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  • So last year, on a sunny summer morning,

  • I was in the old city of Antigua in Guatemala,

  • hailing a cab to go visit a client.

  • I got into the car, I was sitting on the back seat,

  • busily preparing for the meeting I was about to have,

  • when the driver attempted to engage me in conversation.

  • "Where are you from?

  • What is your name?

  • Are you here for work?

  • What do you do?"

  • And it didn't take too long for him to ask me:

  • "How do you like the weather here in Guatemala?"

  • I've been very fortunate to have a job that allowed me to travel the world,

  • and to interact with people from all different cultures.

  • From the taxi driver, that drove me around Guatemala City,

  • to the barista, who served me a cup of coffee

  • in a small coffee shop in Sydney, Australia,

  • to the photographer, whose photo exhibition I happened to walk in

  • while I was strolling through the streets of London,

  • all these people started a conversation

  • asking me the same type of questions.

  • Questions that would make the conversation feel scripted,

  • and that would put the conversation on a path of what I call:

  • "Predictable superficiality".

  • I mean, how much can you actually learn about a person

  • if you end up doing small talk about the weather?

  • All of this changed sometime last year

  • when I had the unexpected opportunity

  • to participate in an event called: "A Conversation Gala."

  • Now imagine receiving an invitation to an event

  • where you don't know the host,

  • you don't know the other guests,

  • and you also don't know the occasion.

  • However, you do know that there's one rule

  • that everyone has to stick to.

  • You're encouraged to meet other people, and have conversations,

  • but you're not allowed to ask questions, or discuss topics

  • that can otherwise be discovered

  • through the other person's Facebook profile.

  • So I got to the event with absolutely no idea what to expect,

  • and I found myself in a room full of unfamiliar faces,

  • and to break the ice, and to get the conversation going,

  • the host had provided handwritten cards with questions on them.

  • Questions like: "Do you believe in karma?

  • What quality do you most appreciate in your mother?

  • What scar of yours has the most interesting story to tell?

  • Rihanna or Beyonce?

  • And seriously, do we still need cursive writing?"

  • So I took one of those cards,

  • I approached a person and I started a conversation,

  • and then another person, and then a couple,

  • and then a group of people, and by the end of the night,

  • we had talked about each other's family values, and childhood details.

  • We went deep into the things that keep us up at night,

  • and the things that get us out of bed in the morning,

  • and we also touched on the things that we felt, and the things we feared.

  • All of that, with people whom I had met for only one evening,

  • and then never saw again.

  • I barely knew their names,

  • but I had learned about their relationship with their parents.

  • And while I didn't know what they were doing for a living,

  • I certainly knew their biggest regrets in life.

  • The evening was very unique, and anything but usual.

  • And it got me thinking --

  • thinking about how one simple rule

  • made all the difference that evening,

  • in terms of the strong connections that were built,

  • and the meaningful stories that were shared.

  • And it also got me reflecting.

  • Reflecting upon how often

  • we have a chance to meet a new person in our lives,

  • and how sometimes these encounters end up being yearlong friendships,

  • while other encounters, we cannot even remember a few years later.

  • So what I didn't know that evening

  • was that I was a guinea pig.

  • I was a guinea pig in a social experiment

  • hosted by a non-profit company called: "Irrational Labs."

  • The social experiment was based on a research paper,

  • published in the Journal of Psychological Science,

  • which has found that more meaningful conversations

  • can actually lead

  • to increase levels of happiness, and well-being.

  • Not necessarily because the content of the conversation

  • is of a more positive nature,

  • but because deeper conversations

  • help us find more meaning, and importance in our own lives.

  • Nevertheless, even when we're surrounded by the smartest people,

  • and the people that have the most interesting stories to share,

  • we default to the lowest common denominator and small talk prevails.

  • Researchers have also found that there are some things

  • we keep doing even when we understand that they're not ideal for us.

  • I think most of us would agree

  • that using the phone behind the wheel can be lethally dangerous.

  • In fact 94% of all drivers surveyed support a ban on it.

  • Nevertheless, drivers still pick up the phone.

  • Same thing with projects,

  • and the fact that we start them very late,

  • even though we have deadlines,

  • and that always, most certainly, results in high anxiety, and late nights.

  • But we still procrastinate.

  • And what about dinner conversation?

  • Well, nobody said that talking about the weather

  • is either exciting or fulfilling. Yet we engage.

  • So how can we get ourselves to break this habit of small talk

  • even when we understand --

  • even when it's sometimes harder not to?

  • So here's the thing to keep in mind --

  • There are 7 billion people in this world

  • each with an amazing, and unique story to share.

  • The dreams that we pursue are different.

  • The challenges that we have to overcome, and that shape us, are different,

  • and the memories that we carry in our hearts are different.

  • That makes 7 billion treasure boxes

  • full of life lessons, wisdom, and experience.

  • So the next time you meet someone for the first time,

  • and you lose yourself to the mere exchange of small talk

  • it is as if you went to museum in which you could explore

  • the beauties of our past and marvel at the wonders of our future,

  • but instead you just sit there, and you play on your smartphone.

  • Why would you do that?

  • Now imagine how much

  • you can actually learn about someone, and from someone,

  • if you approach each conversation with the innate curiosity

  • that you normally demonstrate as an infant.

  • How much you could learn if you embrace the unknown

  • knowing that each person out there can help you

  • become a better version tomorrow, of who you are today,

  • and if you open yourself to the vast possibilities

  • of how one single encounter with someone

  • can truly change the trajectory of your life?

  • All it takes for us

  • could be to be genuinely and authentically interested in the other person.

  • Not necessarily by their title, their resume, achievements or status,

  • but in who they are as a human being, and the story that they have to share.

  • And often times it's the simplest people who can teach you the most.

  • I could have asked the barista in Sydney about the weather in Australia.

  • But I was rather interested in his motivation to be a barista.

  • So I asked him:

  • "What makes you so passionate about coffee?"

  • And he told me that his grandfather had migrated from Italy to Australia,

  • and that it has been a family tradition for over 5 generations

  • to work as a barista.

  • The photographer whose exhibition I happened to walk in,

  • I didn't ask him how his exhibition went, I was rather interested in his memories.

  • So I asked him:

  • "Which of your pictures evokes the most profound memories?"

  • He then walked me to a photograph, describing it:

  • "The last picture he took as a homeless person living on the streets of London."

  • And my taxi driver in Guatemala,

  • I could have asked him: "How is your day?"

  • But I was rather interested in his emotions.

  • So I asked him: "What made you happy today?"

  • It turned out it was his 10-year wedding anniversary,

  • and he was sharing this very, very beautiful story with me,

  • of how his wife once entered his cab as a passenger, many years ago.

  • Yes, all of these conversations started with small talk,

  • and yes, to certain degree,

  • it was needed to build some initial rapport and comfort.

  • But the key was really

  • to get off this track of predictable superficiality,

  • and really touch on the things, and topics that make us who we are,

  • our motivations, our memories, and our emotions.

  • Such slight change in language, and intention

  • can really open up a small window into the true spirit of another person,

  • and allow us to have in-depth conversations

  • that can truly lead to such meaningful, and memorable moments.

  • Just imagine how many more strong connections we could build,

  • how much more cross-cultural understanding we could create,

  • and how many interpersonal bridges we could build with people

  • that, one day, can impact our lives.

  • This way, we could, maybe, finally see that each stranger out there

  • is actually just another friend that we haven't met yet.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

So last year, on a sunny summer morning,

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【TEDx】Breaking the Habit of Smalltalk | Omid Scheybani | TEDxKish

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    Miracle Lee posted on 2016/01/16
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