Hi. How are you? A standard greeting. We utter it daily, many times over. A great social invitation, right? Well, it ought to be. Reality is a lot more complex.
How are you? This simple question creates instant social dilemmas. Judith Jamison, one of the all-time great American dancers and for many years the artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, has a strong opinion about this question:
One thing I cannot stand is when people say ‘Hi, how are you?’ and they don’t wait to hear how I am. They’re just going through the motions. I say to people: ‘Keep it human. Keep it alive. Don’t turn into a robot.’ (NY Times, Business Section, 11/29/2009)
Dan Oropesa is the co-owner of Mack Planet, a popular networking business in Ft. Lauderdale. Dan shares a greeting pet peeve with me.
I was at a function the other night and asked this fellow how he was doing. ‘I’m really tired,’ he said. And I thought to myself, how am I supposed to respond? This very moment, I don’t really want to hear about how tired you are. Don’t drag me down.
Yes, tired may be true, but why the heck did you come to a networking event? Stay home. Saying I’m fine when I’m not fine may feel inauthentic. Perpetual “I’m finers” are chronically inauthentic. Claiming my tiredness, however, could indeed be a social drag. The dilemmas of the How are you? moment.
If you are familiar with Ken Blanchard’s model of Situational Leadership, you know the basic premise – different situations require different types of leadership. The contextual variables we juggle in a greeting? The amount of time available. The desire for intimacy. And here’s how these variables play out:
How are you? The words we choose in response define the entire quality of the conversation that ensues. Get your contextual-greeting-variables right. Answer consciously. Better conversations will unfold. Guaranteed.