Another great conundrum: How to answer “How are you?”
Quite a few years ago when I came to live and work in the U.S.A. it was one the most confusing questions that I did not know how to answer. I will never forget the first couple of times that I went to the supermarket and the cashiers and grocery baggers asked me how I was. What nice people these are who ask me this rather private question, I thought to myself. It took me a while to figure out that they really did not want to know how I was doing. Embarrassing? Not in the least; I just did not know better.
The look I got when I explained in painful detail what had happened during the week was priceless. Well, in hindsight at least. Hah, I finally knew then why they called the English course I had taken in England a “crash course”. Boy did I crash!
I am not sure that you ever wondered about this little nugget of a truly American conversation piece. The tipping point of when you need to provide a detailed answer depends on your relationship status. The answers get longer and more private the closer you are to the person who asks.
A friend will get more info than an acquaintance; a family member will get more than a friend. You provide more the more visual and audio cues you get back from the listener. When the other person actively listens the game is on and there will be the potential of an intense and genuine communication that can bring you closer together. It can solve issues; it helps to vent and feel better about the issues that you are facing. Shared sorrow is only half the sorrow.
This also leads me to my call of action for you. When you ask “How are you?” think about if and how you meant it. Are you ready to actively listen and receive a potential heavy burden? This is how you move up and down the friendship ladder.
Oh and a tip for my Testosterone laden friends (this would be men). Though problem solving may be in our genetic foot print this is not the time to offer it. Just zip it and listen. When people off load their burden they typically already know what choices they have in front of themselves. Empathy, compassion and an open ear is the only thing you need to bring to that conversation.
On another note, take it easy on the next foreigner who just came to this great country of ours. She or he will need to get used to “How are you?” is expected to be answered.