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5 thoughtful ways to answer the question ‘How are you?’

“I’m fine, thanks,” is an okay answer. But these responses open the door for a deeper conversation.

5 thoughtful ways to answer the question ‘How are you?’
[Photo: Kate Kalvach/Unsplash; Pogonici/iStock]
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When somebody asks, “how are you?” you may find yourself pausing. The pandemic has created a world in which we’re not even sure of our feelings—let along what feelings to share.

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If you fall back on cheery answers like “awesome” or “things are great,” you may sound insensitive or not genuine. Alternately, if you delve into the complexities of life—kids at home, incredible fatigue, or the other byproducts of the pandemic, you may feel you’re offering up too much information and excessive negativity.

The classic “I’m fine, thanks,” is good to use when you don’t necessarily want to pursue the conversation much more. For instance, if you’re in a store and a clerk at the checkout asks you how you are, you can offer this response as a courtesy. But it’s definitely a conversation stopper. It’s a polite way of saying “end of discussion.” (That’s okay sometimes. There’s no need to pressure yourself into being socially engaged in every situation.)

The following answers open the door for a deeper moment of connection and will serve you well in various situations:

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1. THANKS FOR ASKING. I’M DOING WELL.

This is a good answer if you want to be gracious and share something but not get into a heavy discussion.

The “thank you for asking” up front warms up your response by showing that you appreciate the question. Saying that you are doing well indicates that you want to offer some insight into your life. This answer has an upbeat quality, but it’s not too rah-rah! And it doesn’t require that the listener responds with a personal disclosure or probing question about your life.

2. THINGS ARE GOOD. I JUST HAD MY SECOND COVID-19 SHOT.

Here’s an answer to give if you want to be forthcoming—say, to a friend, a colleague, or an acquaintance you haven’t seen for a while.

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We all crave connection these days and sharing something specific strengthens your ties with the other person. It could be that you got your vaccination, or that you love the warm weather and sunshine (“things are good, I’m loving this warm weather,”) or that you’re having a particularly great day (“I’m having a great day: slept well, had a terrific workout this morning, and now you and I are together.”) Follow that up with, “and how are things with you?”

This answer works really well for people who know you, care about you, and want to engage with you. It opens a dialogue that can be meaningful for both of you.

3. I’VE HAD A WHIRLWIND OF A WEEK, BUT I’M HANGING IN THERE.

This is a great answer because it is full of the kind of sharing we need these days. Let’s face it, everyone is struggling in some way. And having an answer that tells us the other person is having a demanding week and is “hanging in there,” makes us feel that we are not alone in what we are struggling with.

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I also like the “whirlwind” part of this answer. Full disclosure: This actually was the response given to me when I asked my Fast Company editor how she was doing recently, via email. She provided some specific context about what she was working on, and asked what I was up to, which gave me an opening to share. This type of exchange creates a sense of empathy by sharing some struggles, without getting too deep into the weeds.

4. IT HAS BEEN A ROUGH WEEK.

Depending on the situation, this might be a good, honest reply. But if you’re spilling all, you’ll want to make sure you’re sharing with someone who will listen and provide counsel or sensitivity.

When you say “it has been a rough week,” or “things are so busy,” or “I don’t know how long I can take it,” you are essentially reaching out for help. It’s good to do that, and there are many people today who need that support. Shared with the right friend, family member, or counsellor, it’s a good way of kicking off a genuine conversation and getting the emotional assistance you need.

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If you want addition support through such conversations, check out The Mental Health Coalition and its program, Every 1 needs to talk 2 some 1. It supports people who need this kind of conversation. And if you don’t share in the context of a program like this, just make sure that the person you’re talking to is someone who can respond with sensitivity to your “rough week” answer. They should probe and lend an empathetic ear. Being honest like this also helps others to share their own struggles and anxieties.

5. I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THE END OF THE PANDEMIC.

This final option is an upbeat, sincere answer that focuses on the future and the return of some semblance of normality.

Focusing on the future not only is an uplifting strategy, but it avoids having to articulate some of the more complex feelings we are now experiencing. If we are languishing, as Adam Grant writes in a recent article, we may want to reach into the future and for a brief moment transcend the current reality with dreams of possibilities. There is a place for fantasy in our lives, especially these days.