There’s an endless supply of advice out there: ten ways to ‘this’, five top things to ‘that’. I have read countless articles like this, but the advice rarely sticks. It’s unoriginal, has little impact and is forgotten in no time.
There is one piece of advice that has stuck in my mind though, and that I have used, with some impact so far. I have found it simple but powerful. It is to get out of the habit of asking: “How are you?”
When I have asked this question in the past, a few things have happened. In the majority of cases, the person responded with something bland and meaningless: “fine” or “I’m good, thanks”, you repeat the process in reverse, move on to the weather and then end the (slightly awkward) exchange, or move on to business, small-talk over.
Nobody gains anything and this is fine. But, in many cases, this is a waste of an opportunity: to ‘hold space’ for someone, show an interest in and learn more about their life and strengthen whatever connection you have.
Instead of asking an old friend how she is (which, despite best intentions, often results in a shallow and meaningless interaction), I now say: “How are you getting on at work? Any news on your thesis? Is there anyone special in your life at the moment?”
Wild posy gathered, and photographed, by a friend
If you bump into the department head in the canteen, rather ask: “How’s the feedback on the volunteering initiative you publicised last week? Are you happy with the response to your call for mentors in the team? What did you think about the regulator’s announcement yesterday, does it impact us?”
Give it a try. Ask questions that are a bit more specific, about aspects of the person’s life or experience you’d really like to learn about. Then listen! I’ve been impressed with the results.