“So, how are you doing?” – he asked at the beginning of our thirty-minute video call. “All good here!” I responded. “The sun is out today and I can’t wait to take a walk” – I continued, in an attempt to prolong the small talk and get a bit more comfortable. “Oh, that’s nice. But how are you, really?” he asked again. At this point, I was quite perplexed, totally caught off guard, and unsure if I should break down about my constant anxiety issues, how hopeless I feel about the state of things in my home country after the recent elections, or how I’m still trying to heal while grieving a recent loss. It was at that moment that I realised how powerful that question could be.
I can’t remember a time when the question ‘how are you?’ was taken literally and answered accordingly; when people (myself included) mentally scheduled more than two seconds of their time to accommodate a response to the question besides ‘I’m fine’, or when they provided a safe space for the other person to narrate how they really are.
I get it, I do. In an era where time is also an inflated commodity (you can’t even put a price on it), everyone wants to make the most dollars for each second they’ve got. Conversations are getting more transactional and ‘productivity’ seems to be what matters the most.
But at our core, even the most rigid of us are relational human beings, wanting to be seen, heard, and most importantly, cared for, irrespective of what we have to offer in return.
This transactional mode of engaging in dialogues is not peculiar to the corporate world alone. And the reason is not far-fetched. When we spend most of our active hours in a day relating to people (our colleagues) in a certain way, habit transfers become almost unavoidable.
So maybe start from the most unlikely scenario. Definitely not at a group, all-hands meeting but one-on-ones could do the trick. Of course, you may not get enough details at the first inquiry but what you do with the little information you get will go a long way in determining how that relationship grows.
And if you’re on the other side of the table, being asked the question by someone you may not be completely comfortable with yet, a simple “well, I feel a bit overwhelmed at the moment” can subtly pass the message without revealing too much.
It’s 2023, and with the increasing amount of layoffs, earthquakes, wars, and general global unrest, the world has never been more in ruins.
It’s more than okay not to be okay.