When I first moved to the U.S. all those years ago, one of the things that struck me was how people would ask the question, “How are you?”
Seeing as how I first lived and worked in the San Francisco Bay Area, I most often heard, “Hey, how are ya?” Thrown out in a breezy, casual way, almost like a frisbee tossed across Golden Gate Park.
But the questioner usually didn’t wait for an answer. The frisbee soared in a beautiful arc, but whether it landed on the grass, or in a shrub, or a tree, or trash, no one knew.
I came to adopt the “hey, how are ya?” style of greeting; after all, it’s tough not to adopt the mannerisms of a people and place you’re immersed in. When in Rome, and all that.
But I always waited for the response. It was just what I was taught to do.
And if I was asked the question, I’d answer honestly. Sometimes in greater detail than the questioner probably expected, but I’ve never been one for not saying what’s on my mind. That probably explains the weird looks I’d get… ha!
To this day, this is a habit. So if you ask me how I am – which, let’s face it, has become as cursory a greeting as “Good morning!” – I will tell you. Even if you ask on social networks.
If I’m doing well, I’ll probably say, “Good!” If I’m feeling really good, I’ll probably say, “Great!” or “FAB!” (Yes, in ALL CAPS.)
If I’m not feeling that hot, I might say, “Meh,” or “Comme ci, comme Ã§a.” But whatever it is, my response will be representative of how I really am, not how I want people to think I am.
The things you learn
Yesterday, I asked a friend and former IABC/DC Metro colleague how he was (via email); I haven’t seen him in a while. I learned that his mother recently passed away and that his family home is an original Sears mail-order house.
A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a social media friend (on the phone, I like to do that), and learned of how she is handling some really tough times – tougher than anything I’ve ever experienced – with so much grace that it awed me.
By asking, “How are you?” I’ve learned of parents suffering from Alzheimer’s, children suffering from cancer, women fleeing from abusive relationships, TV journalists’ admiration for public relations pros…
… all from people I “know” through social media but have never actually met.
The way I look at it is this: when you ask that question with sincerity, people respond in kind. They tell you things they might not otherwise.
They tell you these things because they realize you are genuinely interested in knowing the answer, so they trust you with it.
And by virtue of using those three simple words, you build that relationship a little more. And isn’t that what this is all about, this social media “thing,” to help us get to know each other, connect with each other, better?
So when we meet in 3D, as it were, we aren’t completely overwhelmed by the real human being behind the avatar.
So: how are you?
I would really like to know, because this is how I get to know you better (and heaven knows you put up with everything I publish here on WUL!). You don’t have to tell me anything you’re not comfortable sharing. But do tell me how things are going, what is on your mind and how… you… are.
And then, when we meet in person, we’ll be so much more than tweeting up or networking, we’ll be one step further on the road to being friends.
How are you?
[…] the most extroverted of types or the life of the party at every meetup or event – remember that you are a connector, and that people, connections and relationships are the core of what you […]
@pomozone Thanks much for sharing and the comment!
Well-said. I grew up in Germany where we said the equivalent of “Good morning”, “Good day” and “Good evening” when we greeted people. We didn’t interrogate people with the “How are you?” like we do in the U.S.
@Pomozone “Interrogate people” – that made me laugh!
@Shonali And it’s so true… anything from “How are you?” to “You, what’s up?” makes me a little claustrophobic… especially as I need to figure out what they meant by that!
@Pomozone You made me laugh again!!
[…] by Ken on June 22, 2012 · 0 comments TweetIt seems like the topic of the month in my little online community is: be human. Discussions going on all over the place, and I wrote about it the other day when I asked you to take the road less traveled. In the comments, Shonali Burke reminded me of her post about being intentional and genuinely interested when we ask someone, “How are you?”. […]
@tinu @shonali. I just love that you think Texans are so honest! But also insulted that neither of you mentioned SAN ANTONIO, the friendliest city IN Texas. I thought this post was interesting because I started to reflect on how our cultural influences would affect our answer, which, when I got to the comments, I see is a thread. Thanks for making me think on the weekend.
@fransteps @tinu This is the problem when we start naming cities… someone feels bad! I haven’t been to San Antonio, though I’d love to visit.
Thank YOU for taking the time to visit over the weekend!
@ginidietrich Aw, thanks!
@ginidietrich I’m seeing you in two months! I’m seeing you in two months!
@shonali Less than two months! Six weeks!
@ginidietrich I’ll see you in six weeks! I’ll see you in six weeks!
@janbeery Thank you! And… how are you?
@shonali I am well. Actually squeezing in a spin/weight training class today. How are you?
@janbeery Terrific! I’m well, thanks. It’s going to be a lovely day, so I’m looking forward to my run.
@shonali good for you! We’re having some rain here this am, but hoping for a little clearing. Have a good run!
@janbeery Well, I made it through. My legs were screaming by the end of it, but I finished it. Whew.
@janbeery Wasn’t that good?
@ginidietrich it Was good. How are You?!
@janbeery I’m great! So happy to be off the trainer. I’m already getting a cycling tan!
@ginidietrich I got one last weekend! Feels good, doesn’t it?
@janbeery Sooooo good! Though I don’t think I’ll get out today with this gloomy day.
One of my tfirst memories of you was you lightly touching my arm and saying ” no ,really” when I answered “good” to ” how are you”.
MaybeYou belong in Texas. One great thing about my visits to Austin is that they ask you these questions and when you ask, you get a sincere answer. I was also raised to give a non-generic answer, and by watching my mother, listen to the Tone of the answer.
@Tinu My goodness, you remember that! You have a long memory, my friend.
I haven’t been to Texas in a while. I do remember how friendly people were over there – I’ve been to Dallas, Houston & Austin – and they really do seem to care about you. It’s nice, isn’t it?
@Shonali @Tinu The friendliness is one of the things I’d forgotten about Austin. When I was in Austin for my interview a few weeks ago, I couldn’t stop talking about how much friendlier people in Austin were. Did I mention how happy I am to be living in Austin again? :-D
@Erin F. I’m not sure. Did you say you’re happy to be living in Austin again? I couldn’t quite hear… :p @Tinu
@jocmbarnett Thank you for sharing! And how are YOU? :)
@kirkhazlett I’m SO good. Thank you for asking and sharing. :)
@shonali Enjoy your day of luxury, my friend!
@kirkhazlett It was soooo good.
@shonali You totally earned and deserved it!
@kirkhazlett I hope my bank account agrees. :p Actually, you’re right. I did!
@Shonali Just taking a second to listen, process, and respond from the heart makes all the difference. Thanks, Shonali, for saying so eloquently what I’ve always believed…and tried to practice.
@KirkHazlett You do practice it. I’ve seen that firsthand!
As a child I remember my mother telling me that when people asked “how are you” they don’t really want to know so just say “I’m fine thank you. How are you?” It always bothered me on many levels. The first being the lie (sometimes) and the second being the insincere question in the answer. It seemed such an odd convention when another foundation of my upbringing was to always tell the truth.
As I grew older I learned not to ask the question if I really didn’t want to know the answer. I also realized that my mom was a little wrong in her statement because most people DID — and DO — really want to know. So then the trick is to keep the answers relatively short and also to listen. As you pointed out in your post, if we listen to the answers, we learn things about others and those allow us to be stronger friends. They allow us a glimpse into the person’s psyche and to be able to help them.
So, like you, when I ask how you are, I expect and answer. Not a long one necessarily but enough of one I can really understand you. Enough that I know what I can do to help you have a better day. Because, in the end I care…or I wouldn’t have asked in the first place.
@mdbarber I’m sure your mom was trying to save you from some pain… perhaps like the person @bdorman264 was thinking about. But yes – sometimes just saying “I’m fine” is SUCH a lie! And I can’t lie. Really. It’s weird, I know, for someone who used to be an actress, but you’ll know right away if I’m uncomfortable or even trying to fudge the truth… so I just don’t do it. Though I can be very diplomatic and polite… but even then will try not to lie!
@Shonali You could be right as I know that woman @bdorman264 is talking about. I try not to avoid her either but sometimes….
Seriously, I think most people today who ask how one is doing really want to know but the answer needs to be pretty brief too. Then it starts a conversation with both people. Therein lies another issue since many young people don’t know how to carry on conversations. I see this especially in teens who can talk for hours via text, but not via voice. (And the text conversations are so literate too — u ok? / meh / what’s happenin’ / meh / can u talk? / k) Really hard to keep that going for a long time.
@mdbarber That text conversation you wrote was hilarious! @bdorman264
@Shonali @bdorman264 Unfortunately, that conversation can be real life in my house. 16 year olds talk that way. It’s why I laugh when people are aghast at the number of texts teens send. When they are all like that, it’s not REALLY a conversation…to us. But it is one to them. Meh is a phrase that’s banned in this house; it followed “whatever.”
@mdbarber Meh. :p @bdorman264
@jennimacdonald It really can, and I so appreciate you taking the time to stop by and share. Now where is that @JustInTheSouth …
@shonali yo! Here I am! Thanks @jennimacdonald … I ask because I truly want to know how life is treating you and how I can help!
@kdillabough Thank you for taking the time to comment, as well as share!
@shonali It’s always a pleasure Shonali:) I really appreciated your response to my comment:)
@skypulsemedia Thank you for sharing… in more ways than one… :p
Just hanging out. On my 28th shot of tequila while @bdorman264 helps me trim my chest hair. It was fine until the 22nd shot then Bill say Hey Howie that stuff really does put hair on your chest.also waiting on @EricaAllison to bring a minikeg and @Erin F. to get here with the bacon.
See careful asking that question.
@HowieSPM @bdorman264 @EricaAllison @Erin F. What can I bring to the party Howie?
@KDillabough I think @HowieSPM was wrong about asking @Erin F. to bring the bacon… that should be YOU! @bdorman264 @EricaAllison
@KDillabough @HowieSPM @EricaAllison @Erin F. Nair
@bdorman264 @KDillabough @HowieSPM @EricaAllison Ewwww. I came into this conversation at the wrong time. It’s probably true that Kaarina should bring the bacon. She finds all the great products and photos. I can bring my sketchpad and pencils and draw chibi versions of everyone. :)
@HowieSPM @EricaAllison @Erin F. But I was using the beard trimmer. I was having trouble keeping up with the growth however because the tequila was making it grow so fast. I have to tell you though, I was a little put off with the back hair……….
@bdorman264 Waxing…I will bring the wax…I promise after that much tequila you won’t even feel it!
@HowieSPM HAHAHAHA I really needed a good laugh today…I am so glad I read this!
@rachaelseda @HowieSPM @EricaAllison @Erin F. @bdorman264 Now this is what I call a good old-fashioned #TeamBlogJack. Aren’t you glad we’re in a mischievous mood today @Shonali ?
@KDillabough @rachaelseda @HowieSPM @EricaAllison @bdorman264 @Shonali I think we get into a mischievous mood whenever we get together.
@Erin F. @KDillabough @rachaelseda @EricaAllison I LOVE the mischief!
And @bdorman264 @HowieSPM don’t talk to us any more about waxing until you’ve had Brazilians. Yes. I went there.
@Shonali @Erin F. @KDillabough @rachaelseda @EricaAllison @HowieSPM That made me wince just reading it…….:)
I’m good! How are you?When I was studying in England I was often asked “Are you all right?” instead of “How are you?”. The first time it happened I naively answered “Why? Is something wrong? Do I look sick?”.
The person definitely listened to that answer!
@Whitney Punchak Hahahah! That made me laugh. I love the Britishisms. I remember when I was in London a few years ago, I’d often hear “Go for it!” as a response to questions like, “May I take this chair (if no one’s using it)?” I loved it.
I’m glad you’re good! I’m pretty good. A bit of a pain in my shoulder, but that’s because of a bad couch. Nothing some exercise, stretching, and maybe a visit to the acupuncturist won’t fix. :)
@Shonali That’s a good one! I was actually quite surprised at how many British colloquialisms left me either confused or giggling. Definitely loved it!I’m glad to hear that you’re doing well, but I’m sorry about your shoulder. Maybe hubby can be of assistance. :)
@Whitney Punchak Do any of the Britisms stay with you? I say some, but then, I grew up in India, where we have a lot of them. I also say “y’all,” for what earthly reason, I cannot fathom! But it rolls off my tongue very naturally.
@Shonali I’ve always associated “y’all” with Americans. I guess you were meant to be there all along!When I first came back it took me awhile to stop saying certain words like “lift” (versus elevator) and “queue” (versus line-up). Other than that, nothing stuck. I wish it had!
@Whitney Punchak @Shonali “Queue” is a lovely word. I like to use it, but my only relationship with British speech is through literature. I guess that explains why some of my friends laugh when I use the word…it isn’t very American. :)
@Erin F. I still say “queue”! @Whitney Punchak We said “lift” and “dicky” (for “trunk,” as in car trunk) in India too. Now it’s really tough for me to say those!
When we meet in person? Ha……you are probably still relieved you didn’t have to break out the pepper spray when I got you lost in the woods………….:)
How am I doing? Finer than a frog hair split 3-ways; how’s that?
I do want to hear the answer when I ask and I try to be patient enough to hear the response. However…..true story……we had an employee and the joke was ‘never ask how she is doing’ because it truly would be a 30 minute dissertation and she would tell you ever single detail and I mean to the nth degree. The joke used to be ‘don’t make eye contact when you pass her in the hall’…….of course I never purposely avoided her but I might think first as to what I was going to say in greeting…….that doesn’t make me a bad guy does it………..doh………..
How ya doin’?
@bdorman264 Secret: I didn’t even HAVE my pepper spray on me. That’s how much I trusted you!
That is a funny story. Maybe this employee (I’m guessing “former”?) didn’t have too good a sense of boundaries… I kinda feel bad for her, though. But I know exactly what you mean. I will say that I don’t do that – start on epics when passing someone in the hallway – because I know what that feels like!
Finer than a frog split 3-ways sounds rather painful! But I take it that means “great.”
I am doing good, thank you. I’m still so happy about seeing you and adamtoporek last week; it meant a lot to me that you’d both come so far out of your way to see me. The folks at PRSA Orlando were so kind, and I will be going to San Diego, San Francisco and New York soon. Could a gal ask for more?
@Shonali @bdorman264 Great seeing you both as well! Glad you left the pepper spray at home Shonali — the salsa had enough of a kick.
I think the context is important for the question — sometimes the question is a formality, sometimes you are wanting to open up a dialogue.
@adamtoporek Context is everything. Very true. @bdorman264 ate all the salsa. Hmpf.
I have two rules about this:
When I ask a question, I truly want to hear an answer.
When I get asked a question, I will answer. I’ve often said, in jest (not) – “When someone asks me a question, I’m under the obviously misguided impression that they actually want an answer.”
I find when I ask the question “how are you?”, or “how are you doing?” (done sometimes in my best Joey from Friends “How YOU doin” voice), people really open up. They want to share, and when we open the door they feel welcome to walk in.
I’m doing greatgrandstupendousamazingfantabulous, thank you.
How YOU doin’?
@KDillabough This I have seen about you. I think that’s one of the things that is really nice about you; you take questions seriously, and you give the answers so thoughtfully that the person asking knows you paid attention.
I’m so glad you’re awesome (I can’t spell out everything you did!). Has the snow gone yet?
@Shonali In our part of Canada it is. In western Canada they just got 30 cm of snow/blizzards. In Ontario, we’re expected to reach the highest temperature for the month of March EVER.
Days ago I was running through snow, bundled for the weather. Today, I’m out in shorts and Tshirt. Wild.
@KDillabough @Shonali Asking about snow is a great way to start a conversation with a Canadian.
Indeed it snowed again in Vancouver today! It didn’t stick, but more is expected. I’m looking enviously at Ontario. Happy first day of Spring!
@Whitney Punchak @Shonali You too Whitney: happy Spring, despite your snow. We.are.Canadian, eh
@KDillabough I have to catch up on your Tumblr…
@Whitney Punchak Is it? Score one for me! @KDillabough
This was such a GREAT post. I’m often *accused* of knowing too much about strangers – mostly because I ask, and then actually listen…..
@FeltDesignGroup I’d say that’s a pretty good thing to be accused of. :p
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned from strangers? I’m curious.
Your comment reminded me of when one of my board members at IABC/DC Metro (I’m a former president) talked in a meeting about “how great at networking” I was. I thought that was really nice of him, but later on I told him that I simply asked people about themselves, so they wanted to talk. And then, when I thought they’d had enough of me staring at them, I’d introduce them to someone else and go talk to someone else. I would also do this because I’m basically an extremely introverted person (yea, I know, you’re laughing your head off right now) and that would make me more comfortable. I don’t know if that qualifies as “great networking,” but apparently it works!
I’m great, thank you for asking! I hope you are feeling better now, although I’m sure it’s been a not-so-speedy road back to normal. Take care @Shonali : )
@jennimacdonald I’m so glad you are, Jenni! And I am doing much better, thank YOU for asking. It’s been interesting, getting back to normal… though sometimes I wonder if this is just the new normal. Ha!
You know, you’re right about that question. Either no one waits for the answer or they just want a “good” or a “well” or a “fine.” People say it here, passing one another on the street. There isn’t time to respond as you walk by, but it’s always asked. Funny, I’d never thought of it before now.
And…I’m great! Business is good. Cycling season has begun. Pete is out in full force. But I’m dreading travel next week. Big time. 30 hours in the air for a one hour keynote. So I’m trying not to think about it.
@ginidietrich I know! I thought that was really weird when I first got here. I guess I’m used to it now, but sometimes it still strikes me as odd. The other day I was at my local CVS, and the kid behind the counter (he was totally a kid) started singing along to Lionel Richie and “All Night Long.” I looked up at him and said, “I take it you like this song?” He smiled and said, “I LOVE this song. And I’m feeling great.” I thought that was so sweet.
I’m so glad you’re good! I had to laugh at the Pete thing, though. Is it good when he’s in full force? I’d think you’d want to keep him tucked away. Ugh, that was a very bad joke.
Cycling season… that reminds me. I have a book to send you.
You’re going to be in the air for 30 hours for one keynote?! Where are you going, Australia?!! Can I come?!!!!
@Shonali Pete is not nice. At all. He wants ice cream every day. In fact, he’d love some right now. You’ll see…he wasn’t out and about in October. But he will be in May!
i’m going to Norway…don’t ask.
@ginidietrich You can’t say, “I’m going to Norway,” and then tell me not to ask. Of course I want to know now!!!
@Shonali @ginidietrich Exactly! I want to know, too. This sounds like a story.
@Erin F. @Shonali I’m speaking, which is great. And the lineup of speakers is really good, which I’m excited about. But the travel arrangements are not good. Let’s just say, it shouldn’t take 15 hours, each way, to get to Norway from Chicago.
@ginidietrich Yea, you’d think you could get there a little faster… @Erin F.
@ginidietrich Don’t thing about it. Think of how relaxing your plane ride will be…no distractions! You can read and doodle and do whatever the flight attendant doesn’t hand cuff you for ;)
As you know from our recent phone conversation (I love that, too!), I’m on a roller coaster of a ride right now, but on the whole, happy to be on it! I’m grateful for friends like you that I’ve met online and hope to meet in 3D (love that) soon and gleefully happy to see my kids growing and developing into their own willful, beautiful little people. And finally, I’m glad you ask and that when you do, I’m comfortable to answer. xoxo!
@EricaAllison You know what I really like about our conversations? We may not actually talk for a while, but when we do, it’s really nice and easy. I so appreciate you telling me about the roller coaster – I know I will get back on my own RC soon, and it’s exhilarating and exhausting at the same time!
How do your kids feel about the roller coaster, by the way? And thank you for being a friend, Erica!
I wish I had time to leave a more thoughtful comment, but I’m about to have to leave to get to the jobby job. :)
I do love that you mean the “How are you?” question. You were one of the people who reached out to me when I was having such a rough time and followed through with that reaching out. I sometimes write about how important it is that our words match our actions and vice versa. You exemplify that idea perfectly.
How am I? I’ve had better days. It’s a little scary to be that honest. It’s too easy to wear the mask and to say “fine” and “good.”
@Erin F. I think your comment was quite thoughtful! And thank you for the kind words, Erin.
It sounds like maybe things aren’t terrible, but not hunky-dory either? I’m sorry about that, but hopefully it will get better soon. I know I haven’t been commenting over at your place recently, but I can’t tell you how much I enjoy reading your posts. When I see them, I go, “There’s a real writer.”
It IS scary to be that honest. But it’s also rather freeing, isn’t it?
@Shonali That’s probably a good way to put it. :) And, you’re right. It’s scary but freeing.
Thank you for the kind words. I was looking at some of my early posts and yikes! I’m glad I’m not pulling those into the new site. Ugh. I understand why I wrote them at the time, but they are not my best work.
One of the many things I love about you, Shonali. When you ask me that question, I know that it’s not just some cultural formality, but that you really care and really want to know. We all need to learn from that!
@KenMueller Yes, I do care and do really want to know. And I think you’re the same. Since we haven’t had our Google chat for the day… how are you?