“How are you?” It’s a simple and powerful question.
I’ve been paying close attention to this question lately, and here are a few things I’ve found:
1. You have a choice in how you respond to this question.
2. You have a choice to authentically ask it of other people.
In my unscientific sampling, the most common response to “How are you?” is busy. The definition of busy is having a great deal to do. When the response is around “busy-ness,” it is often enunciated as “I’m sooooooooooooo busy…” This is followed by a litany of all the DOing this person has been juggling and everything that is on the short-term horizon to do. Sharing a to-do list is not very energizing for you, nor for whomever is listening. How do you have time to tell someone all of this is if you are just that busy?
I am not minimizing that many people have lots of things, projects, and ideas in motion. I am asking you to consider what does all of this make possible? It’s your WHY. All too often our usage of busy comes with being grateful that I have a job/am keeping busy as the flip side is filled with fear and scarcity. Busy and swamped are used interchangeably.
Several busy synonyms that get my gold star stickers include engaged, involved, absorbed, engrossed and immersed. When someone asks me if I’m busy, my response is “I’m JOYFULLY busy.” I take the time to share what I’m excited about. With that simple insertion of one word, the conversation goes in an energized and forward direction.
In Rhonda Lorch’s recent blog post, The Trendy State of Being Busy, she speaks to how it makes her feel when her answer to “how are you?” is “busy.” Words mean things, and words make us feel a certain way. If responding with “busy” makes you feel anxious, stop using that word. Hit pause before you open your mouth. Or if busy is what comes out of your mouth, follow that up with joyfully. Then focus the conversation around what excites you
In situations where I don’t know the other person, and in particular when that individual is in a customer service role this is what plays out.
CS: “How are you?”
Me: “I’m well, thank you, and how about you?” Answering the question and asking the same while looking the person in the eyes.
CS: “I’m well too. Thanks for asking.” There is a look of surprise that I have asked this back. We acknowledge each other. We see each other. We connect, however briefly.
If this occurs on the telephone there is an audible pause before the individual answers. I can hear her smiling and thanking me for asking. In those initial moments, the tone of voice changes from transactional to relational. One man said how much he appreciated that I took the time to ask him. It doesn’t take time, yet all too often we are focused on “here’s what I need you to do for me.”
If you are in a physical space with someone else, there’s no denying each of you knows the other is there. Even if the other person is not looking up, or acknowledging you, consider saying a simple “hello.” That hello can change everything. You will feel different, whether the other person responds or not. Living in a very small town, this happens when I go to the post office to pick up my mail. It does not matter how I’m reading the other person’s facial expression if visible. I’ve been pushing myself to say hello everywhere I go. As a runner, I wave to every passing runner. When I lived in big cities, runners were plentiful. Now my running routes rarely cross with another runner. So I wave to every car and bike I see. It’s a flip of the wrist going up and a smile. Not a huge gesture, but it does ripple out.
So, how are you?