Talking to Strangers

As fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s work, it is not a surprise that when this book came out a few weeks ago, I just had to get my hands on it.

What is Malcolm on about in this book?

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know is book about meeting and talking to strangers.

In today’s connected world, we have no choice but to talk to strangers.

But how much do we know about people we meet at the airport, at a conference, online, or at the shopping mall?

Not much really.

Do we know how to read stranger’s demeanor and intentions accurately?

Not really.

A police officer stops you on the side of the road and starts talking to you, both of you are strangers to each other.

You meet this person at a conference and you start talking to each other, in business circles we call it networking, basically two strangers talking to each other.

A young person goes to a party, consumes a lot of alcohol, gets drunk in the midst of other people, who are strangers.

Online, we meet many people we don’t know, strangers.

We think we can transform or impress strangers, without cost or sacrifice, into the familiar and then known, and we can’t.

Malcolm Gladwell shares a number of stories about strangers, and consequences of what happens when conversations between strangers goes horribly wrong.

We assume the best of intentions on people we meet and don’t know and we come to suffer the consequences.

We trust people we should not trust, and they sexually violate us.

We trust people we do not know with our money, and they turn out to be schemers and fraudster.

We trust law-enforcement officers to do their job properly, only to learn that they are biased against us.

We see someone smiling and we assume they are okay, only to learn that the same chirpy person committed suicide.

We trust a teacher, an uncle, a family member who is an outstanding member of the family and community, only to learn in horror that this person is molester of kids.

Why do we do that?

It is very difficult to tell when people are lying. According to Timothy Levine, the academic psychologist on whom Gladwell relies on as a core thesis of this book.

We default to the good we expect in people, only to be proven wrong later.



This is an important book, unlike his other amazing books.

This not an inspirational, step-by-step, this-is-how-to-succeed kinda book.

It is an important book because we meet and interact with strangers daily. We think we know how talk and read strangers, and it turns out we actually don’t.

After reading this book, I know that I will look at strangers differently, and that I will be a different stranger to others.

From that perspective, I recommend that anyone reads this book.

The stories are amazing, some stories towards the end are sad [especially the suicide stories] and some stories can make you angry [the Sandra Bland story].

Favorite Story

  • If I can convince you of one thing in this book, let it be this: Strangers are not easy… We think we can easily see into the hearts of others based on the flimsiest of clues.

  • “We have people struggling when when they have months to understand a stranger. We have people struggling when they they meet someone only once, and people struggling when they return to the stranger again and again. They struggle with assessing a stranger’s honesty. They struggle with a stranger’s character. They struggle with a stranger’s intent. It’s a mess.”
  • “Transparency is the idea that people’s behaviour and demeanor, they way they represent themselves on the outside, provides an authentic and reliable window into the way they feel on the inside. It is the second of the crucial tools we use to make sense of strangers. When we don’t know someone, or can’t communicate with them, or don’t have the time to understand them properly, we believe we can make sense of them through their behavior and demeanor.”
  • “Why can’t we tell when the stranger in front of us is lying to our face?”

  • “Christmas is always a bad time: the terrible false jollity that comes out at you from every side, braying about goodwill and peace and family fun, makes loneliness and depression particularly hard to bear.”
  • Poets die young. That is not just a cliche. The life expectancy of poets, as a group, trails playwrights, novelists, and non-fiction writers by a considerable margin. They have higher rates of “emotional disorders” than actors, musicians, composers, and novelists.”
  • “We should also accept the limits of our ability to decipher strangers.”

  • “Because we don’t know how to talk to strangers, what do we do when things go awry with strangers? We blame the stranger”

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