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Don’t bother asking “How Are You”!

Dance movements of the honeybee: (left) round dance and (right) tail-wagging dance. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.


“We are always and forever in a dance of mutual influence with those

with whom we directly and indirectly participate” Paul Greiner

‘How are you’ is most people’s default greeting question after saying hello – a bit like “what do you do” is used at a networking event.

I know we are not participating in much (if any) face to face networking yet, so feel free to check out my opinions of ‘what do you do’ in a previous blog ‘Why you Should Ditch the Elevator Pitch’.

Sydney siders will remember the insane storm we had back in February. I was driving at the time and had some renovation supplies to drop home before getting to a client presentation at 4pm that day. The streets were crazy, a dog was running frantically on the road and unfortunately my full boot meant I couldn’t stop. I got home, unloaded, then headed back out. I found it one street before a 6-lane highway! We were both drenched and the poor dog was petrified. After calling the owners, I agreed to take it to my home (and segregate it from my two dogs) as was told it would only run away again. Realising the time, and still soaked through, I turned the shower on to get ready for the next part of my day. Nothing. Blackout of course!

I could hear sirens everywhere and had already seen many trees and powerlines down. Mind racing, I thought it best to just get changed, tie my hair up and attempt to get to the city. Traffic lights were also out, but some clever manoeuvres got me on my way. I called my client (about halfway there) to explain that I may not make it. I hadn’t realised the extent of the storm damage. The whole team was in their office, so it was just me missing. Miraculously, I was there with time to spare. Walking through the corridor, I saw one of the team, who passed me and said, “How are you?” in a joyful tone, to which I replied, “I’m great”. As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I could have cried. What a day (and that’s only part of it) and here I was saying I was great! It was that exact moment;

I realised the extent of how useless those three words actually are!

People mainly ask ‘How Are You’ because we think we should, it rolls off the tongue as part of the greeting rather than genuinely wanting acquire information about the other person.

Think about the last person you said ‘how are you” to. I bet they answered with ‘good’? or ‘fine’ or even ‘busy’. All robotic responses to the question and lacking in any real information to have a conversation or know more about the person.

In the last few weeks, I have spoken to people where things are going very well, like my friend who works for a music manufacturer where pianos have been flying off the floor to another’s, where it’s not so great, like the Operations Manager of a major event organiser where the rest of the year has been cancelled.

We’ve been through more than just one storm since that day in February, look at all the change with some people working extra hard and some with nothing to do, some were home-schooling (thank goodness that’s over), some were hating isolation and others, loving it.

Either way, it’s time to ask a different question if you actually want to hear the answer.

People are more optimistic as we continue to ease restrictions but remember when it all first happened, and we had to make big adjustments. HBR published a global study of over 2,700 employees across more than 10 industries undertaken by Qualtrics and SAP during March and April 2020 found that “Since the outbreak of the pandemic, 75% of people say they feel more socially isolated, 67% of people report higher stress, 57% are feeling greater anxiety, and 53% say they feel more emotionally exhausted”.

The most alarming part for me from that article was that “nearly 40% of people say their company has not even asked them how they’re doing since the pandemic began”. A gentle reminder here that this is not just an HR issue, this is a whole organisation/ institution/community issue and we can (and should be) all be proactively checking in on our networks.

Of course, as humans, we have developed the advanced communication of language to progress. Conversation is proven to be fundamental to our development, as it leads to the achievement of intrapersonal and interpersonal goals. By developing our conversation and more broadly, our soft skills, we stand to benefit from what I call the 'human advantage' as technology continues to take over and/or pandemics get thrown at us.

Interestingly, across three studies of dyadic conversations, Harvard Research even identified a consistent relationship between question-asking and liking. Meaning, people who ask more questions are better liked by those they are conversing with.

So, my question to you is why ask a question that is almost guaranteed to generate no new information?

Once you have ditched ‘How are you? here are a few alternatives to try out;

1) How are you feeling today?

2) What has been the best part of your week so far?

3) What have you been reflecting on lately?

4) What’s one kind thing you did today? (this one is for the parents to replace ‘how was your day’)

5) And my favourite, ‘what’s your current obsession?’ (one of my childhood friends has been asking me this each time I see her for decades)

Let me know how you go and if it changes the information gathered and therefore the conversation and better still, the relationship?

Happy Netships as always,


Ps – If you want to work with me to improve your networking relationships through deeper connections, join us on June 16 for our Map, Connect, Invest Program. Early Bird ends This Friday so get in quick.


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