“How are you?”
We always say it, but did you know that you could be using this simple greeting in the wrong way?
It may seem simple, but the question “How are you?” “How you doin’?” “How you goin’?” can be taken the wrong way. It can be used in the wrong fashion.
I didn't really put too much weight on this in the past. I know that people ask this question and use it as a greeting. Our common answers to this question are:
Then, we ask the other person the same question and they give a quick response. After that, it’s over and done with.
But how often have you actually asked other people the deeper question of “How are you really doing?” or “How are you actually doing?”
So often, we just use it as a greeting, and then we're on our way. We don't actually stand there and wait for the FULL response. We don't notice when there are inconsistencies with how someone is appearing: how they’re acting, their voice, their tone, the inflection, and the way their body language is speaking something completely different.
Have you ever noticed the time when you've said to someone, “How are you doing?” And they answer, “Oh, okay.” Then, you feel there's something deeper here. “I'm okay or “I'm good” isn't actually how they're feeling, but you don’t ask for more.
Why don’t you? We’ve all been there. Maybe you don't have time to find out how they really feel, or you don’t want to pry or it makes you feel uncomfortable or you’re just not that close to them.
How many times have you been asked this simple question, and you've given a quick “Good” or “Okay” but really deep down, you were hurting or there was more to that “I'm okay.” But you weren't ready to stop them from just being a greeting and to say more about how you're actually feeling.
This came to light when I was in an “after convention hangout”, and some of my colleagues were having a lot of light conversations. There were a lot of jokes, reminiscing, talking about what we learned, and sharing our goals.
Then there was a pause and someone asked one of the attendees, “How are you?” She opened up and shared that she’s actually not doing okay and she’s not doing fine, the truth came out. The truth of how:
We welcomed her honesty. It gave her the space to share. I know I could relate. At the time, I was dealing with my father's death, and I didn't feel like myself.
If you were to ask me right now how I am doing, I'm going to give you the real answer. I'd say I'm starting to feel more like myself. But if you'd asked me a few months ago, I probably would have said, “Well, I'm okay. I'm fine.”
But if you asked me how I'm really doing, and paused to hear, I would have told you, “I'm struggling.” I would have told you grief sucks. This colleague of ours had the courage to share more and had the courage to go into the truth of how she really was feeling.
It was nice for her to have that space for us to listen to her. Do you know what flowed after that? The truth. The truth of how everyone else was doing. No one had to keep up appearances anymore.
More people shared about
We had the ultimate sharing. What it came down to was someone asking her, “How are you really?” and being there to hear the answer.
It makes me wonder how many of the people around you or me are not doing well. But we don't ask them in a way that's not a greeting.
I wonder if hundreds of thousands of years ago people used the expression, “How are you?”
Maybe people used it to find out how others are doing rather than just to spark a conversation with your neighbor. Maybe as you were cutting down a tree, or plowing a field, or bartering and exchanging goods, you actually had a conversation. You knew each other so well that you would share more.
But in today's world, the way things are, we're Zooming with people across the world. We're jumping into networking events and conferences online. We're rushing from here to there. And the greeting of “How are you” just stays at that. It becomes a rhetorical question. It doesn't really even matter what people say because are we really listening?
This is what my colleague brought forward. She said people ask her all the time how she's doing, but do they really want to know the full answer? She didn’t think so.
I wonder how long this colleague of mine felt unheard, but also how much of it is our responsibility to be able to say, “Hey, I really want to tell you how I'm doing. I'm ready to tell you now.”
A little while later in true Canadian style, she apologized to the group for dumping it on them. I private messaged her, “Don't ever apologize for speaking the truth of where you're at.”
If we encourage people to keep their true feelings inside, imagine what will happen. This is when it becomes too much, unbearable. If people are struggling, if they are having negative feelings or a hard time in life, then they need to not walk the journey alone. But how do they know who they can talk to if we don't ask them in a way where we stand there and we wait for the response?
I'm not judging because I constantly do a quick “Hey, how's it going?” to people as I catch them in the mall or walking down the street or at the school playground, especially now in the days where we have to stay so separated by 2 metres or when we're on Zoom meetings and everybody's listening. That's using the quick “Hey, how's it going?” as a greeting because there are too many people in the room to get an actual response.
But how about if we just took a little bit more notice… lingered a little bit longer after asking the question… checked for consistency, congruence between what their body and their look, their appearance, their tone, their intonation is telling you compared to the words they actually used.
If they say “I'm fine” or “I'm good,” then don't be afraid to follow up with them with:
Sometimes we just need that door to open to be able to share more of our feelings and of what is going on in our lives. How many times have we opened the door for others? I get that you're not going to do this with the waitress or a cashier. You're going to say your greeting, and maybe when they say they're good, you're going to say, “Well, I hope you continue to have a good day.” Maybe we extend the conversation a little bit beyond.
If you haven't seen a friend for a while, why not reach out and ask how they are really doing. Rather than just a text, an email, or a message in some other capacity, why don't you get on the phone and really ask? Have a conversation.
If you yourself feel like people are just asking you this rhetorical question, and they don't really care about the answer then take responsibility for it. Tell people you need them to listen. Say, “Thank you for asking. I'm actually not doing really well” if that's the truth about where you are. Choose the right people you want to do that with so that you have a safe space to share more and so they can then support you.
If we remain quiet and we don’t share with others how it's going, no one will be able to step up and help. You don’t have to walk this alone. There are many people out there who can help. Maybe not people in your current life, maybe not people you know, but there are people on call lines. There are people at churches. There are people who are trained to support you like counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and coaches. There are people out there that can support you beyond “How are you?”
As you go into the world, I encourage you, if you're going to do a greeting of “How are you?” that's fine. Just look for those inconsistencies. When you have the time or create the time, linger a little longer to look for the true answer and if you sense that the person is not fine or not good, and there's a little bit more underneath:
Or remind them that you're there to support them if they ever need it. If everyone did this, COVID would be a little bit easier to deal with. Life would be a little bit easier to get through. We'd all know that we weren't alone in this crazy world.
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