“Talking to Crazy” by Mark Goulston

AUTHOR: Mark Goulston

AUTHOR: Mark Goulston

Some of the previous books we recommended focuses on personality traits, speaking with difficult people, and dealing with the emotions of others which complement many of the exercises from chapter three of the Diplomatic Planner. However, we also need to acknowledge that we also have the potential of experiencing mood swings and displaying irrational behaviour from time to time. Perhaps even going into a full blown “crazy mode”. How do we feel when we feel burnt out or things suddenly blow out of proportion because no one is listening? How do we protect our reputation and soothe ourselves in impulsive emotional outbursts? What if someone we are working with experience a moment of madness? What do we do? How do we soothe them and communicate with them effectively?

To help us strategic for these unique and unpredictable moments, I would like to recommend the book “Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with the Irrational and Impossible People in Your Life” by Mark Goulston, in support of Chapter 3 - “Enhancing Emotional Intelligence” of the Diplomatic Planner. In this book, Goulston guides us in how to cope with craziness by identifying behavioural triggers, and keep a cool and calculated head. 

The first piece of advice that the author stresses is that everyone can sometimes act or be a little crazy. We have all surprised ourselves in moments of irrationality and unable to explain our behaviour. Sometimes, being called “crazy” isn’t looked upon favourably and it is important to define that the author is not talking about mental illness. This is a simple spur of the moment action not to be misconstrued with clinical diagnosis of ‘crazy’. So much of ‘crazy’ do you inhibit and display? When you understanding your own crazy tendencies, you will be in a better position to empathise the craziness in others.

If you are generally more cool when things around you are getting out of hand, you may find that your tempered nature may be a source of comfort for others. When someone does start to act or behave irrationally, Goulston suggests that we try to identify the trigger and empathise with them. Try to understand why they are behaving this way without starting arguments. The reason may be as far rooted in their childhood and may be a trigger more fundamental than what is displayed on the surface. It is important to remember that we all have certain baggages we carry and bury which may surface from time to time. Look for patterns of their behaviour and try to uncover the exact trigger.

Once you have a little more of an understanding behind their action, empathising is key. When someone is being irrationally pessimistic about something, instead of listing reasons why they should be positive, place yourself in their shoes by understanding why such reasons may look hopeless to them. By doing so, you are creating a safe bubble for them and create engagement that shows that you understand (or at least trying to).

Goulston also suggests that we don’t take advantage of irrational behaviour for our own power gain. When people act irrationally, these episodes are often about control. They want to feel in control and struggling to do so. As a result, they may shout, act violently, or use tactics to overpower over people to regain a sense of control. You can try to avoid these types of power struggles by cooperating with them instead of trying brash tactics. Let them stay in charge and get their frustrations out of their system. You can also try to defuse the situation being apologetic so the response is minimalised and be understanding by mirroring what they say. For example, tell them you would be upset with a colleague if that had happened to you, and be specific.

Don’t forget that this moment of outburst does not define the person and that normality will ensue if you are patient. Their inner sanity is listening to you even if their actions contradicts this. Remind them of something mundane like cooking or watching TV to take their mind off as a distraction. Once they have calmed down, only then should you ask about the incident so that they can be more rational about what occurrence took place.

Goulston reminds us that people who start to act irrationally may also be manipulating you to change your answer from ‘no’ to ‘yes’. This can work in any situation. For instance, if you had initially declined to attend a meeting because of family commitment, your colleague may put pressure on you through manipulation to overturn your original answer. One way to deal with attempted manipulation is to tell them that you are interested in what they have to say but you would like to speak to someone else to offer a different perspective on the issue. You can point out that they may be overreacting or obsessing over getting what they want and being angry is counterproductive. Offer to be of help when it is directly asked but again, set your boundaries.

The author teaches us that an act of craziness is often motivated by a desire for control, particularly from people who act like they know everything. While this can be irritating to deal with, Goulston offers some solutions including booster the ego of the person you are dealing with even further. This may sound counter-intuitive but this lessons the person’s need to act superior. Be agreeable and lend some validation to their superior feelings. Feed their ego by saying things like how lucky you are to work with them to catch their attention before explaining how their behaviour may push some people away. Think about the sarcasm displayed by teenagers. This is usually a reaction to stress and a way to shield themselves. Aim to understand the sarcasm so you can predict when it might pop up. It’s all about grabbing their attention.

Throughout his book, Goulston provides a host of examples and scenarios that many of us can personally relate to. From dealing with a disabled child to going through a stressful divorce, all of which creates stressful reactions that may lead to irrational behaviour. Many of the examples he sets out are followed by helpful strategies when dealing with difficult people and these are important to take note as part of your professional training.

“Talking to Crazy” is recommended for the purposes of the Diplomatic Planner. The Diplomatic Planner is a 12-month career development toolkit for diplomacy and internationals for professionals looking to explore or grow their expertise in the field. Both books are available for purchase via Amazon. For further recommendations, insights, case studies and practicable worksheets, please join the Grassroot Diplomat Online Academy via: www.grassrootdiplomat.org/register