Hello and welcome!
I’m excited to have collaborated on a master’s session at Acadia University on Re-Authoring Narratives in Community, which has inspired me to share this rewritten post with you.
This time, it is inspired by different versions of this conversation:
I called the person, knowing that they were having a hard time. They said ‘“hello”, so I responded with “hello, how are you/ how’s it going?”. They hesitated then groaned, so I continued with “sorry, dumb question”. They responded, “yeah, we really need to come up with better questions”.
I wrote an article about this back in May of 2020, playing with different conversational flows with a few adaptations based on what I’ve learned since then. I’d like to share it with you now:
What struck me about Mike’s post was that feeling connected not only makes us feel good, but it helps us feel secure and like we belong; something that I believe is critical right now as we live in this new reality.
Ok, so why is “How Are You” so tricky?
Here in Canada and the US, I find it difficult to know if someone really is asking because they want to know how you are feeling, or if they are asking because it’s a default greeting.
When I asked my facilitator life partner Anne about this she said that it is common practice for German students who are going abroad to be taught that “how are you” in the United States and Canada is just a casual greeting, and that most of the time people don’t really want to know.
For me, when people ask “how are you”, I start to wonder if I really want to share with them if I’m having a bad day. Do they really want to know? Do I have the time to share and ask them, too, how they are really doing? (scarcity narrative alert!) Is it culturally messed up that I think it’s not ok to share my feelings because I don’t have time? Should I tell them exactly how I’m feeling? Do they really care? Will they take the time to connect?
Cultural, COVID, and “How Are You” Complexity
Here in Mi’kmaki/Nova Scotia there is an added layer in the fact that sometimes people really want to know, while other times they don’t. Then there is the nuance of COVID.
I’m so grateful to have friends and colleagues who all ask, “How are you doing?” I know they really mean it, but my response is often the same these days during COVID:
- “I’m good” or “I’m ok”
- “I’m hanging in there, all things considered”
- “I’m lucky to have the privilege that I do” (guilt and appreciation wrapped in a bow)
- “I’m doing great, but I’m feeling sad about xyz in the world….” (then analysis of the world starts)
Currently, while the “how are you” question is meant to invite deeper connection, it often only scratches the surface of connection, and instead invites analysis. More and more, I avoid this question in order to avoid the typical conversational flow of “I’m good” or “I’m not doing so well”, followed by the ensuing analysis of why we are feeling one way or the other.
This is not an attempt to avoid feeling, but to have a conversation in the present moment before making meaning about it! I practice different conversational flows and greetings to increase feelings of connectedness, to invite heart and body connection (share what we feel), to build trust, and to interweave the stories of our lives together.
While we are at a social distance, it’s hard to show engaged body language and impossible to connect with physical touch or many of the shared experiences we usually have. As a result of this necessary disconnect, questions become even more valuable for connection. I am deeply grateful to be practicing these kinds of questions every day with The Narrative Project’s How We Thrive, the Weaveast/Wayside community, the global re-authoring narratives community, and within our community.
Apparently, I’ve officially transformed into a host and facilitator.
Here are some questions I’ve been “trying on:”
- Instead of how are you, what is on your heart today?
- What did you eat today? What have you been eating that you are enjoying the most? What’s the history of that food in your life?
- How are you taking care of yourself today?
- Can we try a fun story share question? Take me to a moment that moved you or inspired you lately? Who was there? What happened? What did you see, feel, hear, smell? Really take me there.
- What’s a story – from a movie, book, article, a conversation that moved you lately? What captured you in it? What’s the history of this story for you?
- What’s the easiest part of isolation/quarantine for you?
- What’s a place in your residence you’ve come to appreciate most? What’s your cozy place or refuge?
- What habits have you started or broken during the quarantine?
- What are things you realize you don’t really need?
- What do you value most in your friendships right now?
“Thickening” follow-up questions and going deeper:
- Who would not be surprised by you sharing this? (follow up to any of the above questions)
- What has being at home shone a light on that you didn’t see before?
- What is your wildest dream for your everyday life post-COVID-19?
- What’s the last thing you experienced that made you laugh or cry?
- What’s giving you hope right now?
Some of these questions are borrowed and adapted from Behavioural Scientist Elizabeth Weingarten at Quartz at Work, some are from the Re-Authoring Narratives practice of Transformations, and some I can’t remember as they come up in multiple contexts.
As Peter Block always says:
“Don’t be helpful, be curious” if you want to deepen relationships and be surprised and delighted.
A Note On Deepening Connection Using These Questions
I invite you to “try these questions on” and play with them in your next check-in conversation with a friend, colleague or family member. If you want a real challenge and to make a person feel heard and witnessed, try asking one of the questions then try a follow-up question, as well as any other questions you are genuinely curious about and don’t know the answer to. Try asking questions and listening for five minutes or more without responding or adding to what they share.
Wishing you great conversations and connections today!
If you try these questions on, please let me know how it goes. I would love to hear from you here in the comments, or you are welcome to send me an email.