Q: Hi, how are you?
A: I’m feeling a little bloated; I haven’t showered today so I guess I feel kinda dirty…
Oh, you didn’t want to know all of that? But you asked how I am…
We ask the question with the expectation of getting the socially acceptable answer of, “Good” or “I’m fine”. Never do we imagine someone would actually be honest with us, especially when we extend that greeting to strangers or acquaintances. So why even ask?
- I actually care. I know you well enough to sincerely want to know how you have been doing.
- It is an attempt at being friendly. I don’t really want to know, but I want you to know that I am a nice person, and hey, maybe if we get to know each other better, I will care.
- It’s part of the routine. I say “Hey, how are ya?” you say, “Doin’ all right.” and then we go our separate ways with the understanding that nothing more is supposed to come from the question.
- We need to fill space. Saying “Hi” just doesn’t feel like enough, especially if I would like to start a conversation.
Unless you know the person you are greeting fairly well, I think it is a combination of the last three options. It amounts to being uncomfortable and needing a filler (how are you?) to add something that will make the conversation seem less superficial. Unfortunately it causes the encounter to take on a disingenuous tone. The person you meet knows that you don’t really care how they truly are, that you are just playing your role in the greeting game. They will play their part as well and you both will have lied twice to each other in the first minute of the interaction.
What if we don’t lie anymore? The way I see it, we have two options. Either:
- Don’t ask, unless you want a truthful answer.
- Answer honestly and be prepared for shocked expressions, perhaps a slow back away, or *gasp* someone who understands you.
I am not proposing that you share the details, but instead of saying “I’m fine” maybe you could say what we all know “I’m fine” means. Some acceptable, not too creepy answers to “How are you?” are:
- Well, I had to work late so I am tired.
- My fish died this morning, so I am slightly upset.
- My child picked up his toys without me having to ask, so things are on the up and up.
- I’ve lost a few pounds recently so I’m feeling really good.
These are honest answers that are also great conversation starters. The goal is to not be too awkward while giving an answer that is both honest and capable of producing a follow up question or comment. Now, if the person you are speaking to doesn’t turn and run, then you have yourself a genuine conversation, and if things continue to go well, a possible new BFF.
Let’s focus on the other option for a minute. What would it be like if you didn’t ask, “How are you?” and instead, just said “Hi”. I see how this can leave things feeling a little stunted, so here are a few add ons:
- I like your, _________________________________ (Fill in the blank, appropriately)
- Beautiful day we’re having.
- My name is___________________________. (A real classic add on)
- How nice to meet you.
I challenge you to stop the greeting game and meet people with sincerity. Don’t ask if you don’t care and be truthful with your answers. It’s going to be weird, but it could also be really funny since most people won’t know what to do with an honest answer. Feel free to record their expressions and subsequent responses and post it to YouTube labeled, “You Asked For It.” Also, I would love to hear how this works out for you so come on back and share your experience. I really mean that by the way, it’s not just my way of signing off.