How are you? Think before you answer

This week three things have had me mulling on the use of ‘How are you?’ in conversation.

Recently I asked a friend how she was and her answer made me stop in my tracks. Before replying she paused, and said ‘Actually I’m going to answer that honestly, I’m not great.’ It was so refreshing to not gloss over that question, but to see the actual her, to support her and allow her to be herself that evening rather than covering up the feelings of the day that were going on inside.

It was one of those little moments in life that made me stop and reflect on something that has become so habitable. Why do we even bother asking if we don’t expect a real answer?

It has become more of a pleasantry than a question we expect an answer too. It is pretty much a redundant phrase that has transformed into how we greet one and another. But miss it, and we are missing a chance to connect, get real and support those around us.

This became particularly clear to me when I reflected on how disconnected I’ve become with a long distance friend. With less chance to catch up meaningfully and distance straining our friendship, I realised I hadn’t been honest when she’d asked me how I was. 

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Think about conversations with close friends or family. How often are you glazing over the question? Conversation can often feel like a game of ping pong – How’s work? Answer. How’s your work? Answer. How’s your partner/child/dog? Answer. But if we took a second to start from the beginning with how we are really feeling, we would grow  more connected with the other person instead of just ticking through a list of niceties.

I’m not saying that each time someone asks how you are, that you should stop in the street and download your innermost thoughts onto them. But there is a need to have some people in your life who you do open up to, because if you don’t you risk feeling disconnected, lonely and believing no one understands. Who are the people you can be honest with? A close friend, a colleague, your aunty, your coach, your neighbour?

This was evident to me two weeks ago when I had Entrepreneur Flu and was feeling insecure and wobbly about my business. I realised I need to be vulnerable and reach out to people I trusted to tell them that I wasn’t ok and I needed their support, rather than waiting for them to be mind readers and come to me.

It took courage. Because saying how you really feel means being vulnerable and standing in the face of possible rejection. But in the trusted group of people in your life, it might mean sharing first because as Brene Brown says ‘The difficult thing is that vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you and the last thing I’m willing to show you.’

We are both waiting for each other to play the vulnerability card first.

Whilst leaping in at the start of a conversation with an honest answer to ‘how are you?’ might feel jarring, decide if this person is in your trusted circle. Then find a way in conversation to open up and share what’s going on. You’ll be encouraging them to be open in return. You just need to be the brave one first.


By Jo Green, Career Change Coach

I know how it feels to be lost in your career. That’s why I coach, to create learnings, action and help others get stuff done! Changing your career can be lonely and confusing so I'll walk alongside you, be your cheerleader and help you figure out what meaningful work is for you.

Drop me a note to organise a free 20 minute consultation to chat about your career change and how coaching could help.