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The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Episode 81: Mark Goulston Explains His Role in the OJ Simpson Trial and How To Deal With Difficult People

July 22, 2020  |  By Matt Waller

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Mark Goulston is a former UCLA professor of psychiatry and FBI and police hostage negotiation trainer. Dr. Goulston is now an executive coach and consultant to major organizations and fortune 500 companies. He is an author of 7 books, most recently, “Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with the Irrational and Impossible People in Your Life”. Mark’s experience as an advisor to the prosecution in the OJ Simpson case taught him important lessons on how to deal with difficult people - lessons that he now shares with others.

Purchase Dr. Goulston’s most recent book, “Talking to Crazy” on his website.

Episode Transcript


00:06 Matt Waller: Hi, I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Welcome to BE EPIC, the podcast where we explore excellence, professionalism, innovation, and collegiality, and what those values mean in business, education in your life today.


00:26 Matt Waller: I have with me today Mark Goulston. He's a psychiatrist, but he's done all kinds of things like FBI, police hostage negotiation training, he's a corporate conflict resolution specialist. He's been a UCLA professor, he's author of seven books, including one that I just recently read called Talking to Crazy, and we're going to talk about that in a little bit. But he also has an HBR IdeaCast episode called Become a Better Listener, and it's been HBR's number one ranked podcast intermittently for three years. He has his own podcast called My Wake-up Call. And he's contributed to Harvard Business Review and many business journals as well as psychology journals like Psychology Today. Dr. Goulston, thank you so much for taking time to visit with me about these topics. I appreciate that.

01:34 Mark Goulston: Well, thank you for having me. I've been looking forward to it, Matt. Thank you.

01:38 Matt Waller: So when I started reading your book and believe it or not, Dr. Goulston, I really stumbled onto it. I was looking for a book to help me deal with challenging people that I might come across, right? As a dean, I deal with a lot of different constituents. We've got 6,500 students, we have lots of faculty, over a 100 faculty, over a 100 staff, but in addition to that, we have lots of other constituents. I have constituents across campus, I have constituents who are benefactors, we have a very generous benefactor group. But you can imagine, right? When you're dealing with lots of different people, they all want us to do well, but they don't have the same perspective on what it takes to become great, for example, as the Walton College. And so I started reading your book, and I loved it, and I realized it was relevant to much more than just leadership, although I do think leaders need to read the book. I've encouraged some of my family members too to read it as well. It's very well written and it's not very long. But I'm just curious, Dr. Goulston, what motivated you to write that book?

03:11 Mark Goulston: Well, there was a prior book that I wrote called Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone. And that book was about how do you open people's minds, and I'm humbled by its success. It became the top book on listening in the world, it's in 25 languages, and I have spoken around the world about it. And what was interesting is that there was a couple of chapters in of Just Listen that I got a lot of interviews on, and one of them was Steer Clear of Toxic People. And there was another chapter called How To Go From Oh F to Okay, it was a way to talk yourself down from reacting and going from DEFCON 1 in your head to DEFCON 5, so you can be calm. And I thought, "Boy, there's a lot of interest in those two chapters. Why don't I write a whole book on this?" So Talking to Crazy is about how do you deal with people who push your buttons, who manipulate you, who try to get the best of you.

04:15 Mark Goulston: And here's a little bit of a marketing 101. When I wrote the book, I took a lot of heat from the psychological and psychiatric professions, because they said, "How can you write a book called Talking to Crazy? We have so much stigma, how dare you write this?" And I said, "You know, it's not really about mental illness, it's about people who drive us crazy." And I said, "The reason I wrote it and obviously you haven't read it," which I would say to them. "It's really about how do you empathize with people, connect with them, and calm them down so that you can better deal with them." And I said, "I chose that title because it grabs people's attention."

05:05 Mark Goulston: Something else I wanna share with people, because in my interviews, things come to me that seem to be of value to the listeners. There was a term called mental real estate. And mental real estate was shared with me, a friend of mine designed Disney Tokyo and Disney Paris. He was one of the top imaginaries. And he shared the term with me, and he said, "Mental real estate is when you take a term that's familiar, and then you twist it." So he said, "Pirates of the Caribbean owns the word pirates in the minds of kids. When they think of pirates, they think of Pirates of the Caribbean. So Disney owns the word pirates in the minds of kids." Well, Talking to Crazy has a lot of mental real estate. When I was asking people, friends, I said, "I'm thinking of writing a book called Talking to Crazy, most of them smiled at me, and I said, "What are you smiling about?" They said, "I do that every day. I need that book today." So I'm just sharing that with you because people's minds are very crowded.

06:18 Matt Waller: You know, speaking of that, I could see how someone who hadn't read your book might wonder what you mean by crazy, but you explain it very clearly early on. But we all have things that may seem a little bit crazy or it really is a little crazy in some ways, where we're not looking at reality. And I know in your book, early on, you talk about a really interesting, almost counter-intuitive example, where if a dog bites your hand, your reaction is to pull away and they'll bite harder or bite again. Wherein the right thing to do is to push your hand in because then they'll open their jaw and release it. And you gave the story about when you were driving in Los Angeles, which is where you live, and you cut someone off a couple of times. That sounded like a scary the scariest story. Would you mind sharing that briefly?

07:22 Mark Goulston: Okay. So I'm driving in Los Angeles, and I had one of the worst days that I've I'd had. It seemed like everything I did, backfired. So I cut off this rather large individual, then he honks his horn, and then I cut him off again, 'cause I'm just preoccupied. I probably shouldn't have been driving that day but I can drive automatically. And so he pulls in front of me and I stop my car, and I see that his wife is telling him, "Don't go out, don't go out." I can just see them and I'm just staring into space. And so he comes out and he bangs on my window, and because I'm so out of it, I roll the window down. I mean this was a big guy, and if I was rational, I wouldn't roll the window down. And I lower the window and he said, "You cut me off and I'm gonna smash you and I'm gonna do such and such."

08:20 Mark Goulston: And I looked at him, and Matt, I don't know where I pulled this out of, but I looked at him and I said, "Do you ever have one of those days where everything you do backfires and you're just looking to find someone who will put you out of your misery? Are you the guy?" And he said, "What?" I said, "I don't cut people off in traffic, and it's just one of those awful days and I think I want someone to put me out of my misery. Are you the guy to do that?" And he looks at me and he suddenly changes and he said, "Now hold on, it's gonna be okay." And then I couldn't leave well enough alone and I said, "Well, that's easy for you to say. You didn't have the day that I just had. I really mean it...," and he says, "Now calm down, it's gonna be okay." And he started reassuring me. And then what happens is, he goes back into his pick-up truck and he looks in the rear-view mirror and he waves to me, it's gonna be okay, and then he drives off.

09:22 Mark Goulston: And so I wouldn't recommend that to people, but there's something to be learned about that, is that when you lean into what people are doing, it often disarms them. Did you read the story from the OJ Simpson trial?

09:42 Matt Waller: Yeah.

09:43 Mark Goulston: Can I share that story.

09:46 Matt Waller: Yeah, that's a great one.

09:46 Mark Goulston: Because in one day, I'd say 80% of what I know about difficult people, I learned in one day, and it was on September 5th, 1995. And when I speak to audiences, now younger audiences weren't even born, but I'll say, "Do you remember where you were on that day?" And people say, "No," and then I'll say, "Do you remember the small trial, it didn't get much publicity, it was called the OJ Simpson criminal trial?" And everybody remembers that. And I say, "Do you remember a character named detective Mark Fuhrman?" And people who followed the trial say, "Yeah, I do." And then I'd say, "Well, on September 5th, 1995, Detective Mark Fuhrman was taking the Fifth Amendment down in the courtroom. Everybody in the world watched it except me because I was sequestered in the top floor of the Criminal Courts building, because I was an advisor to the prosecution in the criminal trial. And F. Lee Bailey had accused me of coaching, drugging, doing something to help Detective Mark Fuhrman's testimony, which I never did. And this was the end of the trial and I didn't know that he took the Fifth Amendment, but I'll speed this up, but I think it's a pretty good story.

11:10 Mark Goulston: And so what happens, is it's about 5:00 PM, and literally my life is flashing before my eyes. I'm thinking, what am I doing here? What is going on? And so F. Lee Bailey comes up, and I was there with one of the prosecutors, Bill Hodgman. And what happened is, I figured out what nearly all difficult people do to us. What they will do, some of the ones who are in our life, is that they'll charm us, they will frustrate us, they will anger us, and then they will push us into our rage. And when difficult people push us into our rage, we get off balance. And they go for the jugular after that. And I'd watch F. Lee Bailey do this in court. I said, "That's what he's going to do. He's going to try to frustrate me, anger me, and then push me into my rage."

12:02 Mark Goulston: So he comes up, it's about 7:00 PM, and I have this way of making really intense but not intimidating eye contact, so I can hold on to people's eyes. In fact, I'm looking into my camera, and I'm holding on to your eyes right now, Matt, and I can move wherever I want. I'm holding on to your eyes, you can't look away from me. So F. Lee Bailey sits down and he starts saying things like, "We don't know exactly your role here, Dr. Goulston. We know you've been here through the trial at various times." And here's a little insight for people listening in, it's what the power of innuendo does to try to manipulate people. So when he's saying those things, "We don't know what you're doing here," instead of my going, "Aha," and leaning in further for him to then manipulate me, I just blinked every time he said something. So we don't know what your role is here, Dr. Goulston, and instead of going, "Aha," I just kept looking him in the eye and blinked. And he just kept saying those things.

13:04 Mark Goulston: And then after about five minutes, Bill Hodgman looks at me and says, "Mark, you haven't said anything," 'cause I didn't go, "Aha, aha, aha." And I looked at Bill Hodgman and I said, "He hasn't asked me a question." And then suddenly, F. Lee Bailey looked at me like there may be something more to me than just this person staring at him. And then he started asking me questions, and I knew that he would pick up the intensity and then try to corner me. And I'm not exactly sure exactly what he said, but he reached the point where he said, "So you're here to say that you did nothing to influence Detective Fuhrman's testimony? You didn't medicate him, you didn't coach him, you didn't advise him on anything." And that's supposed to knock me off balance. So if you can imagine this, and listeners can't see this, but I'm looking into your eyes like I was looking into F. Lee Bailey's, and so he hits me with the coup de grace.

14:02 Mark Goulston: So I want you to think of those difficult people in your life who just push you. They just provoke you. Because if they can provoke you, you're gonna use all your energy to try to calm yourself down because what you really wanna do is you wanna scream at them. That's how they get the better of us. So he pushes me like that and I paused for seven seconds. And everybody in the room is listening to me like that EF Hutton, I think, commercial, like, "What's the guy gonna say?" And I say nothing. So I count to seven seconds again, 'cause it's going so well. And he's just looking at me, and then I say this in a very measured tone, and this is what you're going to say to those difficult people after they do their best to provoke you. I said, "Mr. Bailey, my mind wandered for the last several minutes. Can you repeat everything you said because I think it was important."

14:58 Mark Goulston: And he looked at me and said, "What?" I said, "Yeah, my mind wandered. I was thinking about whether I can get my car out of the parking lot because it's closed. But it sounded important what you were saying, so could you run it by me again?" And he looked at me dumbfounded, because what difficult people do is they try to provoke us. Now they can provoke us by venting, they can provoke us by whining, they can provoke us by being solemn, but the way they try to get the better of us is if they can provoke us to being so upset that we start to react towards them. They're actually more comfortable with upset than often reasonable people are.

15:45 Mark Goulston: I like to give takeaways, so if you're listening in, how can you use this? Take out a sheet of paper, write a line down the middle of the sheet of paper, and on the left side list all the people that give you energy, that you love, that you leave the conversation thinking, "I gotta be in touch with them more often. I have a feeling that's gonna be that person in my life," and you just say, "I gotta have more of them because it's always a good conversation." Make a list of those people, because you probably haven't thanked them enough for being in your life, but that's a different interview. On the right side, write down all the names of the people who frustrate you, anger you, try to manipulate you, provoke you. Read that list to yourself and never expect them not to do that.

16:35 Mark Goulston: So when you're at having a conversation with them, maybe they'll be on good behavior, but if they push you to provoke you, to get you off balance, always expect them to do that and hold a little bit of yourself back. That doesn't mean be aloof, but there's a part of you that knows their MO. And then when they do that, and they're expecting to provoke you so that they can get their way or get out of doing something. There's a quote I like to use, "Poise begins with a pause." And so when they do that pause, and if you pause for a couple of seconds and keep looking at them, you're gonna notice they get nervous. And the reason they're getting nervous is because it didn't work. And you can say to them, "My mind wandered. Could you run that by me again?" Or probably the simplest thing is when they say that, you pause for the two seconds, you tilt your head and you go, "Huh?" [chuckle] You just stay calm and centered and respond in those ways, so those are some of the tips that people might get from reading Talking to Crazy.

17:55 Matt Waller: Well, you know, this idea of pausing for poise, I figured it out much later in life. I mean, I've made lots of presentations. Not as many as you have, for sure, but I noticed when people are making presentations, if they kind of talk real fast and blend everything together, it gives you a sense that they're not comfortable. They're trying to get it over with. If someone pauses while they're talking, it seems more credible. It seems more powerful. It's easier to listen to. But one thing I like about your book, Dr. Goulston, is you cover these topics, but then you have stories, like we've just been talking about. And then you give clear takeaways. I wish all books would do that. Sometimes you read lots of facts and in those stories and it's like you can't remember it. And sometimes you read lots of stories and you wonder, "What do I do with this?" So thank you for doing that.

19:00 Matt Waller: You mentioned earlier looking at people in the eyes, which my experience tells me is very powerful. You talked in your book about looking sometimes at people's left eye, because it's connected more to the right side of their brain, which is emotional, so if you wanna connect with them. And I had never heard that before, I mean, I knew to look people in the eyes, and I've always wondered when I look someone in the eyes, do I alternate eyes? Do I stick on one eye? I've thought about that before, but I never looked into it, and that was the first time I heard it addressed, would you mind talking about that a little bit?

19:41 Mark Goulston: Well, I have taken some heat because some neurologists have said that's a bunch of hooey, and it may be a bunch of hooey. But what happens is, I've had the same experience as you, which eye do I look at when I'm with people? And I have a passion about neuroscience, so I imagine that their left eye is connected to their right brain and their right eye to their left brain. So I know their right brain is their emotional brain. And so, when I look into their left eye as I'm looking into yours right now, it gives me a point of focus. But there's something I wanna share with you and your listeners, which is the latest evolution of this journey that I'm on. In fact, I introduced it in Moscow this past October. If you can do this, it will fundamentally change all your relationships. If I focus on what you're listening to right now, you're listening to me, you're checking boxes, you're seeing, yeah, that sort of makes sense, and we're having a pleasant transactional conversation. But if instead I focus on what you're listening for and I get it right, you will lean in. So I'm gonna demonstrate it to you and your listeners what you're listening to, and then I'm gonna focus on what you're listening for and see what it does to you internally. So, are you game?

21:12 Matt Waller: I'm game.

21:16 Mark Goulston: So, what you're listening to is you read my book and you liked it, thank you, and you have certain questions and you wanna cover certain bases. And hopefully we're covering some of them, and hopefully my being tangential is tolerated by you because I get into these stories, and we're having a pleasant conversation. But this is what I think you're listening for Matt. I think what you're listening for is it's really important to you that you give value to the people that listen to this. And it's important to you that the value you give them is something that not only teaches them something, but something that they can use, something that they can use immediately, something where it'd be nice if they went out and bought the book, but something, a takeaway that they can use immediately to make their lives more successful.

22:13 Mark Goulston: I think you're also listening for having an expert on who may have written a great book, but is incomprehensible. Someone who is so boring and inarticulate that you then have to go back to them and say, "You know, I'm kinda sorry, but we can't post the interview." So you're not only looking to deliver value that's immediately usable to your listeners, but the trust of your listeners to provide value is very important to you. You take it seriously, you don't wanna short-change them, and you also wanna protect them from anything that will be a waste of their time. So has any of that true, Matt?

23:00 Matt Waller: Yes, sir. Definitely. That's why I'm careful about who I pick to interview. Normally, the people that I interview are people that I know somehow, and sometimes... I meet lots of our benefactors and lots of alumni, I spend a lot of time doing that. And I normally wouldn't ask someone to do a podcast interview with me until after I've met them. So for example, if I go to Dallas and I meet with someone, for example, I met with Joe Hickman one time. And Joe is the CEO of Blue Star Properties, which is the Dallas Cowboys' real estate business, and he is an alum of a college. But I met with him and he was really interesting, his life story was very interesting, he's an Arkansan. So, in the conversation I said, "Could I meet with you again and do a podcast interview?" And I did that because the value that I thought I would be delivering was encouragement for Arkansans from... Maybe not the best situation. Arkansas has a lot of... Our College of Business has a very high percentage of first generation college students, and there are lots of parts of Arkansas that are not very wealthy. That's part of what I'm looking for, but I do, you're right, I want them to be able to take away something from it.

24:39 Mark Goulston: So, to build on that, I think if you're listening in, and maybe Matt you can apply this when you're meeting with donors and benefactors or even with your family. If you can just pause and when you're looking into someone's eye, just be curious about what they're listening for.

25:03 Matt Waller: That makes a lot of sense. I mean, you really are training yourself to think about how to deliver value to people. I think, you know, if you hear enough speakers, you hear speakers sometimes that you can tell haven't thought through that. Because they're missing it. Would you mind if we switched gears just for a moment to talk about the 360 Degree Aspirational Executive Coaching that you do. And one of the reasons I'd like to talk about it is, you've narrowed it down to what you call the three Ds of leadership: Defining Reality, Declaring Intention, and Deciding Strategy. How long have you been doing that and how did that come about?

25:55 Mark Goulston: So, you may be aware of it, but I'm guessing most of your listeners have never heard of Theory X and Theory Y. There was a book written in 1960 called "The Human Side of Enterprise" by Douglas McGregor, and it was the first book on organizational development ever. And he talked about Theory X and Theory Y. And Theory X is, don't trust your employees, you have to stay on top of them, because while the cat's away the mice will stray, and it was a much more dictatorial, top-down, not thinking very highly of your people approach. And he came up with theory Y that says, you know, most of your people actually want the opportunity to get better, to grow, to become more competent, to develop skills. And if you give them the opportunities and you support them, you're gonna get much better and more work and more loyalty out of them. And so, Douglas McGregor really started the whole field of organizational development, and he mentored my last mentor, Warren Bennis. Warren Bennis is one of the top five names in the field of leadership. And Warren mentored me, Warren died a few years ago.

27:19 Mark Goulston: And what 360 Degree Aspirational Executive Coaching is, is it's the opposite of the way a lot of coaching is done now. A lot of coaching now is, unfortunately, Theory X coaching, which means a company will hire you as a coach and say, "We have a high performer, brings in a lot of money or understands all the IT, but they're really exposing us to risk, because they're harassing people. Now, we don't wanna lose him or her, but can you sort of smooth out those things on them, because the pluses and minuses are starting to flip upside down." A number of people who get coaches are assigned, "You need a coach." And so, my experience has been that people who are assigned to get coaching, but whose personalities tend to be difficult, there's an expression, "It's like putting lipstick on a pig." [chuckle] You can teach them a few tweaks, and if you're lucky, some of them will say, "Hey, I kinda like being a better person." But still many of them still down deep, they're difficult people.

28:33 Mark Goulston: And what the 360 Degree Aspirational coaching is, is people seek me out. And then they ask their company, "Will you pay for coaching?" So Theory X coaching, which is what a lot of coaching is, is remedial. What I'm talking about is Theory Y coaching. I don't call it that, because young people don't know what that is, they know what 360 Degree is. And it's aspirational, because the people that I coach, they wanna be better people. So for instance, someone I'm a fan of, and again, your listeners are too young, but if you read anything about Coach John Wooden, who was the coach at UCLA, I think they won 10 championships. And if you hear any of the interviews, like with Kareem Abdul-Jabar or Bill Walton, when you ask them what were some of the highlights of their career, and they've had amazing careers, it was when they played under Coach Wooden. Because it was such an honor and privilege to play under Coach Wooden. And so, what I do is I coach leaders who want to be John Woodens, because they will get the best out of their people. And that's why it's aspirational and developmental as opposed to remedial.

30:06 Matt Waller: The world needs more of that, that's for sure. Well, Dr. Goulston, this has been terrific. Again, I really appreciate your book. Thank you for all the hard work you put into writing it. Thank you for taking time to visit with me and to enlighten our audience, really appreciate that.

30:26 Mark Goulston: Well, I wanna thank you, Matt. And if you're listening in and you're students, you should thank Matt occasionally yourself, because there's a quality that Matt has in which he's... And these are some of the other qualities of people who'll go to and check out that blog. But some of the qualities that Matt has is, he is humble and gracious, those are special qualities in these times. So we not only need leaders who are the other qualities, wise, smart, centered, but boy, being gracious and humble, those are special, Matt, and you've got that.

31:09 Matt Waller: Well, thank you, I appreciate that.

31:12 Mark Goulston: Thank you.


31:15 Matt Waller: Thanks for listening to today's episode of The Be EPIC podcast from the Walton College. You can find us on Google, SoundCloud, iTunes, or look for us wherever you find your podcasts. Be sure to subscribe and rate us. You can find current and past episodes by searching beepicpodcast, one word, that's B-E-E-P-I-C-Podcast. And now, be epic.


Matt WallerMatthew A. Waller is the dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business, Sam M. Walton Leadership Chair and professor of supply chain management. He is also the host for the Be EPIC Podcast for Walton College.


Walton College's EPIC values -- Excellence, Professionalism, Innovation and Collegiality -- are the heart of Dean Waller’s podcast. Since the beginning of the series, Waller has interviewed business professionals, industry experts, CEOs and Walton College students to bring listeners first-hand accounts directly from the entrepreneurial world.


Waller is an SEC Academic Leadership Fellow and coauthor of “The Definitive Guide to Inventory Management: Principles and Strategies for the Efficient Flow of Inventory across the Supply Chain,” published by Pearson Education. He is the former co-editor-in-chief of Journal of Business Logistics. His opinion pieces have appeared in Wall Street Journal Asia and Financial Times.


Waller received an M.S. and Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University and a B.S.B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of Missouri.

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Walton College of Business

Since its founding at the University of Arkansas in 1926, the Sam M. Walton College of Business has grown to become the state's premier college of business – as well as a nationally competitive business school. Learn more...

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We're sitting down with innovators and business mavericks to discuss strategy, leadership and entrepreneurship. The Be EPIC Podcast is hosted by Matthew Waller, dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. Learn more...

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