Doing better than “How are you?”

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The question “How are you?” is often failing us during this pandemic (and in general). Although open-ended, we tend to instinctively answer “Good” or “Fine” no matter how we really are.

Do things differently

Often, just breaking the pattern helps to have more honest conversations and really check in with people, particularly when communicating online.

– Ask people to rate how they are on a scale (e.g. on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is ‘really not good at all’ and 10 is ‘absolutely fantastic’) – this allows for more nuance and also gets people thinking rather than just answering automatically

– For a ‘bigger picture’ use specific measures of time – e.g. ask people about right now/this week/lockdown as a whole

An idea for how to do this at the beginning of an interactive session via video call would be:

1. Share an image like this on the screen (you can make your own with different/more emojis – just make sure every emoji is clearly linked to a number).

2. Ask participants to think about how they’re feeling right now, pick which emoji best describes this and put the number in the chatbox.

3. Ask them to do the same thing again, but think about how their day has been as a whole.

4. And again, thinking about the week so far.

5. Directly nominating individuals, pick up on some of the responses – e.g. Hannah, what made today a good day? Sandeep, how come this week is stressful for you?

How and who are you?

It is a good idea to give people the opportunity to share not just how they are but also a bit of who they are at the beginning of a session. This is particularly helpful at the beginning of training when participants are starting to get to know each other but also helps build a human connection that goes beyond small talk.

This EQ* icebreaker shared by Terri is a great way to do this (Word document, will download to your device)

*think IQ but for emotional intelligence!

EQ Questions Ice Breaker.docx

Dive deeper:

Two articles (one by the Atlantic and the other by Quartz) go into more detail on why ‘How are you’ is letting us down right now and also contain pandemic/lockdown-specific alternatives

This recent New York Times article on How to Ask if Everything Is OK When It’s Clearly Not is also interesting (but not necessarily 100% relevant to online training in itself)

TED talk about skipping the small talk altogether (Youtube)

50 Questions to Ask Someone Instead of “How Are You” – for more meaningful conversations, not necessarily checking in (article on Medium)