Talking to Crazy: A book review by Bob Morris

Talking to CrazyTalking to Crazy: How to Deal with the Irrational and Impossible People in Your Life
Mark Goulston
(AMACOM (October 2016)

How to manage “everyday craziness” whenever and wherever you encounter it

As Mark Goulston explains, he experienced an epiphany years ago when he went to a meeting for estate planners who needed advice about helping families in crisis. “I expected the event to be a little dry, but instead, I was mesmerized. I found out that just like me, these people have to ‘talk to crazy’ every day. In fact, nearly every issue they discussed involved clients acting completely nuts…That’s when it dawned on me that everyone — including you — has this problem. I’m betting that nearly every day, you deal with at least one irrational person…And that’s what this book is all about: talking to crazy.” That is, interacting with what he characterizes as “everyday crazy.”

More specifically:

o They can’t see the world clearly.
o They say or think things that make no sense.
o They make decisions and take actions that aren’t in their best interests.
o They become downright impossible when you try to guide them back to the side of reason.

As I began to work my way through Goulston’s lively as well as eloquent narrative, I was again reminded of a scene in the Cheers television series when Frasier Crane, psychiatrist, patiently listens to Cliff Clavin, a mailman, babble on incoherently about the first Thanksgiving. “It took place between the ancient Egyptians and aliens from a distant galaxy.” Eventually, Crane asks, “Cliff, what color is the sky in your world?” More recently, during the last holiday season at a party my wife and I attended, the host pointed out to several of us that very few penguins are left-handed. He was sober…and quite serious.

Goulston shares what he has learned about how to handle much more serious situations, situations that have potentially significant consequences if not resolved. “Maybe it’s a boss who wants the impossible. Maybe it’s a demanding parent or a hostile teen or a manipulative coworker or a neighbor who’s always in your face.” At one time or another, most people have encountered — in an everyday situation — a spouse or friend who screams at them, a child who says “I hate you” or “I hate myself,” an aging parent who says “You don’t care about me,” someone at work who has a meltdown, and/or a supervisor who is a bully. These really are difficult situations that can be made even worse by an inappropriate response.

These are among the several dozen passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Goulston’s coverage:

o The Secret: Leaning into the Crazy (Pages 5-7)
o The Sanity Cycle (9-10)
o The Science Behind Crazy, and, Three Pathways to Crazy People (26-28)
o A Warning About Personality Disorders (37-41)
o Triangle/Silo/Triangle (58-59)
o The Eight-Step Pause (63-65)
o The “Oh F#@& to OK” Speed Drill (68-69)

In Sections 3-5 (Chapters 8-33), Goulston then focuses on

o Fourteen Tactics for Talking to Crazy (75-163)
o Eight Ways to Deal with Crazy in Your Personal Life (165-210)
o What to Do When Crazy Is Actually Mental Illness (211-252)

One of Goulston’s most valuable insights stresses the importance of following a process that is easy to chart but for most of us, very difficult to follow: “The Sanity Cycle”:

1. Recognize that the person you’re dealing with is unwilling and/or unable to think rationally/be reasonable in the current situation.

2. Identify that person’s modus operandi – the specific ways(s) that person acts out their craziness.

3. Don’t take the craziness personally. Realize that it isn’t about you. Rather, it’s all about the person who is obviously very upset and probably angry.

4. Talk with the irrational person, leaning into the craziness by entering the other person’s world calmly and with an intention to be helpful.

NOTE: All of the major research studies (at least of which I am aware) indicate that during a face-to-face interaction, at least 80% of impact is determined by tone of voice and body language; only about 20% (if that) is determined by what is said. Also, talking with someone will always be far more effective than talking at them or to them.

5. Demonstrate your good will, that you are an ally rather than a threat, by listening calmly and empathetically but NOT, I presume to add, in a way that could be taken as condescending as the person vents. Make eye contact and listen with attention and (yes) patience as well as purpose.

6. Help to guide the person to a more rational way of thinking. By letting off steam, they may calm down and appreciate the fact that you care and want to be helpful.

These are the WHATs of the cycle. Goulston thoroughly explains the HOW of each of them.

“The majority of the techniques I teach in this book follow these steps (although there are variations, and you’ll sometimes veer completely off this path when you’re dealing with bullies, manipulators, or sociopaths). That’s because the Sanity Cycle is powerful magic.”

Mark Goulston is determined to do all he can to “heal the world one conversation at a time” and hopes that everyone who reads this book will be well-prepared as well as sufficiently courageous to “help make that dream come true.”

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