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Why do we ask what we ask?

Why do we ask what we ask?

How are you?

This is the frequent ‘add-on’ to our friendly “hello” that we offer in our country, regardless of whether we know you or not.  So, how are you? 

Over the last few communication skills courses I’ve run, we’ve ended up discussing this ‘add-on greeting’ and some participants who originate from other countries, can be perplexed by the question.  “Why do you want to know how I am?  You don’t even know me.”  Many times, we ask the question in passing so that we are nowhere within earshot of the person by the time they do respond.  Weird right?

One of the things we talk about in the course is that if you are going to ask a question, then surely it’s polite to make the time to wait for the answer.  Yet the how are you greeting ‘add-on’ doesn’t usually follow this.  And even if we, who are asking the question wait, there are still a variety of responses from good, great, so-so, okay to a fully detailed response about the person’s in-depth medical history.  Most of the time when I’m asked I say ‘well thank you’ regardless of whether or not I am because I don’t necessarily want to enter into a conversation about my health with someone I don’t really know.  Another reason I say ‘well’ rather than good is a result of my travels to Bali some years ago.  The shopkeepers and stall owners would often say ‘how are you?’ and if you replied with ‘good’ they would giggle and laugh.  Think about it … are you really good?  My favourite response when I do say ‘how are you?’ is “busy”.   Now that’s weird too. 

I am working on catching myself when I use this add-on greeting and endeavouring to stop saying it.  That is, unless I genuinely want to know.  There are times when I really do want to know how my friends, family and colleagues are, and when they give their stock-standard answer, I often ask the question again by saying, “No, really, how are you?”  And then we have a conversation about how they have been keeping and off we go. 

So what’s the point of this little rant?  If you don’t want to know the answer, or you’re not interested, don’t ask.  If you do want to know, then stop and listen to the answer and make the time to connect