Jason Calacanis: “So are hard driving founders narcissists?”
Dr. Mark Goulston: “If anything they’re more like people with features of Aspergers Syndrome.”
– from “This Week in Startups” and Twist episode 21
Both narcissists and high functioning people with Aspergers are goal minded to a fault, and both can view other people more as functions or vehicles to achieve that goal instead of as people with feelings. However a critical difference between the two is that a narcissist doesn’t care if they hurt you or your feelings (and the truly malignant ones may even take delight in doing so), whereas someone with Aspergers would prefer not to.
My advice to people who live with malignant narcissists is to get out and to those who live with narcissists to demand they get help or else you are going to be painfully lonely and making excuses for them to friends, family and you children forever.
However if you live with someone with Aspergers it’s a little more complicated. For instance even though you may feel how they treat you is meant personally, if what they do is not meant personally, it’s not right for you to take it personally. That means it is neither fair nor reasonable to treat someone who is just not sensitive (i.e. they are not doing it intentionally) as if they were someone who is insensitive (i.e. they are intentionally not sensitive). Instead of reacting and talking at them, be calm and talk to or with them and focus on their specific observable behavior(s) and the effect it has on you and what it causes you to do in response, which you don’t want to do. Furthermore, give them a specific alternative observable behavior to do instead, because in these areas that they are weak, even if they are not quite teachable, they are often trainable if you speak to them in a respectful way.
If you are the person with Aspergers you may be dumbfounded since your intention is never to hurt the people you care about, or for that matter to hurt anyone. Rather your intention is just to move projects forward towards the goal you have in mind.
I remember the time an entrepreneur with Aspergers brought in his 14 year old daughter at the insistence of his wife, who told him in no uncertain terms, “You need to go see Dr. Goulston, because your daughter can’t stand you.”
When they came in, she clearly didn’t want to be there and pulled into a corner of my L-shaped couch whereupon her father said in a mechanical way how much he loved his daughter and would never want to upset her. It was clear by her body language that his analytical way of speaking only reinforced her feelings of anger towards him.
Now since I am a bit on the intuitive side, I imagined the following scenario happening at home (none of which she had told me) and said to her: “What’s it like when he drives you crazy and you scream at him from your room, ‘Get out! Leave me the f— alone!’ And then when he does, you lay down on your bed and ‘flip him off’ aiming your middle finger at the door you just slammed on him?'”
Apparently my intuition hit a bullseye. She promptly pulled into a fetal position and started sobbing and rocking herself in complete pain. At that point her father looked at her (while she writhed in pain), was bewildered, then looked at me and started to cry. I don’t think he knew what crying was, because he touched his tears and looked at them on his fingers as if they were blood. He then looked at me, trying very hard to comprehend and said: “My little girl is in awful pain and I think I somehow caused it. But I love her and that’s the last thing I would ever want to do.”
That breakthrough was the beginning of not only a different relationship with his daughter, but a different relatedness.
The sad fact of this story is that I don’t think the pain that his daughter was feeling and his confusion about how he was causing it is terribly unique.
Authors’ Books and Kindle – Click for Amazon Reviews
Mark Goulston, M.D. is a business advisor, consultant, speaker, trainer and coach trained as a clinical psychiatrist who honed his skills as an FBI/police hostage negotiation trainer who increases people’s ability to get through to anyone.
He is Co- Founder of Heartfelt Leadership whose Mission is: Daring to Care and Go Positive Now and is the Resident Big Brother at Business Women Rising and serves on the Board of Advisers of American Women Veterans and Dr. Oz’ foundation, Health Corps.
He is the author of international best selling book, “Just Listen” Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone (AMACOM, $24.95) which has reached #1 at amazon kindle in six business categories, #1 in China and Germany , #1 in audible audiobooks and has been translated into fourteen languages. Dr. Goulston and his book was also a PBS special entitled “Just Listen with Dr. Mark Goulston.” His next book, REAL INFLUENCE: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In, co-authored with Dr. John Ullment will be the lead book for the American Management Association in January, 2013 and will focus on influencing people in a post-selling world.
Dr. Goulston’s development of those skills started with his education: a B.A. from UC Berkeley, an M.D. from Boston University, post graduate residency in psychiatry at UCLA. He went on to be a professor at UCLA’s internationally renowned Neuropsychiatric Institute for more than twenty years, become a Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and was named one of America’s Top Psychiatrists for 2004-2005 and again in 2009 and 2011 by Washington, D.C. based Consumers’ Research Council of America.
A partial list of companies, organizations and universities he has trained, spoken to, provided executive coaching to or consulted with include: GE, IBM, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Xerox, Deutsche Bank, Hyatt, Accenture, Astra Zenica, British Airways, Sodexo, ESPN, Kodak, Federal Express, YPO, YPOWPO India, Association for Corporate Growth, FBI, Los Angeles District Attorney, White & Case, Seyfarth Shaw, UCLA Anderson School of Management, USC, Pepperdine University.
He is or has been a member of the National Association of Corporate Directors and the Worldwide Association of Business Coaches and is the best selling author of four prior books including the international best seller, Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior (Perigee, $13.95) Get Out of Your Own Way at Work…and Help Others Do the Same (Perigee, $14.95), is a contributor to Harvard Business, blogs for the Huffington Post, Business Insider writes the Tribune media syndicated column, Solve Anything with Dr. Mark, column on leadership for FAST COMPANY, Directors Monthly. He is frequently called upon to share his expertise with regard to contemporary business, national and world news by television, radio and print media including: Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Fortune, Newsweek, Time, Los Angeles Times, ABC/NBC/CBS/Fox/CNN/BBC News, Oprah, Today.
Dr. Goulston lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three children.