James Emery White on How Reading People Protects Us and Those We Love From Harm

In his new book, Talking to Strangers, Malcolm Gladwell explores why so many of our interactions with strangers go wrong and how we aren’t good at reading people.

For example, how did Fidel Castro fool the CIA for an entire generation? Why did the Prime Minister of England Neville Chamberlain think he could trust Adolf Hitler after meeting him, but Winston Churchill – who never met him – never trusted him?

Gladwell notes that the people who were right about Hitler were those who knew the least about him personally, and the ones who were wrong about him were the ones who had talked with him for hours.

But this plays itself out over and over again.

Why did so many trust Bernie Madoff with their money?

Why did so many parents trust Jerry Sandusky with their children?

In other words, why can’t we tell when the stranger in front of us is lying to our face, and how is it that meeting a stranger can sometimes make us worse at making sense of that person than not meeting them?

Gladwell’s thesis is that something is wrong with the tools and strategies we use to make sense of people we don’t know. And because we don’t know how to talk to strangers, we invite conflict and misunderstanding into our lives and into our world.

It’s a fascinating read.

It caused me to reflect upon how I read people—and I do read people. We all do. But I read people better now than I did when I was younger, mostly due to a litany of lessons learned the hard way.

Here are a few lessons I’ve learned about reading people:

Reading people involves keeping an eye on their ego.

For example, if someone is a singer and is not asked to sing, how do they react? If they demand to know why or are offended that they aren’t asked, take note.

Reading people involves paying attention to what they tell you.

If they gossip to you, they will gossip about you. They are simply gossipers.

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Source: Church Leaders