09 Jan January 9, 2020 – Yelling Buster Benson, MultiMedia Melvin Figueroa & Auto Ship Brett Phaneuf
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Buster Benson is an entrepreneur and 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. His book, Why Are We Yelling?: The Art of Productive Disagreement, teaches effective argument styles that will transform your disagreements into meaningful conversations that can solve problems, deepen relationships, and bring about new ideas.
Melvin Figueroa – Online Brand Expert – Owner of Mello Multimedia
Melvin Figueroa is a graphic designer, web developer, and the owner of Mello Multimedia. He has a decade of experience in the design industry creating brand identities and building websites. He believes a website should be more than a pretty, static brochure, but instead should be a dynamic sales tool for taking your business to the next level. His core focus is on creating stunning websites to profit from your brand’s online image, attract new leads, and get real results. By understanding his client’s behaviors, pain points, and benefits of their product or service, Melvin is able to create them a website that will act as a 24/7 salesperson and help take their business to the next level. This past year, Melvin has spoken at Goldman Sachs 1,000 Small Business Cohort as well as the Rhode Island Black Business Association about the importance of having a strong online presence and how it can make a deep impact on businesses.
Brett Phaneuf – Founder, President, and Director of Submergence Group, LLC / M Subs LTD – Director of Automated Ships LTD – Founding Board Member of Promare – Managing Director of the Mayfair Autonomous Ship
Brett Phaneuf is the founder and chief executive of Submergence Group LLC (USA) / M Subs Ltd (UK). His companies create manned and unmanned ships and underwater vehicles for the defense sector, commercial offshore industry, and other private customers. Brett is also one of three founding board members of ProMare, a non-profit (501c3) public charity founded in 2001 to promote marine exploration throughout the world. As Director of Mayfair Autonomous Ship, Brett, along with IBM and Promare, is setting out to launch a full-sized, completely autonomous unmanned ship to take the same voyage across the Atlantic that the original Mayfair took 400 years ago. The Mayflower Autonomous Ship project aims to pioneer a cost-effective and flexible approach for gathering data that will help safeguard this vital resource especially from pollution, over-exploitation and the effects of global warming. MAS will carry three research pods containing an array of sensors coordinated by the UK’s Plymouth University that scientists will use to advance understanding in a number of key areas from maritime cybersecurity to ocean plastics. Sea testing will begin in the summer ahead of departure in September 2020, marking 400 years since the departure of the original Mayflower.
Highlights from Buster’s Interview
This is all new to me. I do think my book’s about a timely topic. Part of the reason why I wrote the book in the first place is that we feel stuck in our conversations, and we don’t know what to do. I needed to answer that for myself, and apparently other people would like the answer also.
I don’t even think we are actively disagreeing with each other. We’ve sort of given up. We don’t genuinely react to the TV or to social media. We’re not engaging in real conversations with people that we disagree with. We aren’t even seeing them as human beings. We’re not talking to them to see their perspective. At best, we end up getting into these battles that go nowhere and reinforce our belief that discussions are not worth pursuing. That’s where we are today. There’re a lot of reasons why that’s where we are; there are things today that are different than they were in the past. But it’s the reality. We get to figure out what to do from here.
My book is not a workbook, but it is tackling the social ritual conversation disagreement, which is a tool that we use in almost every avenue of our lives. There’s almost nothing we do that doesn’t involve meeting with people, talking with them, sending emails, sending text messages or sharing documents with them. So even though it feels like each one of these realms of our lives is very different, everything we do has disagreements and every realm of our lives can fail for very similar reasons. And we have a tool to fix these problems that has been evolving for a long time. We haven’t yet figured out how to use it for productive disagreements about broader issues like political disagreements or institutional disagreements or even disagreements within science and the arts—all those kinds of areas. They’re harder to discuss now, because there are more people involved, there are more voices, and we don’t have those skills yet. This book is intended to be super practical for everyday conversations that apply across the board.
The first thing I will mention is that we oftentimes don’t even notice when we’re entering into a disagreement. We can reflect on it after the fact and say, “Oh my gosh, why did we start arguing about this? What was this even about?” And that blindness to the initial step of the argument, to the first thing that sparked your anxiety and raised your hackles and got you on the defensive is something we need correct. The beginning of an argument can bring out the common ground that gets the conversation back to harmony if we can identify it, but it takes practice to notice that moment in the conversation. I advocate for keeping track of the conversation and the disagreements you have, especially the impractical ones. Then think about what you would have done differently to avoid the argument. For example, you can just go offline to disperse stress and anxiety and anger. I’ve literally talked to myself about what was important to me and what I should have said instead. If you do this a few times, you’ll eventually recognize the beginnings of arguments and notice your values and presumptions during your discussions. When I talk or write about what I argued about later, it’s not unproductive. It helps us avoid arguments. That’s one small trick or tactic I found that helps us become aware of disagreements right when they’re starting.
You can go back and revisit conversations in a less intense way. We think as soon as the conversation ends, that the disagreement’s over, but most relationships have these long-running threads where something pops up repeatedly, and sometimes you try to avoid it, but it’s still there, and it affects your relationship and affects the things you talk about. Until you really face it, that disagreement is going to be there. It’ll be there until you feel comfortable bringing it into the open and saying, “Okay, we disagree about this, we have very different perspectives. And it’s okay. We can use this to have really interesting conversations and learn about each other, learn about the world, make predictions, and that kind of stuff,” then it will be less anxious and tense. It’ll actually help facilitate the relationship’s health.
It can be productive when these things come up. That’s what it should be. We can turn difficult experiences and arguments into things that bring us together more, that become long-running jokes or become part of the culture of the relationship. We can do that with almost any disagreement, and we need to get the whole list together. Our communities are falling apart because we don’t have these tense conversations that bring us together, that help us both see why we’re different and why we’re the same.
In my previous startup, I had 50/50 co-ownership. Notice that almost all startups succeed or fail based on the ability of the founders to have productive disagreements, resolve them and work through them. It doesn’t have to be a perfect resolution, but these disputes are either going to bring you together or tear you apart. The key question is, can they talk about it? Can the cofounders address this? Can they bring this up and say, “Okay, there was this moment, and in that moment you said something, but we didn’t have time to consult about it. Now that’s it’s out here on the table, can we talk about it?”
If the cofounder still believes it, believes that he’s the boss, we need to know if it was true back then, and whether it’s still true now. If so, should it continue to be true? These things can change over time. What’s important is that it turns into a dance. It has to be this fluid thing. Sometimes I’m the boss, sometimes you’re the boss, sometimes we’re both the boss, sometimes somebody else is the boss. It’s not static. That’s the key thing. It’s not sealed and dealed based on that one word that was said several years ago. You bring it back into the conversation and change with it, develop with it, see what it means to you right now.
I think we tend to see people as purely evil in some cases, and that’s never the case. But it can be practically the case in terms of, “Man, I have to work with this person. They consistently undermine me. What can I do?” It’s really hard to be in that customer relationship with someone that you don’t trust. I think that the key is to try to see the good in that person. I believe that all people have some good in them and whether or not it’s worth digging up is the question. Do I have the energy? Is it in my best interest to figure this out or is it in their best interest for you to try to find the good in them? If there is no satisfactory answer to that, if there’s no way for me to see that perspective and choose it, it’s “Well, I understand why you think that, even though I disagree.” Then you have to figure out what you can take from that relationship. How are you going to understand this person? And is it worth it for you to do?
I’ve worked at Amazon, and so I’ve seen the algorithms and the things that make books succeed. That was a long time ago, so I have a long history with that. But I was a new author this time. I’m a first-time author; I’m not an expert. I’m not a professional disagreer and I don’t have a PhD in disagreements. I don’t think those things even exist. So I had to really add some value in terms of making a book worth recommending and I’m not a self-promoter by default. What I did was I sent a lot of cold emails out, but each cold email I put in the wonder factor. I spent a day on it at least, even when I’ve known the contact for years—not personally, but reading their blog and tweets and the like. I really tried to craft it into something personal, something that was vulnerable and something that was like, “I know you don’t have a lot of time, so…” But a lot of people are very generous and chose to reply. But I made all kinds of mistakes on the way. I often asked them too soon, it was a little rambling, and it didn’t work. So I went back and forth in effectiveness, but that’s what I did. I probably sent out 50 of those and got 10 back. A number of people that responded were really, really generous with their time.
I’m Buster on Twitter, and that’s where I am the most. I’m BusterBenson on Facebook and lots of other places. That’s probably the two best ones I’m on.