Talking to Strangers

Malcolm Gladwell is a journalist, author and public speaker who has published award-winning bestsellers. He was mentioned in the TIME 100 most influential people.

quick & compact

Against the backdrop of a fast-paced world we live in, this book helps to reconnect with faith and trust into people. It takes a smart approach on new encounters and dissects the psychology of judging people at first sight.

1 Big Idea

We need to talk with strangers for society to function, but we are terrible at it. We often make judgements about people based on our perception of a situation rather than what is actually happening. We think those judgements are accurate, but very often they are not. This goes for judgement of character, but also for spotting when someone is not being truthful. Be cautious of your prejudices, don’t judge people based on too little, and be aware that deception is incredibly difficult to spot.

2 inspiring quotes

“Don’t look at the stranger and jump to conclusions. Look at the stranger’s world.”

“To assume the best about another is the trait that has created modern society. Those occasions when our trusting nature gets violated are tragic. But the alternative—to abandon trust as a defense against predation and deception—is worse.”

3 actionable takeaways

Action: Be cautious when judging other people.

We very easily jump to conclusions about other people, and often those judgements are based on very limited information. We tend to think of ourselves as very complex but do not always think this about strangers. This jumping to conclusions about others can lead to big misjudgement of other people. But people are complex, and everyone has their own unique way of expressing themselves. So be cautious of the way you judge people without knowing them well and without knowing their environment. 

Action: Be aware of our inability to spot deception.

We tend to trust people by default unless we are given proof not to. But even then, we are not as good at spotting when people are lying. Even people who deal with deception, such as spies are not that good at spotting when someone is lying. We tend to judge everything from a starting position that the other is speaking the truth, making our judgement not as objective as we might think.

Action: Even though we might not be good at spotting deception, we should still trust others.

Not trusting people at all, or until they have given us enough reason can lead to isolation and loneliness. That means that we should not stop trusting each other. We still need to have a certain level of trust to function well as a society. But being careful does help.