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About the Author
MARK GOULSTON is a business advisor, consultant, coach, speaker, and psychiatrist. The author of Get Out of Your Own Way and other popular books, he blogs for Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Business Insider, The Huffington Post, and Psychology Today; co-hosts a weekly radio show; and is featured frequently in major media, including The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Newsweek, Time, CNN, Fox News, and the TODAY show.
Read an Excerpt
Talking to Crazy
How to Deal with the Irrational and Impossible People in Your Life
By Mark Goulston
AMACOMCopyright © 2016 Mark Goulston
All rights reserved.
AFTER DECADES as a psychiatrist, I know crazy — and that includes some serious crazy.
How serious? One of my patients stalked Britney Spears, and another jumped off a fifth-story balcony because he thought he could fly. Still another called me from a jail in the Dominican Republic, saying he was there to start a revolution.
In addition, I've worked with 80-pound anorexics, strung-out heroin addicts, and hallucinating schizophrenics. I've taught hostage negotiators how to get homicidal criminals to surrender. And these days, I show CEOs and managers how to deal with out-of-control people who threaten their companies' bottom lines.
In short, crazy and I are pretty much on a first-name basis.
However, a while ago, something occurred to me: I expect to deal with crazy every day, because it's my job. But I suddenly realized how often you have to face down crazy — not the jump-off-a-balcony, stalk-Britney-Spears kind of crazy, but what I call everyday crazy.
My "aha" moment occurred when I 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.
These lawyers had no trouble writing wills and creating trusts. But what they didn't know, and desperately needed to know, was what to do when they can't stop their clients from acting crazy.
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. 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. Maybe it's a tear- ful lover or an unreasonable client.
And that's what this book is all about: talking to crazy.
Now, a word about the word crazy: I know it sounds inflammatory and totally un-PC . But when I use this word, I don't mean mentally ill (although mental illness — which I'll address separately in Section 5 — certainly causes crazy behavior). And I don't use the word crazy to stigmatize one group of people either. That's because all of us, at some points in time, are crazy.
What I mean by crazy is irrational . There are four ways in which the people you deal with can be irrational:
* They can't see the world clearly .
* They say or think things that make no sense .
* They make decisions and take actions that aren't in their best interest .
* They become downright impossible when you try to guide them back to the side of reason .
In this book, I'll share my best tricks for breaking through to people who are irrational in these ways . I've used these techniques to do everything from settling office feuds to rescuing marriages, and you can use them just as effectively to handle the irrational people in your life .
The Key: Leaning into the Crazy
The tools I'll give you in this book take some courage to implement . That's because you aren't going to make crazy go away by ignoring it, trying to reason with it, or arguing with it. Instead, you're going to lean into the crazy.
Years ago, someone gave me the following advice about how to react if a dog sinks its teeth into your hand: If you give in to your instincts and try to pull your hand out, the dog will stick its teeth in deeper. But if you counterintuitively push your hand deeper into the dog's mouth, the dog will release it. Why? Because, in order to do what it wants to do next — swallow — it has to release its jaw. And that's when you can pull your hand out.
This exact same rule applies to talking to irrational people . If you treat them as if they're nuts and you're not, they'll bite down deeper on their crazy thinking. But if you lean into their crazy, you'll radically change the dynamic. Here's an example.
After a horrific day — one of the most frustrating in my life — I was wrapped up in my woes while driving home from work on autopilot. Unfortunately, that's incredibly dangerous in California rush-hour traffic.
Just as I was entering the San Fernando Valley going south on Sepulveda Boulevard, I accidentally cut off a large man and his wife in a pickup truck. He honked angrily at me, and I waved to gesture I was sorry. Then, a half a mile later — idiotically — I proceeded to do it again.
At that point, the man caught up to me and pulled his truck to an abrupt stop in front of me, forcing me off the road. As I stopped, I could see the man's wife gesturing frantically to him not to get out of the truck.
But he didn't listen to her, and in a few moments, he did get out — all six and a half feet and 300 pounds of him. He stormed over to my car and banged wildly on my side window, screaming obscenities at me.
I was so dazed that I actually rolled my window down to hear him. Then I just waited until he paused to reload on more vitriol.
And at that moment, as he stopped to take a breath, I said to him:
"Have you ever had such an awful day that you're just hoping to meet someone who will pull out a gun, shoot you, and put you out of your misery? Are you that someone?"
His mouth fell open. "What?" he asked.
Up to that point, I'd been incredibly stupid. But in that instant, I did something brilliant. Somehow, in the midst of my brain fog, I said exactly the right thing.
I didn't try to reason with this terrifying man, who probably would have responded by dragging me out of my car and smashing his fist into my face. And I didn't fight back. Instead, I leaned into his crazy and threw it right back at him.
As the man stared at me, I started up again. "Yeah, I really mean it. I don't usually cut people off, and I never cut someone off twice. I'm just having a day where no matter what I do or who I meet — including you! — I seem to mess everything up. Are you the person who is going to mercifully put an end to it?"
Instantly, a change came over him. He switched to being calming and reassuring: "Hey. C'mon, man," he said. "It'll be okay. Really! Just relax, it'll be okay. Everyone has days like this."
I continued my rant. "That's easy for you to say! You didn't screw up everything like I did today. I don't think it will be okay. I just want out! Can't you help me with that?"
He continued with fervor: "No, really. I mean it. It'll be okay. Just relax."
We talked for a few more minutes. Then he got back into his truck, said a few things to his wife, and waved to me in the rearview mirror as if to say, "Now remember. Relax. It'll be okay."
And he drove off.
Now, I'm not proud of this episode. Clearly, the guy in the pickup truck wasn't the only irrational person on the road that day.
But here's my point . That guy could have punched my lights out. And he probably would have if I'd tried to use reason or to argue with him. Instead, I met him in his reality, in which I was the bad guy and he had every right to hurt me. By instinctively using a technique I call assertive submission(which I'll talk about in Chapter 8), I turned him from an assailant into an ally in less than a minute.
Luckily, my response came naturally, even on that really bad day. That's because I've been leaning into people's crazy for years as a psychiatrist. I've done it thousands of times, in different ways, and I know that it works.
Moreover, I know that it can work for you . Leaning into crazy is a strategy you can use with any irrational person. For instance, you can use this strategy to talk with:
* A partner who screams at you — or refuses to speak to you
* A child who says, "I hate you" or "I hate myself"
* An aging parent who says, "You don't care about me"
* An employee who constantly melts down on the job w
* manager who's a bully
No matter what kind of everyday crazy you're dealing with, leaning into that crazy can empower you to break free from communication strategies that fail every time and break through to the people you need to reach . As a result, you'll be able to walk into just about any emotional situation — anywhere — and feel confident, in control, and unafraid.
Replacing Fight-or-Flight with the Sanity Cycle
One thing to understand is that leaning into the crazy doesn't come instinctively. That's because it's what your body doesn't want you to do.
When you're dealing with an irrational person, your body sends you danger signals. Pay attention, and you'll notice that your throat tightens, your pulse speeds up, you get a sick feeling in your stomach, or you develop a headache. In fact, just the mention of the person's name may make you react physiologically.
This is your reptile brain (which I'll discuss further in Chapter 2) telling you either to fight or flee. But if the irrational person is part of your personal or professional life, neither of these responses will solve your problem.
Instead, I'm going to teach you how to approach crazy very differently, using a six-step process I call the Sanity Cycle (see Figure 1–1).
Here's what you'll do at each step of this cycle:
1. Recognize that the person you're dealing with isn't able to think rationally in the current situation. In addition, you'll realize that the person's crazy has deep roots in either the recent or distant past rather than the present moment, and that it isn't something you can argue or reason away.
2. Identify the person's modus operandi — the specific way he acts out his crazy. This is the strategy he uses to make you crazy, by causing you to become angry, guilty, ashamed, afraid, frustrated, or otherwise crazy yourself. When you understand the person's M.O., you'll feel calmer, more centered, and more in control when the two of you interact — and you'll be able to select the right counterstrategy.
3. Realize that the crazy behavior isn't about you. Instead, it's all about the person you're dealing with. To keep yourself from taking his words personally, you'll identify and neutralize many of your buttons before talking with him. And while talking with the person, you'll use powerful mental tools to keep yourself from escalating into crazy . These tools will allow you to prevent an amygdala hijack (a term coined by psychologist Daniel Goleman), which occurs when your amygdala — the threat-sensing part of your brain — blocks out your rational mind.
4. Talk with the irrational person, leaning into his crazy by entering his world calmly and with intention. First, you will assume innocence. That is, you'll believe that the person is truly good at heart and that there's a reason for the crazy behavior. Rather than being judgmental, you will be curious about what underlies that behavior. Second, you'll imagine yourself experiencing those underlying emotions — feeling attacked, misunderstood, and defensive.
5. Show the person that you are an ally rather than a threat by listening calmly and empathetically as he vents. Rather than shutting him down, you'll encourage this venting. And rather than attacking back, as the person expects, you'll align yourself with him. In fact, you'll even apologize to him. As you listen kindly and mirror the person empathetically, he'll begin to listen to and mirror you.
6. Help guide the person to a saner way of thinking when he is calm.
The majority of the techniques I'll teach you 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.
Be aware, however, that guiding yourself and an irrational person through this cycle won't always be easy, won't always be fun, and won't always work instantly. And, as with anything you do in life, there's a risk that it won't work — even a very slight chance that you will make things worse . But when you desperately need to find a way to get through to a person who's difficult, impossible, or even completely out of control, these techniques will give you your very best shot.
So if you're game, I'm game. However, before we get to my techniques for talking to crazy, I'd like to talk a little about why people act irrationally. First, we'll look at what's happening in their minds right now — and what's happened to them in the past.CHAPTER 2
Recognizing How Crazy Happens
TO SUCCESSFULLY talk to crazy, you need to know why irrational people act the way they do. And the first step in understanding these people is to recognize that they're a lot more like flat-out insane people than you think.
Take a moment to think about psychotic people, such as those with untreated schizophrenia or delusional depression. You know you can't reason these people's problems away. You're not going to say, "You know you're not really the Antichrist, right?" or "Your life isn't that bad, so take the gun out of your mouth and go mow the lawn."
However, I'm guessing that this is exactly the approach you take with the everyday crazies in your life . That's because you think that somehow you can simply reason their crazy away . For instance, you may say things such as:
* "Calm down — you're overreacting."
* "That doesn't make any sense."
* "You can't seriously believe that. Here are the facts."
* "Get real ... that's just nuts!"
* "Wait a minute ... how did you come up with that?"
I'm sure you've heard the popular definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Well, if you're trying to reason with irrational people in this way, over and over, despite not getting the response you want, guess what: You're the one who's crazy.
Why? Because garden-variety craziness, just like real psychosis, isn't just something you can talk people out of. It doesn't respond to facts or logic . And if you keep trying to reason with irrational people, they won't just suddenly snap out of it.
It's not that they refuse to change. It's that they can't. Most people who behave irrationally aren't even remotely psychotic, but like psychotic people, they're unable to think sanely. That's because crazy thoughts and behavior stem from a misalignment of the brain (or more accurately, the three brains), and a misaligned brain can't respond to reason.
The Science Behind Crazy
To understand crazy, you need to know a little about how it develops. So here's a quick look at how the mind works, and how it gets crazy.
First, you should know that what you think of as your mind actually uses three brains to function. These three brains interconnect, but they often operate on their own. Sometimes they're at war with each other. Under stress, sometimes they disconnect from each other. They always disconnect when people are truly distressed. And they often realign in ways that leave irrational people trapped in crazy.
Neuroscientist Paul McLean, who first described the triune, or three-part, brain back in the 1960s, outlined his model in depth in his 1990 book The Triune Brain in Evolution . Here's a look at the three brains and what they do:
* First and innermost is your primitive lower brain. Also known as the reptilian brain, its focus is pure survival: food, sex, escape, or attack.
* The next part of your brain is the paleomammalian middle brain, where emotions such as joy, hate, protectiveness, sadness, and pleasure arise. It's also the part of the brain that makes you bond with a partner or child.
* The outer part of your brain is your neomammalian upper brain. The most evolved of your three brains, it allows you to make smart decisions, plan ahead, and control your impulses. Most of all, it lets you look at a situation objectively instead of subjectively.
The brains develop at different stages, and each one lies on the previous one.
At birth, all three of your brains already exist. If you're lucky, they align in a healthy way over time, allowing you to mesh your survival instincts, emotions, and logical thought processes. When this occurs, each of your three brains can take charge at the right moments, and they can work together collaboratively, with your most evolved brain running the show most of the time. I call this triunal agility. If you possess triunal agility, you can approach a situation in one way, but if the situation changes, you can release your three brains from their alignment, consider the new situation, realign your brains with the new reality, and then succeed by dealing with it differently.
Excerpted from Talking to Crazy by Mark Goulston. Copyright © 2016 Mark Goulston. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
SECTION 1 The Basics of Talking to Crazy
1 Understanding Crazy
2 Recognizing How Crazy Happens
3 Spotting an Irrational Person’s M.O.
4 Knowing When to Talk to Crazy and When to Walk Away
SECTION 2 Facing Your Own Crazy First
5 Pinpointing Your Own Crazy
6 Keeping Your Own Crazy at Bay When You’re Under Attack
7 Regrouping When Crazy Wins
SECTION 3 Fourteen Tactics for Talking to Crazy
8 The Belly Roll: Putting the Irrational Person “in Charge” to Defuse a Tense Situation
9 The A-E-U Technique: Highly Effective—But Scary
10 Time Travel: Getting an Irrational Person to Stop Dwelling on the Past and Focus Instead on the Future
11 The Eye of the Hurricane: Finding the Sane Inside the Crazy
12 Digging Down to Disappointment: Dealing with Emotional People Who Don’t Really Mean What They’re Saying
13 The Fishbowl: Bringing an Irrational Person’s Mirror Neurons into Play
14 The Split Second: How to Handle an Irrational Person Who’s Playing You Against Someone Else
15 The Three L’s: Helping an Irrational Person Cope with Extreme Fear
16 The Butter-Up: Getting a Know-It-All to Behave
17 Executive Order: Getting a Martyr to Accept Help
18 Coup Contrecoup: Turning an Irrational Person’s M.O. to Your Own Advantage
19 The Kiss-Off (and the Gentle Kiss-Off): Saying No to a Manipulator
20 Frenemies: Handling a “Toxic Deflector” at Work
21 I Know What You’re Hiding: Getting a Sociopath out of Your Life
SECTION 4 Eight Ways to Deal with Crazy in Your Personal Life
22 You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling? Handling Your Mutual Crazy in a Relationship
23 Shock Absorber: Getting Through to an Emotional Partner
24 Copy Cat: Getting a Strong-and-Silent Partner to Talk
25 Child A or Child B? Going Through a Divorce Without Wrecking Your Kids for Life
26 “What’s the Worst Thing for You?” Being There for a Parent, Partner, or Child in Pain
27 The Reconnect: Healing a Broken Relationship with an Adult Child
28 The Assumptive Close: Getting an Aging Parent to Accept Help
29 The Four H’s and Four R’s: Rebuilding a Personal Relationship After an Irrational Person Breaks It
SECTION 5 What to Do When Crazy Is Actually Mental Illness
30 Where to Turn When Crazy Is Above Your Pay Grade
31 How to Get the Person to Say Yes to Getting Help
32 What to Do if You Think Someone May Be Suicidal
33 Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda: Preventing the Next Sandy Hook