Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Feelings Betray Us
By Mary Ellen O’Toole and Alisa Bowman

Published by
Hudson Street Press
257 pages
$25.95 list price
ISBN-10: 1594630836

Those following the teachings of business consultants who presume the innate trustworthy nature of employees, customers, suppliers and investors will quite likely find the book “Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Feelings Betray Us” shocking.

Mary Ellen O’Toole spent much of her career with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, profiling psychopaths and sociopaths and other categories of evil human beings. Collaborating with professional writer Alisa Bowman, O’Toole offers an ersatz self-help book infused with darkness. The adage “To a hammer, everything looks like a nail” could be adapted for this book by stating “To an FBI profiler, every stranger looks like a criminal.”

Some readers are almost certain to silently scold O’Toole for being captive to an overly suspicious outlook. Other readers are almost certain to praise O’Toole for her well-reasoned caution, and perhaps they’ll become more vigilant in their daily lives when dealing with total strangers or casual acquaintances.

It would be impossible for any thinking person to read “Dangerous Instincts” without ruminating from time to time about the nature and prevalence of good and evil. From the opening anecdote — about how much or how little to trust two carpenters replacing drywall in the O’Toole bathroom — the profiler forces readers to confront their assumptions about personal safety.

One of the numerous case studies presented by O’Toole poses the question: “How do you assess a problem employee?” The discussion begins with an employee making veiled threats to another employee in his unit. O’Toole explains the techniques for documenting the employee’s behavior over a significant stretch of time; ways to decipher what is happening in the employee’s life outside the workplace; and how to develop a strategy for the successful and safe termination of the employee.

The remainder of the book is composed of mini-sermons about never trusting gut instincts; methods to resist relying on gut instincts; pathways online, in libraries and elsewhere to learn well about potentially threatening individuals; and effective interview/conversation techniques meant to extract useful information.

The only thing to lose by reading the book is naivete. The major gain might be living a significantly less threatening life — at home and in the workplace.

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