We all know the ritual: two people see each other for the first time that day, or that week, or that month, and one says to the other: “How are you?” The other responds: “Fine, how are you?” The first person says, “I’m fine,” and everyone moves on.
Recently I had this expectation upended. I greeted a new colleague, saying, “How are you?”
He answered: “Not great.”
He went on to tell me that he was always going to be honest when I (or someone else) asked him how he was. The impact of his candor and his explanation was immediate. We talked for a few minutes about what had happened in his day, and I inquired if there was something I could do to support him.
A few days later, when I greeted him for the day by asking how he was doing, I wasn’t just saying what I’ve said a million times. I was really asking. And when he said, “Awesome!,” we both smiled.
This small calibration of expectation opened up a wonderful new channel of communication and care. We didn’t know each other well, but this adjustment allowed me to show up for him in an authentic way, to cut through the small talk.
A real answer is a great gift. How are you, really?