TALKING TO CRAZY by mark goulston:
“Heal the world one conversation at a time”
Years ago, I had a privilege to find a book that has changed and continues to transform me. The book is Just Listen, by Mark Goulston. The book has provided me with tools how to work and to live. Mark Goulston, M.D. is a business psychiatrist who over the past 30 years has worked with myriad companies teaching them emotional intelligence to succeed in the marketplace and in personal lives. Some of the companies are, Xerox, Goldman Sachs, IBM, Bloomberg, Kodak, Bank of America.
This year, I have been fortunate to come across another book by Mark Goulston, Talking to Crazy – How to Deal with the Irrational and Impossible People in Your Life. With Just Listen, I was immediately drawn to the book by its title. I wanted to be a better listener. With Talking to Crazy, the opposite happened: the title made me reluctant to read this book. Because from my perspective, if something bothers me about others, I must change something within me first. Yet, my curiosity prevailed and I picked up the book. Mark Goulston is an amazing teacher. He is an empath first and being a psychiatrist, he understands “crazy” in each of us. He doesn’t just label situations: Mark provides practical solutions.
Why is Talking to Crazy so profound to me? We live in a world where emotional intelligence is paramount yet neglected. How do we communicate with each other? How do we react and respond? All of it makes all the difference in the work place and our personal lives. Do I see another person and their MO via my own filters, or am I able to step into their shoes? Do I see another as crazy or do they see me as crazy? How can I be a part of a work team, family or society without attempting to understand others nor understanding myself? In Talking to Crazy, Mark Goulston gives me the tools to co-exist, co-create and to thrive.
If the title pushes your buttons, consider instead of Talking to Crazy, the book was called Leaning into the Irrational and Impossible. Because that is what Dr. Goulston invites us to do. He says: “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.” (p. 5) Throughout the book, he gives examples from his personal and professional life, demonstrating why we got it all rather crazy. When dealing with a person who simply doesn’t make sense to us, we fight that person making them and ourselves more crazy. Or we attempt to reason. Instead Mark invites us to lean into that bullying manager or into that screaming or withholding partner.
It is counterintuitive for us to lean in since we are biological creatures first. Dr. Goulston explains how our 3 part brains work. When we are in stressful situations, it is our reptilian brain that calls the shots. So we either fly, fight or freeze. Irrational person makes us react as we would react to danger. He teaches us how to use a six-step process he calls “the Sanity Cycle.” This cycle invites us to use our rational, thinking brain. The upper brain which allows us to see the situation objectively and not just subjectively. The cycle consists of:
1- See – that the other person is acting crazy
2- Identify – the other person’s M.O.
3- Deal – with your own crazy
4- Go – to the other person’s crazy
5- Show – that you are not a threat
6- Move –the person to a sane place
This Sanity Cycle works. And the book offers so many more tools. Every chapter made me go “wow.” My favorite approach is “opportunity for poise.” When my own amygdala gets hijacked by another’s irrationality, by pausing and mentally repeating to myself this is my “opportunity for poise,” I can disarm another person.
What makes us react the way we do? Dr. Goulston Invites us to examine our early experiences. Were we coddled, criticized, ignored or were we supported? Since we go through lives unconsciously, we repeat patterns of our parents who mirrored behaviors of their own caretakers. Subsequently, so many of us come from fear instead of love. Dr. Goulston quotes Albert Einstein “The most important decision you will ever make is whether you live in a safe or dangerous world.”
Our early experiences shape our identities and our M.O.s. If I am working with a bully, do I ever pause and reflect that perhaps he acts in that manner because he was constantly criticized during his childhood? What about that co-worker who refuses help? Seeing that most likely she was ignored as a child, allows me to give her directives to accept help instead of hoping she will request it. Or what about my own M.O. of being overly emotional and driving my teammates crazy? By examining my own M.O. and the M.O.s of other people, I can make adjustments how I approach any situation and get the results I desire.
The examination of my own M.O. is what I love about the book the most. Dr. Mark doesn’t perpetuate victimhood nor otherness with his Talking to Crazy. He says “Unless you’re the first entirely sane person on the planet, you are carrying around your own suitcase full of crazy. And in order to successfully face down another person’s crazy, you first need to deal with your own.” (p. 45) In Buddhism we have a saying that if we point a finger at another, 3 other fingers point at us. Thus, the triple invitation to self-reflection. What is my worldview? Do I see others in the best light or do I see them negatively? If I come to others with kindness, empathy and trust, most likely they will come to me with the same.
Reading Talking to Crazy will enrich your life. It is a book of practical wisdom. The A-E-U (apologize, empathize and uncover) technique is something I have never thought about before. The 72-hour rule is another tool that is transforming my breakdowns to breakthroughs. Mark says in the epilogue of the book, “One of my visions is that we can heal the world one conversation at a time.” Avoidance, doesn’t work. Denial, doesn’t work. Attacking one another, doesn’t create any value to anyone involved. Yet, leaning in and learning how to talk to irrational people while seeing our own irrationality, works. With the words of Socrates: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Examination of our own crazy and understanding the crazy of others, can only create more kindness in ourselves and everyone whom we meet. After all, this world is a meeting place where caring wins over crazy.
Maybe the title isn’t that bad after all.
Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with the Irrational and Impossible People in Your Life by Mark Goulston AMACOM – American Management Association – copyright 2016 Mark Goulston