Mark Goulston on How to Deal With “Everyday Craziness”: Part 2 of an interview by Bob Morris


GoulstonIn his career as an organizational consultant, relationship counselor, and hostage-negotiation trainer, Mark Goulston has found what works, consistently, to reach all kinds of people in any type of situation.

In his book Real Influence: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In, he and co-author John Ullmen share what they learned while interviewing more than 100 influential people and distilled a four-step model that they have in common. As he explains, “We are in a ‘post-selling/post-pushing’ world where most people can’t stand to either of these done to them and don’t enjoy when they have to do it to others.” He says, “There is a way to persuade without pushing and that is by positively influencing people, because influence can last a lifetime, whereas persuasion sometimes doesn’t even last until the end of a conversation.”

In a recent book, Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone, Goulston introduces a communication process in a book (first published in 2010) that can help almost anyone get to almost anyone else who may otherwise be inaccessible. Dorothy and her friends were advised to follow the yellow brick road. Goulston advises his reader to follow the five-step “persuasion cycle.” There won’t be any flying monkeys to worry about but there may be distractions so focus on the basic nine rules he identifies and master the twelve “quick techniques” he recommends. Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with the Irrational and Impossible People in Your Life is his latest book, published by AMACOM (October 2015).

Mark blogs or contributes to Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and Business Insider, and writes the “Closing Bell” for C-Suite Quarterly magazine and the Tribune syndicated column, “Solve Anything with Dr. Mark.” He lives in Los Angeles, California.

Here is an excerpt from Part 2 of my interview of Mark.

* * *

Morris: When and why did you decide to write Talking to Crazy?

Goulston: In my book, Just Listen, there was a disproportionate amount of interest in two chapters: Steer Clear of Toxic People (which is about dealing with people that were beyond difficult) and Move Yourself from “Oh F#@& to OK” (which is about how to remain calm instead of being provoked by people). I then realized that everyday nearly everyone deals with people who are irrational and often impossible and I thought readers were telling me that they would like an entire book devoted to it. That’s where the idea of Talking to Crazy came from. Interestingly, nearly everyone I told the title to has responded with a smile. When I asked them what that was about they replied something like, “I think I do that everyday and if you’ve written a book that will help me deal with it better, I’m smiling from the relief I feel when you show me a better way to deal with them.”

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Goulston: I think the main revelation was the power of leaning into people’s irrationality as a way to calm them down and bring them back to their senses. If you imagine an irrational and agitated person as car engine that racing past the redline. You can try to stop it by stepping on the brakes or instead you can calmly pull over to the side of the road and turn the engine off. Leaning into people’s irrationality is like the latter.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

Goulston: I was hoping that I could use a similar form and structure that worked so well in “Just Listen” with stories that people could identify with combined with counterintuitive insights, strategies and tactics that most people could use that would work. However at the beginning I didn’t know if this book would flow and nearly write itself the same way as “Just Listen.” It was a pleasant and an immense relief when that was exactly what happened.

Morris: You suggest a number of ways to “deal with the irrational and impossible people” in one’s life. Aren’t we all — or at least don’t we all seem to others — somewhat “irrational and impossible” from time to time? Please explain.

Goulston: Absolutely. I do however make a distinction between “irrational” and “non-rational.” From time to time, we are all non-rational. By that I mean that we are all thinking and responding to a new situation in a manner that fit a prior situation, but not the present one. When we do that we are being non-rational. Irrational on the other hand is when we are more pushy about how we are thinking and acting with regard to a situation and then want to force others to agree and conform to our POV.

Morris: What exactly do you mean by “everyday craziness”?

Goulston: By “everyday craziness” I mean the frequent interactions between others and us where people are frustrating and exasperating us. I make a distinction between that and mental illness. I see “crazy” and mentally ill as different. To me, mentally ill means having a mental disorder that if untreated causes a person to not be able to act differently and will continue until that mental illness is effectively treated. Crazy occurs when people are capable of controlling their behavior, but choose not to.

Morris: When you refer to “handling” everyday craziness, do you in fact mean “defusing” it? Pleased explain.

Goulston: I like that term “defusing” it in the movie thriller sense of the word. That is what you see in some action films where the hero or his/her team must go in and defuse a bomb before it explodes (usually with seconds to spare). Rather than trying to contain or counter “crazy” behavior, the book teaches you how to go into the the person’s personality and to the modus operandi and then defusing it before it escalates or explodes into crazy making behavior.

Morris: How to “lean into the crazy”? Why do it? Are there times when it best be done?

Goulston: By leaning into crazy you are not just allowing the person to verbally vent or whine or complain, you are inviting them to. What’s more you are inviting them to go even deeper into what they’re talking about. By doing this instead of taking issue with them or becoming defensive, you’re enabling them to get more off their chest and out into the air where it can do no harm to them or you. The best times to do it are with people who are stressing you out, causing you to have a pit in your stomach at just the mention of their name and causing you to avoid them. By learning to lean into them, help them get stuff of their chest and calm down, you’re developing a sense of mastery about something that has always caused you stress.

Morris: For those who have not as yet read Talk to Crazy, please explain “The Sanity Cycle.”

Goulston: In my book, Just Listen, there was a graphic called the Persuasion Cycle which was a way to cause people to become “first class noticers” of people they were trying to get through to and to be more effective at it by being mindful of each of the steps in accomplishing it. In Talking to Crazy the Sanity Cycle serves a similar purpose. The steps in the Sanity Cycle are:

1. See (a.k.a. notice) that the other person is acting crazy vs. reacting to it;

2. Identify the other person’s M.O. where just recognizing their “crazy making” pattern will enable you to remain less reactive and feel more in control of your emotions;

3. Deal with your own crazy where you select a approach in the book to keep from getting provoked;

4. Go to the other person’s crazy where you look at what might be going on and often what they are hiding underneath;

5. Show that you are not a threat vs. becoming defensive or acting judgmentally towards them;

And 6. Move the person to a sane place where after you have been able to help them calm down, you’re able to work with them to getting them to a more rational and realistic point of view.

Morris: Please explain the frequent references to “Triangle/Silo/Triangle.”

Goulston: I am an empirical neuroscientist and neurotheorist. That means i like to find a neuroscientific explanations for what might be going on in people’s minds and behavior and my research is based on my observations from nearly 40 years of clinical and professional practice. By triangle/silo/triangle I am speaking about a concept I introduced in this book called Triunal Rigidity. Triune refers to a functional model of the brain first postulated by neuroscientist Paul McLean that our brain is functionally and to a certain extent anatomically comprised of a recent upper human rational brain on top of an older middle mammalian emotional brain on top of a primitive lower reptilian “fight or flight” brain. In my view, people act in a characteristic and crazy making way because their three (triune) becomes locked together rigidly and rigidly connected to a view of the world that they resist changing. This is the actual neuroscientific explanation for the “definition of insanity being doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same results” (i.e. that it will continue to work even though the situation you are facing has changed).

The triangle/silo/triangle refers to the fact that the more rigid our three brains are with our emotions and fight or flight brains taking charge the more we will act the same way and try to make the world conform to our view, because we are not able to adapt to it when it changes. The triangles refer to the alignment of the three brains and the silo refers to the fact that when our three brains are rigidly wired together and a particular outcome the more we are functioning similarly to the way a silo in a company functions, namely the less they are able to cooperate with other silos.

* * *

To read the complete Part 2, please click here.

To read Part 1, please click here.

Mark cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

Mark’s Amazon page link

AMA/Amanet link

Patreon link

Goulston Group link

Heartfelt Leadership link

Twitter link

Facebook link

LinkedIn link

HBR link

C-Suite Quarterly link

Huffington Post link

Psychology Today link

Business Insider link

Leadership Excellence link

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