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Stop Asking “How Are You?” 

June 14, 2016

It’s a reasonable question, right? 

How are you today?

You hear it in the grocery store. You hear it from your coworkers. You hear it from the telemarketers calling your cell phone because your number somehow “dropped off” the Do Not Call list. They all say it and none of them mean it. Sure, when a dad finds his 15 year old daughter sobbing in her room and asks, “How are you?” he really does mean it, but when strangers or casual aquaintences ask? It’s a formality. 

And the real problem is that there is no way to make it sound sincere. Just as the question is symbolic, the answers are predetermined. 

How are you today?

Fine

Good

Great

Better than I deserve

I can’t even bring myself to break the pattern. I was dealing with a family emergency last week, kids making some tough decisions. A coworker that I know enough to swap basketball scores with asked, 

How ya doing?

Good.

I couldn’t help myself. I was dying inside, but he didn’t want to hear that. I don’t expect to hear it when I ask someone “How are you.” Just try it. Next time you are going through the grocery line, ask the person at the cash register “How are you today?” We both know the answer will be “fine, good, okay” or some variation. 

So, if you shouldn’t say “How are you?” what should you say instead? Make one small change.

How is your day going?

You change the question from a reflection on the state of the individual, to a description of the events around them. And you also make them think about their response. I’ve been doing this for a while and the response is kind of dramatic. You will see the person behind the cash register pause and think. It seems like they are considering, “How is my day going?” The responses seem genuine. It may only be for a minute while they are bagging groceries or handing me an ice cream, but for that minute, we hold a conversation rather than simply speaking words at each other. 

I stopped for an ice cream last week at 9:45pm. The grocery store closes at 10:00pm. 

How is your day going?

It’s good. Been a long day.

You get to go home soon?

Yeah, just finish up with closing. Thanks for asking.

She smiled a genuine smile as she handed me the chocolate covered vanilla cone. 

If you really want to know how people are doing, stop asking them. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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