Breaking the Habit of Smalltalk | Omid Scheybani | TEDxKish

Breaking the Habit of Smalltalk | Omid Scheybani | TEDxKish

Translator: Bob Prottas
Reviewer: Leonardo Silva 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 start 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 any 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 increased 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 could you learn
if you embraced the unknown knowing that each person
out there can help you become a better version tomorrow,
of who you are today, and if you opened 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 oftentimes it’s the simplest people
who can teach you the most. I could’ve 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 as: “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 a 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 a 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)


100 thoughts on “Breaking the Habit of Smalltalk | Omid Scheybani | TEDxKish”

  • I have been in china for three years and had the chance to meet people from different cultures. From my experience people hesitate to share their true thoughts and opinions unless they trust the other person.

  • Thank you Omid… you validated what so many of us are awakening to today and that is the connection to others. Very much enjoyed…. we could talk for hours.

  • Great talk. I hate to admit, though, that I have a bad joke to get out of my system: "How to break the habit of Smalltalk? use Python."

  • Patravich O'brienski says:

    All this shit will soon be ended when le pen comes to power in France and others of similar politics will gain power in Scandinavia Germany the Netherlands and thrump will be top dog in America. Don't dispair people the day is coming when this scandal will be brought to an end. Good vid ted'x keep it flowing

  • Great information from a genuinely nice humanbeing I suppose. but, you really don't want to be in Poland except for the women, Polish Men are one of the worst humans you can imagine, they don't like strangers/foreigners. They would laugh at you if you're black and they'd automatically assume you don't speak their language and so you'll hear many racial slurs behind your back on the streets and even bars. I know it all comes to their insecurities and of course the little cock issue, but hey! How could a blackperson have a deep meaningful conversation with someone who with the look in his eyes you already know he doesn't want you in his Country?

  • Great talk Scheybani… 7 billion people in the world has 7 billion unique life experiences to understand…. Daily we meet some many people…We need to talk to starangers always with good intentions.

  • Best TED talk i've heard in a while. Never waste small talk on superficial matters which you can find answers to through a simple Google search. 🙂

  • I totally relate to this talk. Although I used to talk a lot about myself, I've shifted towards focusing on other people and letting them tell their story. The key is to avoid making it an interrogation but more enabling them to talk about what they care about. You first need to build rapport and show that you genuinely want to learn more about their lives and then ask the questions they want you to ask. They are usually the most obvious. I saw a comment below that said that people don't like lots of questions. That's true. It's about giving them a voice, not the third degree. 🙂

  • Akindele Bankole says:

    Vielen dank Omid, Du hast sehr gut gemacht. Ya glaube ich das wir konnen das welt besser machen wann denken wir mehr uber die leute mit wem sprechen wir. Gut.

  • the prob is current social norms and values, and the tendancy to break these norms making you 'deviant' makes people from breaking them. This social tendancy is underlying the reason why we dont have these deep talks with each other. it's 'wierd' to do, 'strange', aka, 'not normal'. We are afraid what the other person might think, just as the other person is afraid of what we might think. And this leads us to a prissoners dillema where both people dont talk to each other, and are to my opinion, worse off.
    The breaking of this habit, as supposed in this video, doesnt seem to me to be that appealing, because it doenst remove these social norms. It isnt so easy to remove them. They are systematicly woven into the fabric of our society.
    If you want to have this great conversations, i propose: 1 meet friends of friends, the ice is thinner to break, and you intrests and intelectual level are more likely to match. 2 On this bar night, or in a cafe, with some beer or so, people being tipsy and all, and a nice ambience, people are more likely to be open for this kind of conversation. 3 take the guts to just once in a while step forward and talk to someone you think might hold a intresting story to tell.

  • Small talk has its place. If you break in with unorthodox questions people may get on their guard and you'll kill the conversation before its even had a chance. He's right to promote deeper conversation though. It's much more rewarding for everyone. After a couple of rounds of small talk is probably the best time to utilise his philosophy.

  • 75% of our communication is non-verbal and only semi-conscious. Small talk is the blank page upon which we write our non-verbal communication. If that blank page irritates us, we will not be present, and we will not engage with each other, and small talk will indeed become a mechanical chore. If we accept the reason for small talk, we can use it to establish baseline trustworthiness and compatibility before venturing into more complex and socially risky conversation. The risk of censure, intense conflict, and social or emotional incompatibility is why we need small talk at first, in many social spaces. Sometimes, social space can be created in which the people we meet are more likely to be compatible with us, certainly, but this is not something we can rely on in the open world.

  • I am sorry,i only understand simple english,i didnt get fully what his solution was,i think i get the part like weather topics are not the kind of topics to be questioned,i shud question something more of what kind,something more personal,i just moved into a new locality,i am socially awkward but trying to change,i have people living upstairs and downstairs and both sides,please help me,what kind of talk shud i do,i mean what kind kind of topic questions are ncie to become more interesting and getting personal with each other,how do i think on what to ask,some general ideas please,i am 22 years old,its beeen a long time like this,I need to change,Thank you for your help

  • Racket says:

    my friends and family only want small talk. if you bring up politics, religion, wars, corruption, no one wants to talk about it. bunch of brainwashed ignorant sheep

  • GlassLegend# says:

    I've heared all the small talk for thirty years from all types of strangers and always leads to nosyness to a point of interrogation, but not many people will really ask big questions that really matters..

  • You learn through talking to others but there is also a danger of being candid about yourself. You can be robbed, taken advantage of if others know too much about you. I usually talk about experiences that are in the past and can't harm me now or topics that are not about me but informative. All conversations usually start out with small talk such as how are you doing.

  • Omid : What makes you happy today?
    Taxi driver : Ten years ago today my wife got in my taxi, I took her and made her my wife.
    Omid : Wow! That's so special.
    Taxi driver : Yup, don't think anyone is still looking for her now so I'm safe.
    Omid : Have a wonderful anniversary.

  • sonder

    n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk

  • So, how do you ease into deep talk upon first meeting without it seeming intrusive or awkward?
    Or, is it going to be naturally jarring to do this?

  • Ария Жунисахметова says:

    Great ! I really like this presentation ,it makes you to think how do you talk and actually we tend to ask predictable questions ,which not interesting and simple,so thank you

  • gerry o sullivan says:

    If i met this guy at say a wedding and straight off the bat he started asking very personal questions I would be outta there


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  • i'm really interested to see what would've happened if he didn't get those cards with conversations starters at the event. my belief is that it would've been a whole different story.

    as a person that truly values this type of deep, meaningful conversations, i also think that, realistically, them happening is more a matter of coincidence. the best conversations i've had (from what i recall) just happened to happen with the right people, at the right place, time.

    he has a great point. i also despise the 'how's the weather' kinda talk. but thinking that every conversation has a high possibility of being meaningful depending on the effort that we put in sounds a little bit naive. it's not taking into account what the other person thinks at the degree it deserves.

    bottom line: from my experience, best conversations are not forced, they're natural and sometimes that comes from the annoying scripted who what where etc questions. perhaps i'm not getting the full picture, but that's what i believe.

  • I can't stand small talk, makes me want to die. Small talk is at every single corner you turn, its as if you need to hide from the world to avoid it.

  • I agree with this as I’m sure a lot of others do as well. My only question is, how do you engage in “authentic conversation” when in more lively social situations?

  • I'm alone in my room and I'm trying to think of something right now that is smart and lightly humorous if I were to ask a random person, but it's so hard! Plus, I'm really shy so it would be extra hard if I were to do it in real life… I don't have enough social skills for this! XD

  • winston miller says:

    Thank you for that talk. I agree with some of what you said and I can put aspects of your talk into practice. You have some good points and I will incorporate some of your ideas into my conversations. However I found small talk a good way to break the ice, thereby making it easier to proceed. Some people can't even small talk much less proceed to meaningful and memorable states as you suggested. So ideally I've found that one or two bits of small talk open the way for more insightful conversation. You're also right in that conversation can leave a good feeling. Thank you. Win UK

  • One of the best talks I´ve seen. I tried it and I learned two new, or no it was 3 persons. I didn't learned something about them but also about me. I will try this every time I met someone new or if I talk to completely strangers.

  • I'm so excited to try this! I would like to have more deep coversations with my parents, but I'm worried they will be upset with some of my beliefs 😟

  • Emilios Powerballer says:

    i didnt know talking to someone could be so damn complicated. predictable superficiality, damn man, youre trying to make this scientific when things can be as simple as saying hello and how are you. i dont know why and how you make conversations but i guarantee you its not a chess game. you really think you know someones life from the one time you talked with them?

  • Entertaining black kiD says:

    To bad most kids my age (I'm 16) will probably watch this and say, "Yea I ain't talking about my past life about anyone I just ment." And there complete social outcast and afraid of me because I'll start a conversation with anyone. 🤣

  • Psychokore Underground Rap says:

    great talk.. definitely a good question to ask "what made you happy today?"

    Will try it out tomorrow at work

  • even though it sounds selfless but its human nature people would use it to make connections with other people whom they are trying to make gains from …if you are really tired after a journey most likely you would want to driver to keep quite and if you land at a new place you want your driver to tell you every thing about the place and not what his profound memory was growing up….

  • People may find this hard to believe but Kish is an island in the south of Iran……..

    Wasn't expecting that were you? lol??

  • istiklalcaddesi says:

    Once I did ask a lady when she was due… After a very cold silence I wanted to disappear into the air as I have realized she wasnt pregnant.

    So I know being curious might dissapoint me sometimes 😁

  • Asking about a person's scar right away will most likely scare him or her away .
    You need a little bit of small talk to get the ball rolling ,Deeper questions can follow later .
    Its all about the right balance .

  • When I was younger, I wanted to learn as much as possible about the human experience. Therefore, I studied communication in all its forms and took pains to find "as many sides to the story" as I could. It seemed I could learn some truth from each and every person, though rarely the whole story from one individual. Now, it seems most people are just parroting some "company line" and are brainwashed beyond having anything worth listening to…

  • Kevin Fuk The Token Evil Teammate says:

    For extroverts they tend to enjoy small talk by making themselves look impressive, but for introverts they abhor it, to them small talk is a sign of dishonesty.

  • I agree 100% with you how a stranger could be your friend . previoslly I've got a very deep & funny coversation with girls I forgot their names but not their warm words or stories .

    however , do you know when the "predictable soperficiality " most hurt ?

    when it comes from someone who used to be closer in the past than now & u have to contenue this poor conversation bcs of an ice wall that has builded for unreason excuse .

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