Question: “Hi, how are you?” Response: “Fine.”
I participate in this exchange frequently. In many cases, it really is fine to not engage further. It is a social greeting that serves a purpose. I was trained to use the approach as my default response. If there is additional conversation after that beginning interaction, it is typically fairly superficial.
There were many times when my response of “fine” was a lie. I was really in emotional or physical pain; sometimes to the point of consuming. The meaningless response came out naturally.
I was having an networking breakfast with Ben, who was someone I had I had met at a business gathering. The breakfast was the day after I had personally gone through our individual coaching process. I was painfully struggling with some of the feedback I had received in my survey.
Ben asked the classic, “How are you?”.
I responded with, “Do you want the trite answer or the truth?”
Ben said, “Let’s try the truth.”
We ended up having an in-depth and personal conversation. He responded to my openness by sharing some things with me that he had never shared with anyone else before. That was the start of an ongoing relationship that included business and also Alpine skiing together. Without sharing a more real conversation, our relationship would probably have gone nowhere.
There are conversations big and small that are much richer if we have the courage to move beyond talking about the weather and sports. All of us have lives filled with joys, fears, disappointments and memorable experiences. To the extent we are willing to appropriately share ourselves and listen empathetically to other’s lives … we open the door to more meaningful and interesting conversation.
Opening with, “I’m struggling with my father-in-law who needs to be in assisted care and is really resisting” (assuming it’s true) will often tap into another person’s personal struggle with a family member. At a minimum, you gain a more personal connection. In some cases, you may learn some valuable ideas or information from the other person’s experience. If you don’t know about someone’s struggles, it is hard to support them.
You can create opportunity for better conversation by asking good questions. The better you know them, the more specific you can be:
- Are you planning anything fun this weekend?
- I saw the exciting news on your project. How is that impacting you?
- How is your stress level today?
- What are you working on that is interesting?
- How is the training of your new puppy going?
- What are you going to do with all your time now that soccer coaching is over for the summer?
- Do you have any update from your doctor you would like to share?
You need to truly listen when they respond to your question. Typically, follow-up questions are appropriate. Your voice tone is important. You, also, need to be willing to share some similar things about yourself. Just like my breakfast with Ben, the conversation can be mutually impactful.
Just Do It
This is a mundane moment that makes a difference. Starting a meaningful conversation is often difficult. Being shy has been described as a form of being self-centered. Making an effort is a courageous choice. Even if it doesn’t always work out the way you would like. Try it again. Just do it.