How Are You…Really?
“How are you?”
“How’s it going?”
If you’re hangin’ out in the US, you’ll hear these greetings all day long, from colleagues, friends, clients, the checker at the grocery store, your kid’s teacher, the mailman, the guy making your latte at Starbucks – that’s just what we say to each other in this country.
Do any of these people really want to know how you are? For real? What if you were to respond with, “Oh, I’m so glad you asked! I’ve got a terrible headache. My kid wouldn’t listen to anything I asked him to do this morning, I’m buried at work, I’m late on paying my electric bill, and when I went to get dressed this morning, nothing seemed to fit. How are you?”
Noooooo! They would look at you like a crazy-person if you were to respond with what’s really-real for you.
So how do we respond?
Whether we feel fine or good is irrelevant, because we know that they really don’t want to know.
But it’s confusing, isn’t it? When do people really want to know and when do they really not want to know? And what do people really want to know and what do they really not want to know?
When our boss asks us, “How’s it going?” It’s hard to be sure about what she wants to know. And it’s hard to be sure what we want her to know. Does she want to know how it’s going with the project? Does she want to know about the meeting I just wrapped up? Does she want to know how my birthday dinner went last night? Does she want to know if I like my job and if I’m happy? Does she want to know how I’m feeling? Does she want to know if I’m having any problems? Does she want to know what I think about our new office? (you get the idea)
We don’t know what she really wants to know, so how do we respond?
And our boss goes off thinking everything is fine and good when quite likely there are a lot of things that aren’t so fine and good.
In fact… we’re four days behind on hitting our client deadline, our new vendor looks like they’re not going to be able to deliver what they’ve promised, and you can’t stand the new open-concept office because you’re not able to focus and get anything done which is really having an impact on your personal engagement at work, but speaking of engagement (!) your fiance’ proposed to you at your birthday dinner last night so at least something is going great!
And of course when the boss talks to me (Kimberly), during a session on leadership or communication, I hear all about how their employees aren’t communicating with them. Interesting.
I see this sort of thing, this human phenomenon, wrecking havoc all over the corporate landscape. It’s not intentional. Nobody is trying to be evasive, or sneaky, or a slacker, they’re just horrible mind-readers, and it doesn’t feel safe to take a stab in the dark.
You see, how people respond is largely based on how we frame what we ask. If we want to really know about something, we have to make it safe for people to say what’s real, removing the ambiguity from our questions, so they know what kind of information we’re looking to find. As leaders, we need to be more mindful about framing our questions.
But we can’t frame effective questions if we don’t know what we need, so that’s the place to start. Instead of lobbing a general, “How’s it going?” out into space, it’s important to stop and ask yourself, “What do I need?”
I need to know if there’s anything that’s going to get in the way of us hitting our deadline.
“What are your biggest roadblocks?” (By framing the question around the roadblocks – because that’s the information you need, you make it safe to “out” the roadblocks by assuming there are some. If you simply said, “Are you having any problems?” you’re likely to hear, “No.” because they won’t feel it’s safe to have any. The truth is, if there ARE roadblocks, you need to know about them – like it or not. If there aren’t any, they’ll happily report that, but if there are…now you’ve made it safe to share them with you. The standard “Will you hit the deadline?” would never give you the information you need to head any problems off at the pass…)
I need to know what’s being accomplished. Or, I need to make sure my employee is engaged.
“What are your big wins this week?” (Framing the question around “big wins” gives people a chance to talk about their achievements and is a massive engagement-driver. You’ll also get to hear what’s going right for a change, which is good for your own sense of engagement. Having a chance to connect with each other over good news goes a long way towards establishing trust and building a strong relationship. The standard, “How’s it going?” would never reap such rewards, because all you’d get is, “Good.”)
In our haste to get information quickly – to just get in, get done, get out – we don’t invest the time it takes to really get clear on what we need. But it makes all the difference in the world. In the quality of information we get back. In the quality of our relationships. In the quality of the work that ultimately gets done. Because you’re not leaving anything to chance.
If you want real results, your questions need to be framed to get real answers.
So…how are you doing?
©OnStage Leadership, 2014 (revised from blog originally posted November, 2013)
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Kimberly Davis is the Founder/Director of OnStage Leadership, a full-day experiential leadership workshop. Click here to read what people are saying!
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