Think of the last time someone upset you.
Was it something they said? The way they said it?
or something they did?
How did you react?
Blow up inside while trying to stay calm inside? or Blow up inside AND outside?
or did you shake your head wondering “what’s wrong with them?”
Everyday we talk to strangers – clients, colleagues, random people. We can’t see their thoughts, so we assume.
Sometimes assumptions work for us, but other times it just leads to conflict – and of course we automatically blame them; because after all, “they just don’t get it.”
Today I’d like to share an audiobook I recently completed – “Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know” by Malcolm Gladwell
Gladwell talks about miscommunication in the context of simple everyday interactions, and in societal issues like police brutality on Black lives, rape culture in universities, the “unjust” justice system, gun reform and the concept of “coupling” etc. The idea seemed too simple, yet it got me thinking.
I remembered working with a guy in Nigeria who kept dropping F-bombs. I felt disrespected, until I realized he assumed the F-bomb was the universally-accepted-American-way to express passion. And since I had just moved from the US to Nigeria, he was trying to be “sociable.”
Thankfully I realized it was just a case of miscommunication and we were able to salvage the working relationship.
I would say, “thank you Malcolm for saving that relationship”, but sadly Malcolm hadn’t written this book then. And I am angry about that.
You might be wondering why I’m angry, and I’ll tell you.
I am angry because Malcolm has written many great books, but all of them combined are not as important as “Talking to Strangers” (in my humble opinion 🙂 ).
I am angry because if this book had come out earlier, if Malcolm had taken the time to do this important work, perhaps…
- That girl in California wouldn’t have gotten raped by her classmate (Rape Culture).
- That guy in South Carolina wouldn’t have shot himself to death (Gun Control & Suicide).
- Or that drunk driver in Oklahoma wouldn’t have killed that guy (Alcohol & Coupling).
- Or that angry guy wouldn’t have shot that guy for the parking spot in that fancy hotel in San Francisco (Communicating with Strangers/ Gun Control).
But since we can’t go back in time, I’m choosing to use my anger in a different way.
I’m focusing instead on communicating better, and maybe even adding a sprinkle of “Delight”.
I’m learning to take responsibility for miscommunication, instead of reverting to blaming others.
And I’m asking you to answer this question:
What are your tips for communicating well with strangers?
p.s. If you pick up Talking to Strangers, I would recommend following up with “Braving the Wilderness” by Brene Brown
You can also check out my review of Adam Grant’s book – “Originals” by clicking here