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How are you doing today?  And then going a little deeper...

If I were to ask, “How are you?”, I bet the overwhelming majority of you would say, “I’m fine” and move on.

We’ve been programmed to ask the obligatory “How are you?” as part of a normal greeting, yet do we truly care about the recipient’s response? Moreover, when asked this question, would you respond automatically without regard for sharing how you’re actually feeling?

When you think about the rhetorical question and the obligatory response, both have very little meaning.

But, if I were to ask “How are you TODAY?” and told you your answer cannot be ‘I’m fine’, it hopefully implies that I am looking for a way to start a conversation with you, as I sincerely want to know. It means I honestly care about your mental wellbeing and I have time to listen.

Before I decided to write this blog, I decided to test out my thinking with my friends on social media and asked…. If you were to answer, “How are you today?” in one word right now without using I’m fine, what’s your response? I am…. 

Here are some of the responses I received: 

Stressed 

A little behind 

Blessed 

Thankful 

Disgruntled 

Inspired 

Determined 

Sooo sleepy 

Hopeful 

Seeing these responses opened the door to having much more meaningful conversations with several friends beyond the social media platform.  It wasn’t hard, but it did take an investment of time.   

“You’re feeling disgruntled?  Tell me more…”   

‘You’re feeling inspired?  Tell me more….” 

These are people I care deeply about, and I truly want them to know that I’m available to celebrate when they are feeling positive, as well as provide comfort and understanding when they are feeling down.  And by permitting my friends to go a bit deeper, they not only felt valued, but I walked away feeling a bit uplifted myself knowing that maybe I made a difference by demonstrating my concern for their wellbeing. 

You might be thinking, “Asking a friend to go deeper is one thing, but colleagues are a totally different ballgame.”  I get it.  

We’re busy, there are boundaries, and sadly, there is a stigma when it comes to being too “emotional” when it comes to working relationships.  But when I think of my colleagues – people whom I spend more time with than most of my family and friends – these are people that I truly do care about; they are worthy of my investment of time and undivided attention when listening to their response.             

So, the next time when you’re the one asking someone, “How are you today?”, challenge yourself to genuinely care enough to listen to the response, and if appropriate, ask to go a little deeper.  

You may need to get creative with how you phrase your question, for example, “What’s been the best part of your day so far?”, or “What are you most grateful for today?”  Or if you’re feeling brave, you might ask, “What can I do to improve your day today?”     

Also, the next time someone asks you “How are you today?”, answer with something else other than “Fine”. Open the dialogue for real conversation. More often, I’m trying to answer that question with how I'm really feeling. Sometimes it's "I'm great!" but today, it was "I'm tired." 

Let’s work on shutting down the stigma associated with honest answers around mental health.  It’s OK to say how you are really feeling – even if it is with your colleagues. Will it make them uncomfortable when you are real? Possibly. But that's OK too. 

I think the more real and authentic we are, the more opportunity we are giving people to understand us and that we are human. Not every day is going to be a good day, and that's OK.  

Tonight, I am going to listen to my body and disconnect and get some rest.  It is important to listen to your body. It is even more important to listen to your mind. Give yourself some grace. I guarantee that you will be more productive if you listen to those cues. 

About

Renee is the head of Global Benefits and Wellbeing based out of Minneapolis.

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