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

Author: Malcolm Gladwell

Review by: Soumaya Khalifa, president, Khalifa Consulting and founder of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta

Soumaya Khalifa

Like many, I grew up with my parents telling me not to talk to strangers. Now in my consulting, I work with leaders and organizations on how to communicate with strangers to impact their bottom line. Talking to and working with strangers is a competency that leaders must master to a great degree to be successful in today’s economy. 

The title of the book intrigued me, and I was excited to see that the topic is addressed by Malcolm Gladwell. I found the audio book to be very engaging as Mr. Gladwell is a great story teller and also inserted live recordings from the stories he shares. The stories do not end well because people go into situations with their own assumptions, perspectives and backgrounds.  Stories range from a usual traffic stop that ended with a suicide, spies during the Cuban missile crisis who fooled the CIA and European leaders who just did not read Adolf Hitler correctly. 

Gladwell suggests that many of us have an inflated opinion of our ability to understand people.   Research backs him up: We are not as objective as we would like to believe, and are therefore prone to misinterpret comments, silence, facial expressions and gestures. In addition, we usually do not take into consideration the cultural differences that might impact how people communicate differently than the way we ourselves communicate.

The book makes a great read (or listen), but it does not give solid suggestions on how to talk with strangers. It basically says that talking to strangers is not an easy task, then lists many situations in which those attempting to do so failed. Still, I recommend the book as it underlines how difficult it is to talk to strangers and how vital it is that we understand them to improve the effectiveness of our inevitable interactions.

View Ms. Khalifa’s previous reviews below:

Books 2018: Tapping Into Latent Leadership

Books 2017: A Gold Star Family’s ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ Living the American Dream

Books 2016: Accommodating All Faiths in the Workplace

Books 2015: Helping English Speakers Interpret the Quran

Editor’s note: This review is part of Global Atlanta’s annual project asking influential readers and community leaders to review the most impactful book they read during the course of the year. This endeavor has continued each year since 2010. Purchases through the Amazon affiliate links at top will provide a commission to Global Atlanta. All books were chosen and reviews written independently, with only mild editing from our staff.