How Are You?

how are youYesterday, we needed to get my wife, Muri’s, car smog checked and registered.  Unlike smog check and registration in California, here we can do it in a single stop at any authorized shop.  And we can generally do it without an appointment and in fifteen minutes or so.  When we walked into our favorite auto shop, Tunex, the manager said, How are you?  I instinctively answered, I’m good. When I went back to the sit next to my wife in the waiting area, she looked at me with a twinkle in her eye and said, Liar!  Hmmm.  Well, the truth is we have been going through some difficult times and my answer was a lie.  The incident brought me back to a vacation in Clearwater, FL.   My kids were really kids back then and my daughter, always a social butterfly, made friend with a girl her age in the pool.   We soon met her parents and began to hang around with them.   Her dad was Scottish and spoke with a brogue that was sometimes hard for these American ears to understand.  One afternoon, he looked at me and said, When you folks say, “How are you?” you don’t really mean it, do you?  It’s just a way of saying hello.  Of course, he was right, and we had a good laugh about it.

The truth of his statement is revealed when you say it to a stranger and instead of Good, how are you? you get the story of their impending divorce and bankruptcy … and then have come up with an excuse to get away post haste.   Or worse, when you say it to the passenger in the next seat on a coast-to-coast flight and then get their life story, captive coast-to-coast.  In an article on CNBC.com, Harvard researchers say, “How are you?” are the three most useless words in the world of communication. The person asking doesn’t really want to know, and the person responding doesn’t tell the truth. What follows is a lost opportunity and meaningless exchange with zero connection.  Harvard researchers are overthinking this.   My Scottish acquaintance was right.  We don’t want to connect.  It’s just hello.

Have some fun … say, How are you? and see what you get back.   My answer, Good, How are You? is a standard.   You may get Fine, how are you?, which avoids the value judgement of good or bad, but still conveys nothing.  In 12-Step circles, where people are inclined to tell you exactly how they are, the answer fine means F—ed Up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional, meaning:  You are hiding emotionally.  But most times people say How are you? they want you to hide emotionally.  Fair to Middling is another noncommittal answer.  I have a friend who always answers Livin’ the Dream, regardless of what’s going on in his life.  What can you say to that?  My Dad might have gone for the more ornery, What’s it to ya?  That stops most chatty people in their tracks.

Of course, if you want to make a connection, our Harvard researchers have a list of seven tactics to having a meaningful conversation.  I’ll only bore you with one … you can read the rest here if you are so inclined.  The first is Use the A.C.T. trick to start a connection.   Start with a question that will build up to a conversation that meets the A.C.T. criteria:

  • A – There’s authenticity
  • C – There’s a connection
  • T – There’s a topic that will give them taste of who you are

Yikes.  Let me warn you.  If you try the A.C.T. trick while flying coast-to-coast next to a bald septuagenarian who goes by the pseudonym of Older Eyes, he will use the P.O.N.C.H trick in response … Put On the Noise Cancelling Headphones.

So. How are you today?

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