The most difficult question to ask right now.

publishedabout 2 months ago
2 min read

Hey there!

One question that I’m having a difficult time with right now usually pops up in the first few minutes of any conversation. A couple of years ago, it was a casual and friendly question. Now, it becomes challenging for everyone in the conversation. This is the question: How are you?

Are you have a challenging time with that question these days? I know I am. I dread asking the question and hearing people ask it. If you ask the question, are you prepared for the answer? You might hear more about their personal context than you are prepared for. It might remind you of some of your own challenges you may be dealing with right now.

If someone asks you the question, how are you prepared to answer? For me, do I just say “fine” which is in no way accurate but gets past the question.

Recently, I caught myself getting on a call and immediately jumping into the work. I intentionally skipped the pleasantries because I did not want to engage with the “how are you” question. When I realized what I had done, I stopped and apologized to the other person. We both knew that was not my normal way of collaborating, remote or in person. I explained what I was avoiding and what made me apprehensive about answering that question.

And then an amazing thing happened. We both opened up and shared many concerns we were facing. For me, I have two family members who have now caught the delta variant of Covid-19. One is my older son who had been vaccinated and we are sure he picked it up at work where others had tested positive recently and had also been vaccinated. Even sharing this with you now, it brings up many concerns for my son, for my neighbors, about vaccinations, wearing masks, and some of the clash we all deal with these days between politics and science. (By the way, my son is slowly recovering.)

So when you meet someone next time, should you ask “how are you?” You may want to try some alternatives. You might might want to explore what they need right now. I’m trying out a few variations:

“Hey there, good to see you. Normally, I would ask how you are, but that might want be a difficult question now. What would work for you?”

“Hi, good to meet you. I hope you and yours are well. Let me know what you might need to know about me for us to make the best use of our time.”

I might try some others. What might you try as an alternative to “how are you?”

Regardless, make sure you can make your needs known as well as discover others to collaborate well.

Hope this helps,


P.S. If you would like to hear more about how I deal with icky situations, come join me for my Spark Talk at Qiqocon this Thursday.

P.P.S. If you would like to learn some more ways to explore how to curate needs in these times, you might want to look at some of the monthly events we have happening at or look at the Navigating Covid 2021 (with Clean Language) sessions happening now through end of August.

P.P.S. If you missed my Agile2021 talk, I’ll be repeating that it: Where Does Our Future Lead? Remote, Hybrid Remote or Elsewhere? Aug 12 for the Agile NOVA meetup. Check that out and the resources I’ve posted on hybrid remote work.

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