Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell (Book Summary & Review)


What’s in it? Quick Summary

Talking To Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell challenges the common perception that we know about people that surround us. Analyzing high-profile cases and Ponzi schemes, the author discusses how our habit of making snap judgments about people can have terrible consequences in real life.

YouTube player

You can buy the book in your preferable format below.

Get the Audiobook: Listen free with Audible Trial

Get the Paperback version: View price on Amazon

Get the Hardcover version: View price on Amazon

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Malcolm Gladwell (Author) – Malcolm Gladwell (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 09/10/2019 (Publication Date) – Hachette Audio (Publisher)

Last update on 2024-05-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon

Talking To Strangers Summary

In this article, I’ll share 7 best lessons from the book that will give you insights on how you think while dealing with strangers.

Alrighty, so without further ado, let’s dive right in.

Lesson #1: We hardly know anything about strangers, but we judge them anyway with confidence.

If you ask a person if he truly knows himself. The person will think multiple times before saying “yes.”

And it’s not unnatural to do so. 

We are highly complex, sophisticated creatures.

If someone else judges us, we even get offended.

We want other people to understand us before making any judgments, don’t we?

But when it comes to strangers, we judge like we are Sherlock Holmes.

We suddenly forget our own complexity and try to understand the personality of a person by looking at superficial details.

We look at the clothes and body language of a person.

Yes, sometimes, it helps us too.

But often we are wrong when we do this.

The author says that we overestimate our ability to judge other people.

The thing is:

Our judgments are subjective.

Most of our judgments stem from our worldviews.

And they might not reflect the reality.

For example, we might think that a person who doesn’t talk much might be selfish, but there are many people who talk less and are very kind.

So, what’s the key takeaway here?

The takeaway is: Never be too confident about your ability to judge a stranger. Always understand the limitations of your judgment. Realize that we are often wrong about people and might not know everything about a person.

A person’s demeanor isn’t enough to reach a conclusion.

Lesson #2: We assume the other person is saying the truth unless he gives signals of suspicion.

Normally, when we talk to any person, there is a common faith that the other person is speaking the truth based on his understanding.

And it’s very natural.

Because it’ll be hard to talk if you doubt every single thing.

But this also creates room for deception.

Deceptive people find a way to trick people by using this behavior.

We all suck at spotting lies, even if we believe that we are good at it.

We all believe in common myths like:

  • If a person is looking to the left side, he is plotting something.
  • If a person can’t look directly into your eyes, he is hiding the truth.
  • And many more…

Many of these ideas are no less than myths.

They might have worked for some people in the past and gained popularity.

But we all know that with practice, even a liar can look straight into the eyes and exhibit confidence.

Our tendency is to assume that the other person is truthful unless he gives a recognizable, clear signal of deception.

For example: When you are watching videos on YouTube, you assume that the YouTuber has done his research and stating the facts without any biases.

But this assumption is entirely wrong.

You don’t know whether the research was actually performed or not. 

What if the YouTuber is biased?

Are you getting it?

To avoid complexity in our minds, we default to truth almost every time.

Defaulting to truth is not entirely a bad thing, though. 

Let’s discuss why it plays an important role in our daily lives.

Lesson #3: Being too skeptical with every person might help find frauds, but it’ll affect the functioning of society.

Both skepticism and trust have their role.

Defaulting to assuming truthfulness exposes us to the risk of deception. 

And although skepticism is essential to counter any trickery, too much of it can interrupt your interaction with people.

If you doubt every single person you meet looking for red signals, you will face trust issues.

And without trust, your interactions with people won’t reach a conclusion.

You will never be able to have a healthy discussion with mutual understanding.

We all are interdependent, so it’s necessary that we trust each other. Otherwise, nobody would be able to do any kind of business.

Most of our time will go into judging people and finding weaknesses in their arguments, when it should go into finding solutions to our problems.

Excess of skepticism is not good while talking to strangers or anybody in general.

It’s good to trust people with healthy skepticism. But at the same time, it’s also important to protect ourselves by avoiding deceptions.

You know, these days lies are getting more common.

Blind trust should be avoided at all costs.

There is no wisdom in being foolish.

Lesson #4: It’s harder to read facial expressions than you might think.

People don’t exaggerate their emotions in real life. 

Actors in TV Serials or movies often exaggerate their emotions because they have to give a performance.

For example, a funny guy will make faces to give a sense of laughter. Or a sad girl will shed tears and make a sad face to show that she is sorrowful.

But in real life, people don’t give clear signals.

They aren’t always performing in real life like actors do in movies.

There is hardly any transparency.

What’s more? It can even be faked.

Chances are, you’ll find it harder to judge the emotions if you are just looking at facial expressions.

A normal person shows so many micro-expressions that don’t stick for a long time. 

And thus face-reading becomes very complex.

Furthermore, what if the person has a habit of showing specific expressions.

Allow me to explain.
Some people have a habit of lip-biting, which is often believed to be a sign of anxiety.

Does that mean if a person is biting his lips, he is anxious? Not really.

That’d be nonsensical to think so.

The person might have a habit of biting lips from childhood.

In short: Facial expression too aren’t enough to judge a stranger.

There is a huge possibility that you will misjudge a person, assuming that it’s easy to read faces.

But it’s not your fault. Even the judges with experience sometimes struggle to read faces during court trials.

Reading faces may come handy sometimes to learn the emotions of other people, though.

Lesson #5: It’s not necessary for the body language and thoughts to always align with each other.

Some people don’t show what they think.

They may act honest, but turn out a liar.

They may look like a jerk, but turn out to be a good person.

You never truly know what a person is thinking, even if you study his behavior.

Some people are just confused.

And will confuse you too if you try to judge them without knowing their history.

We tend to connect actions with intentions.

But it’s not necessary that they will always match.

Lesson #6: Never make assumptions about any stranger, and don’t overestimate your ability to talk to strangers.

Some people think that they are good at talking to strangers and understanding them.

However, this is not true.

While to talking to strangers, people always assume.

And that’s why they can’t be right.

You can’t find the true intentions of a person, if you assume the details based on how a person looks.

Even the idea that one can learn about a stranger is an assumption.

We simply aren’t good at judging strangers.

We assume because it is part of human nature.

In fact, how we judge another person tells so many things about our behavior.

If you make judgments too quickly, maybe you aren’t very thoughtful in your personal life.

Is judgment a bad thing? Should we stop judging people?

No judgment is not bad.

It helps us in survival when there isn’t enough time.

For instance, when you are in a new place, you don’t know anything about the people there. So, it might be a good idea to judge sometimes and spot deceptive behavior.

But believing our assumptions are always correct is not a good approach while talking to strangers.

There might be cultural differences.

What you might see as a sign of threat might simply be a person’s way of showing friendliness.

You never know the full story. 

Always remember this while talking to strangers.

Lesson #7: Never interact with strangers when you are emotionally high to avoid regretful consequences.

When you are too excited, your emotions are at peak. Everything feels too good. Even when it’s not.

The book discusses alcoholic myopia.

It’s found that when people are under its influence, they think short-term. 

And due to which, they make choices that they would regret in the long term.

So, what does this have to do with talking to strangers?

Well, you don’t know anything about strangers.

When interacting with them, you don’t know whether that stranger has good or bad intentions.

The choices you make while dealing with strangers matter a lot.

A small mistake might result in terrible consequences.

Alcohol dulls your intellect and inhibitions.

You tend to do things that you would not do consciously.

Alcoholic myopia affects your logical thinking and urges you to take actions that might not be in your best favor.

So don’t be drunk while talking to strangers. 

And refrain from making snap judgments.

Be fully conscious and keep the above lessons in mind.

Talking To Strangers Review

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Malcolm Gladwell (Author) – Malcolm Gladwell (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 09/10/2019 (Publication Date) – Hachette Audio (Publisher)

Last update on 2024-05-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon

Here is what I liked and disliked about this book:


  • Good if you love reading crime fiction stories and understand high-profile cases and Ponzi schemes.
  • Covers dark topics that many people may find interesting.
  • Too many case-studies and real-life events.
  • Suited for fiction readers who might love a few takeaways while communicating with strangers.


  • Too many stories.
  • Fewer takeaways. 
  • Not recommended for quick readers.

Buy the book on Amazon: Hardcover | Paperback | Audiobook

FAQs about Talking To Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

Who is the author of Talking To Strangers?

Malcolm Gladwell is the author of this book.

Who should read Talking To Strangers?

People who are interested in talking to strangers, but don’t know the right approach and are unaware of their biases while conversing with them.

Is the book fun to read or boring?

I found this book a bit boring as it discusses too many stories. If you are someone who enjoys reading thrillers and crime-novels, you might find the case-studies interesting.

What is the main point of Talking To Strangers?

The main point is that we never the full story of a person. So refrain from making snap judgments about a stranger accurately by looking at superficial details.

What is transparency in Talking to Strangers?

Transparency in this book’s context is about how much a stranger’s actions and hidden thoughts align with each other. It’s always hard to judge the transparency unless you have good knowledge of human behavior.

Why is it hard to talk to strangers?

It’s hard because there is always the fear of the unknown. You have zero trust when you meet a person. You don’t know what will happen next. Thus, talking to strangers becomes awkward or scary at times.

How many chapters does Talking To Strangers Have?

The book has 12 chapters.

Now It’s Your Turn

There you have it.

I hope these lessons will help you deal with strangers and avoid any unfortunate encounters.

If you liked it, don’t forget to share this with your friends.

Thanks for reading.

Shami Manohar

The Brain Behind

I am Shami Manohar, the founder of WizBuskOut. My obsession with non-fiction books has fueled me with the energy to create this website. I read at least one book every week on topics such as business, critical thinking, mindset, psychology, and more.

My mission is to educate and empower individuals with the knowledge that works in real life.

Connect with me on LinkedIn

Consider supporting me in my mission:

I invest a lot of time, energy, and money in things like softwares, books, design, videos, artists, designers, etc., to provide you with this level of quality content at zero cost. If you love consuming my work and appreciate it, support me. This would help me provide even more value and help humanity grow. Every little penny counts.

Donate here

Become a channel member on YouTube