Talking to Strangers ~ Malcolm Gladwell

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know

Rating: 4/5

Talking to Strangers is not necessarily what you think it’s about if you’re just reading this title. This is not about how to learn to talk to new people better, or tips for coping with anxiety when meeting new people. This is more a book exploring some of the reasons why we as humans are not that great at talking to people in general, and particularly strangers. Talking to Strangers covers a few major cases, including a rape case Amanda Knox, a story about a politician who felt like he could trust Hitler, and the arrest of Sandra Bland. In covering these cases, Gladwell seeks to uncover some of the fallacies our brains engage in when we are talking to people, especially those we don’t know.

One of the major fallacies discussed was mismatched communication style. Gladwell points out that a major part of communicating is listening to nonverbal cues. We look at facial expressions, we watch gestures, we check their eye contact. We also absorb the verbal expression as well; we listen to tone, we see if people are talking quickly or slowly, we listen to whether they are being flippant in a situation or taking it seriously. The thing is, a large number of people have mis-matched communication styles. That means that the feedback you are getting from their body language, tone, and other communication factors other than just their words, does not match up with the truth they are conveying (or the lies, whatever the case may be). We also tend to ignore environmental factors when thinking about whether to trust someone or not. We have no idea how their day, week, year, or life has gone that got them to this point, but we think we can interpret everyone’s communication style in every situation fairly accurately.

This book was filled with uncomfortable situations, and there were times listening to it that my skin was crawling. I have to say, though, that Gladwell raises some good conversations to be had for every situation. How beneficial would it be to have this conversation in every job where people have to interact with strangers. We don’t know the other person and it is hard to make snap judgments, but we do it all the time.

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