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Alternatives to the terrible and lazy question, “How are you?”

Updated: Nov 29, 2022

A range of social and economic catastrophes in the US and across the globe in 2020 made it very clear that asking people “how are you?” is an ineffective way to start a conversation. I do it, you do it, we all do it.

Why is this one of the worst things you can ask someone? Well, it’s vague. It’s not specific enough and doesn’t provide any particular frame of reference to consider. It doesn’t acknowledge the complexity of human existence. It can be especially triggering these days with the past several years of personal, social, and global trauma. It doesn’t build rapport or help ease into a discussion.

And it doesn’t matter how cheery or genuine our tone is when the words come out of our mouths so automatically. How do we answer such a question? Do we always want to? And you can tell when people don’t really care to know the answer.

Think about the last time someone asked you this (probably within the past few days), and vice versa. Did your brain immediately run into a brick wall? Did you give it any intentional thought? How did the other person sound?

An empty question means an empty response.

To me, this has been a dud of an opener long before 2020. As far as I can remember back, it’s never really meant anything other than a convoluted way to say “hey”. We’ve all had those hallway experiences where people ask how you are while they continue walking in the other direction.

What have you been up to lately? Did anything make you smile today? What are you looking forward to this weekend?

We need some alternatives, and author and speaker Kat Vellos has come to the rescue with two handy lists of creative, specific, and engaging alternatives to “how are you?” I even printed it out and pinned it to my wall so I can reference it when I meet with people. The ones above are three of my favorites and have been working well in both friend chats and coaching calls.


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