Many people think that, as a financial advisor, I spend all day with my head buried in numbers, following the movement of the markets. And it’s true – that is a big part of what I do. But the most important part of my job – and, quite frankly, my favorite part – involves having simple, face-to-face conversations with other people.
I love meeting with clients, both new and old because I love getting to know people better. I love hearing their dreams, their needs, their fears…their stories! Since I get to have face-to-face conversations every day, I consider myself one of the luckiest people around. Because I know these types of interactions are getting increasingly rare as the world gets increasingly digital.
Simple, heart-to-heart conversation is not a day-to-day occurrence for some people anymore. More and more, we are using our phones or computers to connect with each other or to comfort us in times when we are alone, or to fill any lull of silence. I have heard stories where people realize, at the end of the day, they have not had one conversation with a human being or even uttered one word out loud.
Thinking about this, I recently came across a story about a man who felt similarly. He believed the art of conversation would be the next victim of technology. He wanted to make a difference, so he started a global movement to keep the conversation alive using just two chairs and a poster board.
His name is Adria Ballester, a Barcelona native who, after a rough day at work, found himself walking around the city, wanting to see the beautiful skyline from the top of a nearby mountain. He was able to make it there by nightfall and saw an elderly man who was out doing the same. The two fell to talking. After a long conversation, the elderly man left, saying, “When you will become 80 years old, all your problems [that seem] huge will look so small.”1
After he left, Adria pondered what the man had said and realized he was right. Adria also realized how much he had enjoyed and benefited from that one single conversation with a stranger. All the anger he felt from work had vanished.
In some ways, that conversation was like an awakening for Adria. It opened his eyes to how important it was to speak with people with different life experiences. So, he decided to do something about it.
It only took that one interaction for Adria to make the conscious decision to have conversations with people to see different perspectives. So, he took a poster board and carried two chairs with him to the heart of the city. He set the two chairs facing each other and sat in one, waiting. The poster board was set up where passersby could see the words “Free Conversation” written clearly. His goal was to provide a safe space, free of judgment, where people could express themselves in public. Whatever they wanted or needed to talk about, they would find a friendly ear in Adria.
Every weekend Adria would sit facing an empty chair until a stranger would walk up and take a seat. Over time, he heard everything from cheerful tales to heartbreaking stories. In fact, over the next three years, he had more than 1500 conversations with total strangers!2
These raw, honest conversations gave him both perspective and confirmation he was doing the right thing. Eventually, word caught on as to what Adria was doing. This led Adria to start a new project that he calls the “Free Conversations Movement,” where people all over the world could do the same thing he was doing in Barcelona. The idea went viral over the pandemic, and others were inspired to do the same. Today, there are volunteers in multiple countries on almost every continent, each offering “free conversations,” starting face-to-face, heart-to-heart interactions in any public space that would have them.
Reading this story truly made me realize how important conversations are in my life. It also made me think about how many other activities that used to be standard are becoming rarer and more precious. Lately, I’ve found myself thinking of things I used to do growing up that I don’t do much anymore. Writing letters to loved ones, memorizing phone numbers by heart, and having new recipes updated in my family cookbook.
I think it’s these little things that make life special. Moving forward, I want to make sure I spend more time doing them and appreciating them. I want to look forward to each and every conversation, whether it’s with a friend, family member, neighbor, client, or even a total stranger.
Because, hey – it’s free!
I hope you enjoyed reading about this story. As we continue into the New Year, I wish you many meaningful conversations with others – Tina and I look forward to the next conversation we have with you!
1 “How Everything Started,” The Free Conversations Movement, https://thefreeconversationsmovement.com/about1/
2 “Free Conversation Movement: Spanish salesman fights to bring back the art of talking,” iNews, https://inews.co.uk/news/world/freeconversations-movement-adria-ballester-art-of-talking-1027956