Beyond “how are you?”

Beyond “how are you?”

The question “How are you?” has long been a go-to greeting, a way to spark a bit of small talk. But this year, as our lives have been impacted by a myriad of challenges  — the coronavirus pandemic, social unrest, political stress, and more — we have an opportunity (and need) to deepen our connections with others. And asking more meaningful questions can help spark those productive, compassionate conversations.

We asked our Thrive community to share with us thequestions they’re asking others right now that are strengthening their connections. Which of these will you start asking others?

What’s something you’re excited about?

“Asking someone what they’re passionate about at the moment can be a great conversation starter. Even before the pandemic, my favorite conversation opener was, ‘What’s something you’re excited about right now?’ It’s open-ended enough for someone to talk about their work, their favorite TV show, or anything else that they’re loving at the moment. I love watching someone’s face light up when they get to talk about something that excites them.” 

—Craig Inzana, content creator, Omaha, NE

What’s been keeping you busy?

“I’ve recently found that asking people more specific, but not intrusive, questions leads to a more authentic exchange. Some of my go-to questions are asking people what’s been keeping them busy lately, how they’ve been spending their time, or even asking about movies or books they’ve come across lately. Since there is so much stress and uncertainty in many people’s lives, striking the balance between curious and compassionate is key.”

—Marta Chavent, change and management consultant, France

What have you learned about yourself lately?

“I have enjoyed asking people, ‘What is the biggest thing you learned about yourself this year?’ Not only have I realized that they usually open up and are willing to share personal stories, but they also get excited about sharing something positive related to personal growth. I find that asking this question always leads to very vulnerable conversations.”

—Isabelle Bart, marketing director, Orange County, CA

How are you feeling?

“One thing I try to always ask my family and friends is how they are feeling emotionally and mentally. As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety, I know that when you are in the depths of the fog, it’s easy to just say, ‘Yeah, I am good’ when someone asks how you are. But taking things a bit further and asking how someone is feeling shows that you understand that feelings are more complex than just being ‘fine.’ It also helps the other person know that they can confide in you if they need.”

—Melinda Jackson, Raleigh, NC 

How are your spirits today?

“The number one question I am asking everyone in my life, from family, friends, clients, and strangers, is  ‘How’s your spirit today?’ At first, people are surprised, because it’s usually the first time they’ve been asked that question. But once they take a moment to reflect, they openly share, and always thank me for asking. They often say that it’s the first time they’ve stopped to reflect on their spirit in a long time. It’s a question that grounds us in the present moment.”

—Nory Pouncil, self-awareness coach, Fort Lauderdale, FL

What are you doing to care for yourself right now?

“Since I’m working with clients consistently on often long-term projects, I like to check in first by asking others what they are doing to care for themselves right now. It’s a good conversation starter to get people thinking about how they are tending to their own self-care and well-being, even as they work on external goals and projects.”

—Henna Garrison, life coach and educator, Sicily, Italy 

How can I help support you?

“I am finding power in the leadership question, ‘How can I help support you?’ This simple question cuts through organizational hierarchies and helps us meet the person where they are at that moment in time. Most often, people don’t have an immediate answer because we aren’t terribly good at asking for help.  But if you ask the question, and then sit in the silence for a few seconds, people realize you’re there for them now and later when needed.”

—-Donna Peters, career coach, podcast host, lecturer, Atlanta, GA

What have you been cooking?

“‘How are you?’ is typically the first question we think of, but a more meaningful one I ask, especially to my 79-year-old mom is, ‘What are you cooking today?’ Talking mutually about what we cook that day or week is always heartwarming, and it’s a great conversation starter. Exchanging recipes and sharing ideas on dishes based on seasonal ingredients gives us a sense of safety and closeness as we share those small but essential everyday things, putting the stressors of the pandemic aside for a moment.

—Esin Sungur, Brand Consultant, İstanbul-Turkey

What are you grateful for right now?

“One question that I’ve been asking lately is, ‘What is something that you are grateful for during this time?’ How we frame things can often elicit certain feelings because it asks for the person to focus on something in particular. In this case, that would be things that bring joy, gratitude, and connection. When we face challenging times, I always find it helpful to remind ourselves what we should be centering on, and that starts with gratitude.”

—Simon Tam, author and musician, Cincinnati, OH

What are you looking forward to?

“I prefer asking this question these days instead of ‘How are you.’ I find that itgives whomever I’m speaking with space to assess their answer and reflect. Rather than a thoughtless ‘fine’ or ‘meh,’ their answer is typically more thoughtful and it helps them stay optimistic during this time. This question creates opportunities for engagement that move static conversations into more meaningful directions.”

—Ampy Basa, community director and HerSpace, Oslo, Norway

What’s been the highlight of your day?

“The questions we ask one another can spark a sense of validation and connectivity. I’ve been asking people, ‘What has been the highlight of your day?’ This question shifts the focus away from the expected ‘how are you?’ and ‘I am fine’ interchange, and instead makes the receiver of this question really think about what has brought them a sense of meaning and fulfillment that day. It’s a great conversation starter and an energy-booster. I find that it’s also a great opportunity to focus on our small wins.”

—Randi Levin, transitional life strategist, NJ/ NY

What question is helping you connect with others right now? 

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