Book Review: Talking to Crazy

Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with the Irrational and Impossible People in Your Life by Mark Goulston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


It’s sort of like a pop psych version of The Prince, but instead of manipulating snooty European nobles with “near truths” and tactical surrenders, you use it on coworkers and loved ones when they’re acting screwy.

Goulston gives examples of the various crazy people will act out in their day to day lives — focusing primarily on every day, garden variety crazy, not axe murderer crazy — and how to disarm it. Most of these disarmaments require a sacrifice of dignity. You’ll be flattering them unduly, you’ll be lying about their capability, you’ll be pretending they’re right or that you’re scared or something like that as a means of “leaning into their crazy” which gives you the leverage to frog-march them back into sanity.

He seems like an excellent psychiatrist, if duplicitous. I like the prospect of leaning into crazy. People get really embedded in delusional thinking, and to challenge that delusion challenges their whole self-concept, which feels like an attack not only on the individual, but on the whole foundation of the individual’s world. Burning it down and salting the earth. So when you try to talk somebody out of crazy, it feels like bombardment, and they’ll start deploying whatever weapons they have to stop what they perceive as your assault. And guess what? Those weapons? Real crazy.

Whereas, leaning into crazy, it’s like a trojan horse. They won’t realize you’re dragging them back into sanity until it’s too late, at which point they won’t be irrational anymore, which is the point.

Goulston’s methods are sketchy because yes, they are deliberately, premeditatedly manipulative. In that respect, it reads like a pick-up artist book. Here’s a list of canned responses and insight into the psychology of others to coax them into doing what you want. It’s just, in this case, doing what you want is “acting like a reasonable adult”, and I think that’s probably the greater good.




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