questioning this is really interesting to me.

Pete Mockaitis
We’re talking about the authority with the shocks?

Buster Benson
Yeah, the one where you would zap people until they were basically dead because you’re the authority.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I want to see the latest on this. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Buster Benson
Favorite book right now. There is this book by Jenny Odell called How to Do Nothing, and it is just a delightful book that is both meditative and practical and rich in imagery in stories and stuff. She talks about how to live in a world where everything is trying to make us more productive, including my book, and how to just maintain integrity and dignity in that sort of high-pressure environment.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Buster Benson
My pen and paper are the ones that I go by the most. To add something a little bit more quirky, I’ve been really interested in the art of tarot decks recently, and I’ve been using this as a way to add symbolism and interesting this to my life.  We just have these tendencies to get into these routines and ruts where things can get really dry and sort of abstract.

Bringing back art into our work is really important to just remember that there’s a creative force that goes into the things that we do. Not necessarily advocating for the pseudoscience of tarot but I’m saying that just seeing the magician and the empress and the hanging man next to your desk, and say, “Okay, yeah. We live in a really rich world,” has been really helpful for me.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit that helps you be awesome at your job?

Buster Benson
So, my favorite habit is private journaling. I’ve been doing this for a long time. It’s morning pages, Julia Cameron wrote a book called The Artist’s Way. It’s like this brain dump. Anytime that my brain is tangled up and I’m not into open question, I’ll just type furiously until all the knots get worked out. And it’s been a really, really helpful tool for me over the years to figure that out through that because, otherwise, you need to go on a long walk or ask someone out to coffee and talk about it. But this is a way that’s always handy and you can always use it to figure something out for yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Buster Benson
BusterBenson.com is my website, there’s all kinds of weird things, and @buster on Twitter is where I live on the internet.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Buster Benson
Yeah. Have one proactive disagreement about something that you feel is important, and don’t keep it bottled up, and see how it goes. And be patient with yourself if it didn’t go right the first time.

Pete Mockaitis
Buster, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks. And keep on having some lovely productive disagreements.

Buster Benson
Thank you so much. It has been a joy.

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