Work Etiquette: Stop Casually Asking "How Are You?"

We’ve all done it. We’ve all had it done to us. 

 

“Hi, good morning. How are you?” 

“I’m doing great! How are you?”

“All’s good! Could you go ahead and send that email confirmation over?”

“Sure!”

Sound familiar? 

Why is it that we routinely ask others in the workforce “how are you” when (let’s face it) we don’t have the time to listen to a genuine answer, nor do we expect one? One might answer, “because it’s polite.” Sure, but aren’t there other ways to be polite that don’t require asking a disingenuous question to another human being with actual emotions (instead of a robot whose automated response might be “I’m doing great” every time they’re asked)? A “good morning/afternoon/evening” or “hope all is well” is just as polite and a hundred times more genuine. 

So, why is it that we give into such an, ironically, robotic exchange? Do we run on autopilot with our conversations as much as we do with our tasks? If so, why are we so comfortable with that being the case? 

The problem with falling into this habit (or one of them, anyway) is that it, believe it or not, actually encourages the unhealthy invalidation of one’s emotions. By asking “how are you” out of habit, routine, politeness, or whatever you want to call it, instead of genuine concern, the person on the other end feels pressured to give a response that, more often than not, is also not genuine. If we are conditioned in the workforce, which most of us participate in anywhere from 20-40 hours a week, to disguise our real emotions with “I’m doing great!” for the sake of convenience to the other person, the job at hand, or even our own time, it gets difficult to become comfortable with expressing our genuine emotions- in any area of life. We begin to perceive doing so as inconvenient, a bother, and undesirable.

Why has it become the norm to pretend to care for another’s emotions while pressuring that same person to pretend to be okay, for the sake of convenience, avoiding discomfort, a transaction, a job, toxic productivity? It strikes as odd that we so comfortably ask “how are you,” but are/would be discomforted to hear the responding person express how they are. Think about it for a second. When was the last time someone on the other end, or you, responded to the “how are you” question with anything other than “good/great/doing well?” If you were to instead respond with, “I’m not doing so well- my mental health is deteriorating because I have to produce all the time and am treated as a robot instead of a human and I haven’t slept a full 8 hours in years” or “I’m actually not doing so well- I had to come into work even though the weather’s got me down, I’m sick, and I have a huge term paper due that I won’t have time to finish,” do you think the person on the other side would be comfortable or uncomfortable? It’s not a surprise that the latter would, more often than not, be the case. And this doesn’t make either person a terrible human being. It just makes the habit of casually asking and responding to “how are you” more disingenuous and uncalled for. 

Next time you answer/make a phone call or draft an email, unless you’d be comfortable with more than a convenient “I’m doing well” response, try giving another just as polite but zero percent as unhealthy and disingenuous greeting a shot.