WHAT I’VE BEEN READING: Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

I’m a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s books. He is skilled at presenting complex topics based on solid research in an accessible and engaging way.

I’ve just finished reading his latest book “Talking to Strangers” and so much of it is relevant to how we engage in conflict.

We tend to think we know others better than they know us, and that we may have insights about them they lack (but not vice versa) – so we talk when we would be better listening and we are less patient than we ought to be when others express the conviction that they are the ones who are being misunderstood or judged unfairly.

The concept of coupling – reinforced for me the importance of context in understanding people’s behaviour. In conflict we often blame individuals for their actions, but the conditions that give rise to conflict usually also include contextual factors.

People’s reactions (emotional, facial expressions) are not always consistent with what they are actually experiencing. We often make assumptions about a person’s state of mind by the way they behave, but we can be easily mistaken. (Of particularly interest to me here was how much of Paul Ekman’s work on micro facial expressions of emotion has turned out to be incorrect – these expressions are not universal across all humans and vary according to cultural and individual differences).

We have a default operating assumption that the people we are dealing with are honest. While this is kind of a good thing (without it we would all be terribly paranoid and unable to function) it can stop us from making enquiries and double checking things even when the consequences of making a mistake are very serious.

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