Why “How Are You?” Is Not the Best Question to Ask
“How are you?”
That question hangs there in the air waiting. There’s a decision to be made every time you’re asked: answer truthfully or give the standard, “Good! How’re you?”
The vagueness that surrounds this simple question, and the ease with which it rolls off the tongue, just allows the one asking and the one answering to hide.
Yet it’s a question we use all the time—running into someone in the grocery store, passing in the hallway, at parties, in the office. But what are we really asking? Do we really care what the other person says? Do we actually expect them to answer the question? I’d argue we don’t.
Your Happy Face Isn’t Fooling Anyone
In our polite Southern culture, we’re almost trained to put on a happy face, to say things are “great,” “busy,” or “crazy.” These are the answers I can usually muster up.
Does the person asking really want to know I’m drowning in grief? Do they want to hear how my husband has told me a simple five-item Christmas wish list at least 10 times, but I can’t seem to remember even having the discussion? Do they really care?
But as the body of Christ, we are called to care for each other—truly care. Jesus modeled compassion in everything He did and in every way He approached the crowds of people who followed Him (Mark 6:34, Matthew 14:14, Luke 7:13-14).
In Romans 12:15, we are commanded to “Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.” The book of Ecclesiastes reads, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
Helping each other begins with asking better questions and learning to listen.
We need to help each other up, but to do so, we need to learn to ask better questions. The Lord isn’t vague in the Bible. Like Jesus was a good conversationalist and listener, we can be, too (John 4:1-42).
We can’t sit back and hope someone will feel compelled to answer our vague question truthfully. Let’s be bold and ask.
5 Ways to Ask Better Questions
1. Ask a specific question: “How are you doing with _____?”
A specific question leads to a specific answer. There is no ambiguity here.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask about something you know is going on in your friend’s life.
But do so in love, in kindness, and with compassion. Do it because you care, because you want to know and to love this person (Matthew 9:36).
3. Be sensitive to your friend’s personality and comfort level in discussing difficult or personal subjects.
Life isn’t easy. To avoid making things worse in a tough situation, be sensitive to the situation and to your friend.
4. Be ready to listen.
Asking questions isn’t all about the asking; it’s as much about listening and absorbing what the other person is telling you.
5. Keep asking—within reason.
Maybe you won’t get a coherent answer the first time you ask. That’s OK. Check in again later.
There is not necessarily a right or wrong way to ask questions; the biggest thing is to love the people around you. Leave the ambiguity behind, and really dive into relationships with the people around you. Jesus’ compassion set Him apart; let it do the same for us.