There is a common custom that goes by default in most parts of the world: when we see a person, we tend to inquire: “How are you?”
At times we ask this question because we want to connect.
Often enough we ask it because this is simply what everyone is doing.
At most, we ask because if we don’t, we are afraid to be perceived as bad-mannered and rude.
Long enough I had been rambling with this question, as it brought me no insight whatsoever about another person’s wellbeing and still left me emptyheaded, trying to figure out another smart question to ask, so it opens a small window for connection.
If this sounds familiar and you’re raising your hand in approval, keep reading.
During my last year of Uni, I decided to pause my studies and go on an adventure to work for an international British recruitment company abroad. There was a lot at stake, and not all turned out well, yet one thing is certain: this workplace was my gateway to diversity. One of the examples was the way brits, that I breathed the same air with for more than 60 hours a week, weaved this “How are you” question into their greeting.
“You’re alright” (Pronounced in a mixed manner between a question and a statement) – some of them would simply nod their heads and walk past me with their laptops under the armpit.
I was so puzzled. Each morning on the quest to reach my office desk I would hear this question around 10 times and blush, smiling in confusion and discomfort with my eyes pointed at my shoes, feeling like a fraud because these morning greetings seemed to be as genuine and vibrant as plastic flowers.
I remember wondering what answer should I give, so they are actually able to hear it.
“No, I am not!!” I wanted to shout out loud. I wanted to stop and confront them: “Thanks for asking. Today I feel… “
Huh…why that was ever a question?
It took me time to realize that while fastly marching down the aisle, these business people in suits were too busy to hear any answer at all.
You see, my problem was this: people didn’t hold space for an answer. Later in life, I learned that even if the “How are you” question is genuine, it is not too fruitful, because most people answer: “I am great thanks and how are you?”
I kept looking for an answer. How do I empower my connections? How do I nurture my network of people?
Some years later, the question found me through my mentor Egle when we started coaching organizations on holocracy-based culture.
She would open up each group circle conversation asking “If your feelings where a weather inside you, what would be the weather now?”
Brilliant. Peace of gold.
Since then, I implemented it as an opening in each training session. I start every coaching conversation with this question. Each time I hold space for a person and I deeply care about his/her feelings, I do ask it. Again and again.
To this day I am still surprised by the magical power of this question, and the way it works every single time, even with the most self-unaware people.
You see, so many of us are very left-brain driven and because of the very common upbringing that “you are not supposed to feel”, we just don’t know how to express whatever mix of emotions is inside of us.
Yet, on the contrary, we are so much used to talking about the weather that it becomes so easy to describe. Moreover, it shows the intensity of a certain feeling: “I feel a very strong storm with a thunder inside me. It seems like I am on the edge of the cliff, looking at a whirlpool, afraid to be swallowed in” – my best friend at work recently answered to me and it struck me. We were standing in the office and she was hugging people around, saying “Oh hiii, sweetie, how are ya? Oh, I am good, thanks”. And just straight after this phrase she turned to me and told me all about her deep whirlpool.
You see my point? We are so used to this default answer “I am good, thanks, how are you?” that seems like the only answer.
So when asked about the weather inside, each of us can answer with an elaborate answer, which helps us understand each other better and helps us connect. It also cultivates the real compassion – if a person says he has a storm inside him, I stop thinking that he’s not participative in my session because my training sucks.
It also connects us on another level. When we put our heart on a table, trust is established. It lays the path for the next empowering question.
Surface level small talk does not build relationships and it is not great for our happiness levels. Each of us is longing for meaningful connections, we crave to be heard and listened to. So next time you see someone, don’t forget to ask about the weather. Inside.