What We Should Know About The People We Don’t Know

Talking To Stranger by Malcolm Gladwell

I have a little warning for the readers who are in depression or newly recovered from it. Don’t read this book. Select other books to read. Though the book was not about suicide. But a part of the book contained some elements that might trigger it.

Anyway, I was supposed to write a review of this book, right?
So here it is. As always, my review will digest into four parts:

  1. Book in three sentences
  2. Content summary
  3. The next question to the next read
  4. Rating

1. Book in three sentences

The author argued that our ability to interpret strangers is limited. And we should accept that fact. We should stop making assumptions.

2. Talking to Strangers summary

  • Malcolm raised the question, why can’t we tell when the stranger in front of us is lying to our face?
  • His answer to the first question was because most of us default to the truth.
  • As it happened when Chamberlain, the British prime minister, had a few meetings with Hitler. He misinterpreted Hitler’s decision, believed that Hitler didn’t want to go to war.
  • Six months after the last meeting of Chamberlain and German Frührer. Hitler invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. And six months after, he invaded Poland, and world war II began.
  • It showed that people who have met with Hitler were all wrong about his decision. While people who never met Hitler in person were more cleared on his decision.
  • That led to the next question: Why meeting a stranger can make us worse at making sense of that person than not meeting them?
  • The author then convinced readers with Levine’s theory study, ‘Truth-Default Theory.’
  • Default to truth is that when in doubt, we believe that the person who’s in front of us, telling the truth.
  • We are deceived by the person who we meet in person more than who we never meet them.
  • The idea of transparency, which is how we express our emotions using muscles on the face, is not always correct. Because the facial interpretation depends on the culture. Not every expression is interpreted into the same meaning in different cultures.
  • The strangers who commit crimes and/or homicides are linked to specific circumstances such as places and contexts, called coupling theory.
  • Coupling is the concept of the behaviors linked to specific circumstances and conditions. That applied not only to crimes but to people who commit suicide.
  • If you want to understand the stranger, you need to understand their context and their world.
  • The right way to talk to strangers is with caution and humility.

3. The next question

The author had been questioning and trying to answer, with the support of studies, how and why we usually misinterpret strangers. Little he answered how we can understand the strangers better. The only suggestion he made was the last sentence above, ‘the right way to talk to strangers is with caution and humility.’ But I think that was not enough.

In his tone said that we should give up on interpreting stranger’s actions and facial expressions. He stated that meeting face to face won’t improve our understanding of them. Conversely, it could deceive our estimation.

However, at some point, he said that we should look at the context, the circumstances, and the world of the stranger to understand them better. Though the answer to how can we be better at talking to strangers is unclear.

Well, that is what this book is about. It explains why we fail at understanding strangers. His purpose is not to explain the question of how we can communicate better.

So my next question after this book is: how can we improve our communication? If you follow the idea and want to track more about this. There are books about communication on the market. Maybe you might have read some of them. If you know the best one, please let me know in the comment. I would love to read and learn about it.

4. Rating: ★★★★★

After all, he made clear all the points he raised. And again his writing style is like in Outliers and the Tipping point. That his opinions were based on research and led with stories and case studies. If you are new to the field like me, the book is probably not too easy to follow. But I learned so much from this book as it opened my eyes to see wider. So I rated this book five stars.


My personal experiences while reading this book

It took me almost two months to finish this book (50 days to be exact.) Because it was a heavy subject for me to read. I had to take a pause after some chapters and hesitated to get back to read. We all have a different trigger, which Malcolm also mentioned in this book, and so was I.

From the last few chapters before ending the book, I was so scared to read further as I came across the story of poetry, Sylvia Plath. This pulled me to the dark tunnel again and captured me diving into the beauty of death, which I tried to avoid in the past few years.

Again warning: avoid reading this book if your mind is not in a healthy state.


Thanks for reading.

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Talking To Stranger
by Malcolm Gladwell

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