Because we can do better than that.
Have you ever casually asked someone — “How are you?!”
(Of course you have)
(Because you’re a Good Person)
Perhaps you were strolling though the halls of your workplace, back from filling up your coffee cup, and passed the nervous but socially tolerant gaze of a co-worker. In salutation, you gave them a grin heard the words automatically roll off your tongue.
This phrase is probably used more with acquaintances and strangers than with our intimate friends and family. Consider how many times you’ve had a “HowAreYou” from an unknown cashier, someone with whom your average lifetime interaction totals 13 seconds (#science). Checking the temperature of someone’s emotional state could be a moment of authentic connection and vulnerability, yet… Instead we trade it in our social stratosphere with the same weight of a smile or a thumbs up.
But, imagine if that coworker is up from their desk because they are about to have a horrific attack of diarrhea?
Or because they just started menstruating?
Or maybe they didn’t sleep well last night, after a fight with their partner.
Maybe they had great sex last night and are in a glowing wash of love and sensuality.
Maybe they’re counting the days until vacation because their soul dies a little more every time they step into this office.
Maybe the simplest social interaction fills them with a chilling dread and they cannot wait to be safely out of your line of sight.
Our intention in greeting others is to welcome and connect. We mean no harm by asking others to share their inner state. But “How Are You” is more often than not an empty vessel.
“How Are You” is probably not what you really mean to say.
Let’s get rid of Things We Don’t Mean and replace them with something more meaningful.
Here are some options:
Tell someone how it feels to see them.
Rather than asking somebody else to disclose their emotional state, which they may not particularly want to air publicly, divulge your own experience. I’m not suggesting that you dash by Hank from Expense with a, “Boy am I feeling anxious and hopeless about climate change!”
What does seeing them change in you?
“Hey, it’s so good to see you!”
“Oh Wendy, I’m curious, did you end up making it to yoga in time last night?”
“By the way, thanks for that presentation yesterday, I enjoyed it!”
Give an old fashioned compliment.
So classic, it never goes out of style. If your intention is to boost someone’s spirits, don’t waste words or time. Get to it, par’dner!
“Love those pants!”
“Those ducks on your shirt are adorable. Nice choice.”
“Hey, the way you handled that tricky customer this morning was so impressive. Hats off!”
Or just say HI.
Or “Good morning.”
Or “Welcome back!”
Or “We meet again.”
A single, solitary greeting with no strings attached.
If you, dear reader, find yourself on the receiving end of a careless or hurried HOWAREYOU, I encourage you to take action and answer the question honestly.
Stop walking. Look at this person.
Take a moment to check in with yourself.
Give them an answer.
“I’m okay — but honestly I’m feeling really overwhelmed and having trouble sleeping. It’s not an easy day.”
“I’m doing so great. This morning, my dog found a tennis ball in the garden and started racing around like when he was a puppy. It warmed my heart.”
“I’m feeling very on edge and anxious so I’m going to find a dark room to lie down in, byyyeee…”
Break the cycle. Change the culture. Insist on authenticity. Stop asking people questions that you don’t have time to hear an answer to.
And maybe in the process, make everyone at the office begin to avoid you.