Welcome to December. This is the last month in the current decade. Hard to believe that the 2010’s are almost over.
Today is the book of the month episode. On the first day of each month we review the book of the month. In order to be considered for a book of the month the book has to meet a very simple criteria. It has to be impactful enough that it will change your life or your perspective on the world. Whether it does or not is entirely up to you. You might read the book and comment on what a great book it was. But if you don’t internalize the book and make a part of you, you’re missing the point.
The author of this month’s book is none other than Malcolm Gladwell. He has written several other ground breaking books including Outliers, Blink, David and Goliath, The Tipping Point, and What the Dog Saw. Each of these books would have easily met the book of the month criteria. Malcolm Gladwell is also host of the Revisionist History Podcast in which he goes back through history and looks at something that happened and examines underneath the covers.
At heart, Malcolm Gladwell is a journalist. He’s a Canadian from Toronto and currently lives in NYC where he writes for the New Yorker Magazine.
Our book this month is called Talking with Strangers. Like his previous books, Gladwell takes real life stories and tries to dig beneath the covers to find insights, to find common threads of new learnings and to illuminate the blind spots that are hidden in plain sight.
The premise of the book is that communication happens easily with people whom we are familiar with, whom we understand
The authors examples are diverse. The book is framed around the story of a woman from Chicago who moved to a small town in West Texas to restart her life in a new setting. She had secured a new job, and on her first day in town was stopped by a police officer for a questionable traffic stop. The sequence of events that unfolded found this innocent woman being dragged from her car, handcuffed and brought into custody, and eventually dead three days later in a jail cell, never having committed a crime of any sort.
The author looks at how we process communication. A case study of the TV sitcom “Friends” showed that viewers of the show were able to follow the story line of the show with the audio completely turned off simply by watching the body language and facial expressions of the actors on the show. The accuracy of the interpretation was incredibly high. It shows that many of us rely upon these cue far more than we know.
But this is a TV show and the actors are paid to do a great job of acting. In the real world, a smile isn’t always a signal of happiness. There are those people who make up a small percentage of the population who have learned to disconnect their emotions from their body language.
Some go on to become criminal masterminds like Bernie Madoff. Others go on to become championship poker players.
It is full of case studies that individually can lead you astray. Taken together they reframe the way you will look at interactions. Malcolm Gladwell isn’t shy about confronting difficult topics. He chronicles the case study of the negotiations between Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of the UK and Adolf Hitler in 1938. Chamberlain’s negotiations with Hitler are widely regarded as one of the great follies of the second world war. Chamberlain fell under Hitler’s spell. He was outmaneuvered at the bargaining table. He misread Hitler’s intentions.
In the book Gladwell argues that something is very wrong with the tools and strategies we use to make sense of people we don’t know. The idea of the book of the month is to change your life or change the way you see the world. Talking with Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell will definitely deliver on both those promises.