How Are You?

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In the genre of ridiculous questions, I submit two: "How are you?" and "What's new with you?"

You'll tell me that the askers are

  • being polite,

  • using the questions as conversation starters, or

  • showing genuine concern for my wellbeing and life.

Right. Maybe so.

Yet I counter: These questions kill conversation. They're too general. Where do I start? I'll assume they're rhetorical and answer "fine" and "not much."

And the conversation falters.

Want a more nuanced answer? Want to actually start dialogue? Ask something that shows you recall what matters to me and what was last going on in my world or that you have an interest in my opinion.

Is that so difficult?

I'm not a fan of the "How's business?" question, either, but at least it's grounded enough for a concrete answer about something that’s recently happened or current projects. And at least the question indicates that you recall I'm a business owner and, typically, working my tail off.

Let's say a person doesn't want to talk business. (And, honestly, I'd rather talk about something else in a social situation, too.) Here are some suggestions for other, more specific questions to ask upon connecting with someone:

  • "What's your take on [recent world event]?"

  • "Any vacations coming up?"

  • "What are you reading these days?"

  • "What did you do for [last holiday weekend]?"

  • "Seen any good movies lately?"

  • "Whatever happened with [this or that issue or person we talked about last time we met]?"

I could go on.

Of course, full disclaimer: I'm an introvert. As this fantastic article by Carl King points out, introverts are atrocious at small talk. We'll talk for hours about something specific, but generic questions stump us. I've no interest in talking for the sake of talking.

How do you open conversations?