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Book Review: Red Flags: Frenemies, Underminers & Ruthless People

In the preface to her new book, Red Flags: Frenemies, Underminers, and Ruthless People, Wendy L. Patrick writes, “I don’t just play a lawyer on TV; I am in court every day. Unlike legal commentators sitting on the sidelines watching the action, I have spent the last two decades in the game. It is my privilege to share what I learned on the battlefield, as a playbook to help you successfully navigate the minefield of relationships in your life.”

And share she does! Red Flags is filled with Patrick’s firsthand experience as a district attorney. Covering psychological ground (dark triads, halo effect, and proximity effect anyone?) and using a cheeky, conversational tone to provide tips on how to decipher people’s true intentions, Red Flags is geared toward a wide audience. Her personal anecdotes often serve as wonderful examples to illustrate the points she makes in each chapter (which are plentiful). From understanding why bad looks good on different people to “green lights” (when appearances actually are reality), Patrick’s book is a welcomed read in a time when appearances (especially on those mighty profiles) are not always what they seem.

I don’t have extensive background in reading profiling books. I only recently became fascinated with books that focus on non-verbal communication, having picked up Joe Navarro’s What Every Body is Saying and Philip Houston, et al’s Spy The Lie last fall — Navarro’s being particularly helpful since it was accompanied by pictures. In many respects, Red Flags is a great complimentary read, focusing on personality traits rather than physical actions. The bulk of Patrick’s book breaks down ten ways bad people can look good. Physical attractiveness, powerful positions, credibility, positive attention, temptation of taboo, and the seduction of similarity (i.e. bonding) are just a handful of the techniques and reasons that “wrong starts to look so right” with or without red flags waving. So how do we decipher friend from foe? The key, Patrick says, is using her technique: FLAG.

Focus: What captures the person’s attention? Do they focus on themselves or others?

Lifestyle: How does the person spend their time? What are their hobbies and interests?

Associations: What sort of company do they keep? To what organizations do they belong?

Goals: What are their priorities? Are their ambitions selfish or selfless?

FLAG is recapped at the end of each chapter, summarizing how to apply it for the each of the ten sources of attractiveness. For example, Patrick’s second profiling chapter, “Follow the Leader: The Attraction of Power,” grapples mostly with the business world and how high-power positions can be used, abused, and exploited based on the sheer fact that the person in power has, well, power!

Who hasn’t had a job where they bragged about a compliment from a higher up or took pride in the fact they were given a stellar review by their boss? Patrick explains the power phenomenon, saying, “Members of powerful groups are evaluated more positively, and are believed to have more positive traits than members of groups with less power,” writes Patrick. “We also enjoy the way powerful people make us feel about ourselves. We place more significance on the endorsement of people we respect, and greater weight on the opinions of those in positions of power. The more power they have, the more confidence we place in their promises or assurances.”

But, at the end of the day how do we tell if our managers are self-serving or looking out for the welfare of all? “A person’s FLAGs can reveal how they use power,” Patrick continues. “Some powerful people empower subordinates instead of dominate them. This type of relationship, although unequal, can benefit weaker partners. Transformative power is described as a method empowering a weaker relational partner that not only benefits the subordinate, but also serves to equalize the power of imbalance through teaching skills to the weaker partner.”

Using FLAG, she asks employees to use these questions to evaluate their superiors:

Focus: Self-service or serving others?

Lifestyle: Ruler or role model?

Associations: Peers or protégés?

Goals: Empowerment or exploitation?

Sadly, Patrick concludes, “It is a good rule in the corporate world is to keep your guard up at the office. Even with enhanced efforts at screening for psychopathic and other problematic traits, it is predicted that ‘sour cream’ will continue to rise to the top.'” We know there is certainly truth to that, too!

In summary, Patrick writes, “While the world is filled with loyal friends, adoring partners, and compassionate strangers, it also contains enough shrewd manipulators to keep people like me in business for an entire career. At this point, I have submitted all the evidence to you. The FLAGs will help you analyze everyone in your life that exudes one or more of the ten sources of attraction, and reach a decision regarding their personality makeup, motivation, or marriage potential.”

Red Flags will give you pause when thinking over who is in your life and why. If not for the gentle reminders throughout the book that people aren’t pure evil, combined with the optimism of the last chapters (“Green Lights” and “Reaching a Verdict”), this book would give a very dismal view of human nature. Thankfully, according to Patrick, we can trust that most people are well-intentioned. But should we become better trained at noticing the warning signs when they aren’t? Yes, and Red Flags is a good place to start.

Red Flags: Frenemies, Underminers, and Ruthless People

St. Martin’s Press, May 2016

Paperback, 320 pages


Book Review: Red Flags: Frenemies, Underminers & Ruthless People

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Stanton Peele

APA Reference
Peele, S. (2016). Book Review: Red Flags: Frenemies, Underminers & Ruthless People. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 16 Sep 2016
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 16 Sep 2016
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