How are you?

February 10, 2009

When did how are you become the stand in for hi? Don’t get me wrong; I understand the reasoning behind it. It instills a feeling of neighborliness and concern. And I’m all about that. But I’m even more about meaning it if you’re going to say it. How many times has this happened to you: you pass an acquaintance in the hallway, he asks how you’re doing and before you can respond, he’s on to the next person.  Why did he ask? Why do any of us ask?

To feign interest? To appear polite? To align ourselves with societal norms? Or maybe so as to not hurt anyone’s feelings?

Have you noticed any of these characteristics in your brief conversations at work, school or the local coffeehouse: Lack of eye contact when asking how are you. Picking up the phone or walking away before you answer. Impatient eye, hand and feet shifting. Interrupting.

If so, then you may be another victim of the insincere how are you. What can be done to stop this? Let’s consider some replacement phrases:

The reliable standbys—Hello. Good morning.

Or specialized statements—I just saw the greatest movie. Have you seen any lately? How did your daughter’s court case turn out last week? Has your puppy gotten house trained yet? Did you see The Office yesterday?

Use caution with those last questions. A prior knowledge of the person is key to asking any question. But remember, we can only start digging beneath the surface one person at a time. And so that is the challenge I lay upon you. Dig! Probe! Ask! Reach for your neighbor’s inner person. It all starts with you.

Now what was your name again?