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The Three Little Words that Take a Professional Relationship to the Next Level

Jan 24, 2022

Have you ever said those three little words to someone and been blown off?  Or maybe you said them because it seemed like the right thing to do, even when you didn’t really mean it. Or perhaps someone said them to you and you excitedly started to respond, only to find that the person saying them had already moved on to someone else. If so, you are not alone.

As we’re all adjusting to the new COVID19 “normal,” and perhaps for the first time ever craving an office atmosphere, one especially shiny silver lining is how the three little words, “How are you?” have taken on a whole new meaning. Today these words are elevated to a more sincere level than the world has ever known. Pre-global pandemic, we’d toss out How are you? as freely as we would have used toilet paper to “decorate” a house. Now, as priorities have shifted and perspectives have expanded, the once perfunctory ask of “How are you?” signifies someone who will genuinely listens to the answer AND willingly carve out the time to do so.

This change is a huge win for effective communication in business. Creating a connection with colleagues is essential to learning what makes them tick. What is their “Why” as Simon Sinek would say. In a world that is faster paced than a NASCAR race with or without spectators, we often forget that the people we work with are, well, people. They have kids and dogs and special artwork hanging in their homes that once belonged to their grandfather. They have wishes. They have struggles. They have hobbies they’re excited about and they have vulnerabilities too. While some topics remain appropriately reserved for close friends and family, peeking into someone’s personal life through your Zoom lens creates an opening to connect on a more meaningful level. Spending even a small amount of time talking about  how someone is doing outside of work and what is important to them — as a human and not just a robotic colleague— has a transformative impact on business communication.

Certainly a common experience we’ve all shared from COVID19 restrictions is that it can be challenging to get down to business when there’s a global crisis going on. Challenging, but not impossible. Inserting a quick pre-meeting check on employees and colleagues by asking How are you? and listening to their responses, shows that you care about them. When someone feels cared about, they feel safer and are more confident in their abilities to do their job. The phrase “People don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care,” is unfolding before our very eyes.

Asking How are you? is an opportunity to invite excitement and celebration as well. Is the person on the other side of the question enduring a unique challenge, working on a personal fitness goal, or celebrating the super creative way they honored their high school graduate?  They’ll be thrilled to tell you about it! This is a great way to set a positive tone for your subsequent conversation about business.

Let’s take advantage of this time when our compassion and sincere curiosity about someone else’s life has reached an all-time high. To dive deeper and  up your game even more, try these questions:

·        What’s been the best part of your day/week? 

·        What have you accomplished recently that makes you proud?

·        What’s the best thing that’s happened for you in the past two months?

·        What’s one thing you’ve learned about yourself during this time that has surprised you? 

·        What do you have a newfound appreciation for?

I really love how the words How are you? now have a new and far more valuable meaning. Just as pop culture has taught us, words can evolve to take on meaning that is the exact opposite of their original meaning. Bad means good (thank you Michael Jackson). Sick means over the top amazing, and woke (a personal favorite) refers not to someone who is out of bed and awake, but to a person who is advanced, elevated, and accurate in his views.  And now in these times, instead of a routine utterance of the compulsory words, How are you? with no expectations on either side for a genuine exchange, they now truly mean, well, How are you?

So if you too want to be bad, sick, and woke, get on board with the language the cool kids are using and see how it affects your conversations at work. It’s no accident that God gave us twice as many ears as he did mouths. Use the 2:1 ratio accordingly!  Listen hard and listen well. And now that you’ve done the honor of listening to me, I’d like to return the favor. So, allow me to ask, how the heck are YOU???

Originally published Jun 30, 2020 

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