I love this chart showing alternatives to asking “How are you?”, created by Kat Velos, and brought to my attention by fellow yoga teacher Gina Caputo.
“How are you?” is an important start to human connection, but doesn’t always cut it in the face of life’s challenges and traumatic events.
It doesn’t cut it when I greet a family member with severe dementia, a friend with an ALS diagnosis and a toddler, or a neighbor with whom I never quite seem to connect despite smiles and warmth and waves.
“How Are You?” can be vague, open-ended and, frankly, annoying if you are on the receiving end of the question while going through some sh*t.
“Um… I’m not at my best right now” might not be something you want to say to a loose acquaintance, co-worker, boss, or your local yoga teacher. They haven’t earned the right to know. And yet “I’m fine” might feel like a lie or simply inauthentic.
Concrete questions like “What are you getting into this weekend?” can channel the mind of someone with depression into a specific focus on joy.
“What do you like to do with yourself?” is a question I’ve consciously used after being introduced to someone new. (Yes, I can be incredibly socially awkward sometimes. Always seems to be a roll of the dice whether I am in the social flow or metaphorically paddling upstream.) The question reveals what’s on someone’s mind, and can produce so much more thoughtfulness, engagement and conversation than “What do you do for work?”.
(Ever get the answer, “I’m a consultant.” Scan their face for more, and literally have no idea what to say next? Happens ALL the time in DC, where I live :)).
To be clear, I still regularly ask folks “How Are You?”. It’s a bit habitual, a simple pleasantry, and still sometimes appropriate – especially among friends with whom I have earned trust (so they know they can tell me if they are not doing well).
My bigger pet peeve is the question “Are you ok?” (Which, nine times out of ten is asked when the person is clearly NOT ok). Alternatives to that question include:
- “Are you in pain?” (for example, if someone fell)
- “Any updates on your dog?”
- “May I help you up?” “I’m going to stand here and make sure the ambulance knows exactly where to come / pedestrians don’t bump your leg.”
- “Do you need a minute?” / “I’m going to come back in 5”
- “Do you want to talk about anything?”; “Did something happen?”
- “I’d like to buy you lunch / coffee / tea. I’ll come back in a few minutes”
- “Is this a good moment to have that meeting?” / “Should we reschedule?”
What are some of your favorite connection questions? Place them in the comments below!
If you liked this subject, check out Kat Vello’s books on Amazon.