A Better Way to Ask “How Are You?” During the Pandemic and Beyond
How are you?
When we ask “how are you?” do we want a quick social exchange, or is this an opportunity for a meaningful moment?
We are living through one of the most challenging times in modern history, yet one throwback persists, telling the world we’re all good.
It’s the age-old response to “How are you?”
Good. I’m good.
Most of the time, it’s a polite question that gets a polite answer. It’s often not a question at all but a quick social exchange that we move through on our way to the actual conversation.
However, now, more than ever, we need to move past the niceties on our way to meaning. These three words create an opportunity to practice letting people be seen, heard, and known. We’re isolated; the cursory question and rote response won’t cut it.
As leaders, friends, parents, and colleagues, asking “how are you?” is an opportunity for a meaningful moment.
Years ago, long before any inkling of a worldwide pandemic, I wrote on Medium about when life is messy. How do you choose to respond when asked “How are you” when you’re not good or great or anywhere else in between?
Now, it’s time for the flip side. How do you ASK? We know for a lot of people out there, the answer is something other than good. The real question is, will we take the time to care, even for a moment, or not?
Don’t Ask if You Don’t Want to Know
You’re in a rush, preoccupied. I get it. Now may not be the optimal moment for a personal check-in. No pressure. Skip it. When I say skip it, I mean all together.
Master the Ask and Pause
How are you?.
Are you hanging in there? I know it’s been rough.
These conversations don’t have to become therapy sessions but can create the space for honesty and acknowledging challenges. Give people a beat before moving on to the next topic. Not everyone has the words on the tip of their tongue.
The Tone Starts with You
You don’t need to set aside an hour to check in with someone. “How are you?” is a powerful question even when you only have minutes. Establish clear expectations for both time and intention.
When I went through coach training, we were encouraged to allow for a short time block at the start of a call when needed. Typically this would be five minutes or less. It’s as easy as, “Let’s take the first couple of minutes to say the things you need to release before we can get started with the work.”
When you start a Zoom or phone conversation, and you have a moment to ask how they’re going, let them know. It’s as simple as “Before we get into things, I wanted to take a couple of minutes and ask how you’re doing? Not the work, you…”
Hello, Is This 1-800-Complaint-Department?
Give people opportunities to vent, not complain; there is a subtle difference. Venting allows you to clear the air while complaining is like sinking further into quicksand.
Think of venting like a steam vent on a pressure cooker. The built-up steam has to be released to remove the lid and move forward. Similarly, built-up emotions need a release to create the space for productive thinking and action.
When someone moves into complaint-mode, you’ll know because they blame others, blame their circumstances, and experience more tension and more powerlessness. You know what whine sounds like.
You are not the complaint department, and when you ask how someone is doing, you won’t serve them by listening to their laundry list.
Listen to Respond
We all know what it’s like to ask someone a question while formulating your reply or your way onto the next topic. It’s a nasty habit that does not serve anyone.
Ask: “How are you?”
Say: “I hear you.”
Download our Podcast: How to Cultivate Empathy in the Workplace
Allow People to Answer Their Own Way
In coaching, the same question can get dramatically different responses from different people.
For some, it is enough to know that you care. You will hear it in their tone and body language. For others, they will want to share more. There is no correct response, and you don’t need to throw questions at them until they cry.
Allow people to show up as human. That’s the bottom line. In a world where we’re so accustomed to rushing, and glorifying being busy, and chasing success, be someone who allows others to breathe. They may not realize they’ve been holding their breath for far too long.
Be grateful when someone shares their truth with you. We could all do with more connection in an isolated world, don’t you think?
Inclusive leadership is more important than ever so take a look at our program: How to manage remote teams more inclusively
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