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  • Writer's pictureBart

Let’s stop asking, “how are you?”

Avoid stale openers; bridge deeper connections.

In my day job, I was recently invited to give a global talk to new grads & interns about the importance of networking. Tough one. I don’t even believe in networking. I believe in seeding relationships and harvesting their value. What’s the difference? Future post coming on that. To me, it boils down to insignificant small talk vs transformational conversations.

And the biggest - or most common - example of meaningless small talk is the dreaded opening phrase:

How are you?

I moonlight as a bartender and day-in, day-out I witness friends, colleagues, acquaintances, blind dates greet each other this way. As GenZ would say -- super cringe. Please avoid that. Free drinks on me if you can think of anything more enlightening to open with.

Here's how that scenario tends to play out at the bar:

Person 1: "Hi, how are you?"

Person 2: "I'm doing okay..."

... awkward silence or more small talk ensues ...


Person 1: "How are you?"

Person 2: "Doing just fine, and you?"

Person 1: "Doing okay"

... awkward silence or more small talk ensues ...

I kid you not, I've overheard hundreds of such conversations. And this is not limited to the bar. It happens anywhere and everywhere.

It’s easy. It’s lazy. Most importantly, it's a limiter. It obstructs opportunities to connect closer to a friend or make a new one.

Granted, sometimes you just really could not care less about having to entertain someone. We've all been there. But my answer to that is — what if we stopped thinking about ourselves?

  • what if that person in the elevator needed a new interaction?

  • what if that person on the train or bus could have benefitted from a short escape from their worries?

  • what if that colleague at work was really struggling and could have used a pick-me-up?

  • what if you could have used a pick-me-up and didn't even realize it?

Engaging in meaningful conversations has been a proven way to step away from the daily grind. I guarantee that if you meet someone new today and have any conversation deeper than how you both are doing, you will have forgotten any anxiety or worry that you previously had. At least for a few minutes. You will unconsciously have given yourself a break. Your breathing pattern will have changed. Your eyes will have changed focus -- to this person's smile or dog or jacket or shoes or worries -- causing dilation changes which that positively affect your stress levels. You may even learn something new. Think of it as an active form of meditation - and there’s tons of research already on the physiological benefits of meditation (mindfulness). So skip the really small talk. Avoid yes/no topics. Some of my go-tos:

For anyone:

  • Did anything make you smile today? (this almost ALWAYS gets them to smile in the first place!)

  • What’s on your mind today?

  • What are you looking forward to tonight/tomorrow/this weekend?

  • How has your week been?

  • Open your eyes and pick something out: I really like that piece of art ... do you like art?

In a bar

  • What’s your least favorite spirit and why?

  • What was the coolest bar experience you've ever had?

  • What's your favourite place in the city/town, why?

For close friends/family

  • What's new with the kids/pets?

  • How have you been sleeping?

  • Tell me about new people that you've met lately

  • What are you grateful for today?

  • What have you been reading/listening to lately? Articles, magazines, books, blogs, podcasts?

What are some other phrases that you use to replace the stale "how are you?"

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