How to Answer When Asked “How Are You Doing?”

People like to ask, “How are you doing?” as a means to start an interaction with someone.

It’s a relatively simple question, but sometimes it can also be difficult to answer. The person on the receiving end may not always know how to respond, especially if they’re not particularly feeling “fine” that day.

So, when someone asks you this question, how should you answer? Is there a best way to respond to it?

Here are ways to answer when asked, “How are you doing?”

Patti Wood, MA

patti wood

Body Language Expert | Presentation Skills Trainer

Consider the source of the question

The first consideration in responding to someone asking “How you are doing” is the source of the question. For example, if the person is not someone you will see again or if you don’t want to grow and maintain a professional relationship with them, then a simple Fine.” is appropriate and significant.

A more personalized, more detailed, and specific response helps build rich, long-term relationships.

When I taught Nonverbal Communication at Florida State, I would tell the story of the Warm Fuzzes, the Plastic Fuzzies, and the Cold Prickles. (There was a village where children were given at birth a bag of warm fuzzes (soft cuddly puffs that when you gave them made people feel warm and fuzzy inside).

The village was a warm and loving place. One day a wizard visited and said to all the villagers, “You are going to run out of warm fuzzies!” So he gave the villagers bags, plastic fuzzies, a fake plastic kind of communication that wasn’t real and cold pricklies that made people feel all cold and sharp and hard inside.

So the villagers hoarded their now seemingly precious warm fuzzies and gave plastic fuzzies and cold pricklies, and in times the village grew tense and unhappy, lonely and mean.

Then a good witch entered the village and handed out warm fuzzies to everyone. The villagers felt bad about feeling so good when she gave them warm fuzzies that they went home and got out their bags of warm fuzzies and started giving them again.

They realized as they did that their bag of warm fuzzies filled up as they gave them freely, and everyone lived happily ever after.

The moral of the story?

When you give a warm, genuine communication, you give something warm and accurate to the other person, and you, in return, have your bag of warmth replenished.

A sincere response with a positive truth

The second consideration in responding is whether or not you tell them anything bad.

If you feel bad and bad things are happening in your life, a sincere response may include that truth. But, if you don’t need other people’s comfort, you don’t have to share that.

If you do, you may wish to soften it with a positive truth or hope for the future statement such as:

  • “I have a family member going through a hard time, and that is hard, but we have a good strong family, and we are grateful for that.”
  • “Business is not at the top of our projections right now, but we are working with a new prospect the next quarter looks much better.”
  • “I am having a hard day today, but I have plans for the weekend with my family, and I am grateful.”

Consider how to respond after you have completed answering their question

The third thing to consider is how to respond after you have completed answering their “How are you” question.

You can continue the more standard response interaction with, “And how are you?” with the expectation you will get a standard, “Fine..” response. On the other hand, you can create a more authentic, deeper interaction by asking a different question.

Here are some examples:

  • “And what is the best thing going on in your life? “
  • “What are you looking forward to today?”
  • “Tell me something that lifted your spirits today.”
  • “What’s the best thing that happened to you today?”

Some people may respond that nothing good is happening, and if so, that gives you an opportunity to have unique, tangible interaction and comfort them. But many times, you get back an incredible, honest, and positive response that feels terrific for both of you.

Heather Kent, MC, RP, CCC

Heather Kent

Registered Psychotherapist

The answer all comes down to how real you want to be with the person asking

Most people who ask “How are you doing?” in general conversation are simply being polite; they are not necessarily expecting an in-depth or overly honest answer.

This is a common question in polite surface-level small-talk, and a common response is usually a quick, “I’m good/pretty good/not bad…how are you?”

However, if you are feeling tired of this status quo of pleasantries and want to be more authentic in your response, there is absolutely nothing wrong with providing a more honest answer.

Here are some examples:

  • “I’m actually feeling tired today. I didn’t sleep well.”
  • “I’m ok, but I feel frustrated by the pandemic, and I wish it was getting better.”
  • “I am surviving. Working from home and dealing with kids learning online is driving me crazy.”
  • “I’ve actually not been feeling great recently, but I am doing the best I can.”

If the person asking you this question is someone you know well and whom you trust, you might consider being fully honest with them so that you can have some support if you are having a tough time. Chances are, they are asking how you’re doing because they genuinely care about you, and they want to know what’s going on for you.

In this case, you might share about the fight you had with your partner, the worries you have about a sick family member, the stress you’re feeling about money or your kids, or how you want to find a new job.

Whatever it is that’s happening in your life, your close friends and family do want you to share with them.

At the end of the day, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to answer this question; it comes down to how real you want to be with the person asking.

Desiree Taranto, LMHC

Desiree Taranto

Psychotherapist | Clinical Director, Empower Your Mind Therapy

Be honest with your response, yet stay mindful

This is a difficult time for most people, but not everyone has been affected in the same way.

  • For those who feel down but don’t feel they can discuss it with everyone, keep responses short. A quick, I am doing OK. How are you? will suffice in most situations.
  • For those who have more to say but don’t want to burden the other person, they can say something like, I’m not great, but I don’t want to get into it.
  • For those who want to say more, it’s important to make sure that the other person is ready to listen. You don’t want to dump negativity on someone who is not ready to take on that challenge.
    • In those cases, try I am not well, thanks for asking. If it is alright with you, I can let you know what is really going on with me.

Be honest, yet stay mindful. During challenging times, we can all try to normalize that it’s OK to not be OK.

You should do and say what you feel is most comfortable for you

Should responses be different for friends, family, and coworkers?

Not everyone needs to know all the details of what you’re going through. It may be too hard to explain to certain people, or you may dread their feedback. In those cases, tailor your responses.

You don’t owe anyone a response or an explanation, and you should do what you feel is most comfortable for you. Don’t feel the need to share with certain people if it doesn’t feel right—it’s for the sake of your mental health and theirs.

Michael Addis

Michael Addis

Psychology Professor, Clark University | Author, “Invisible Men: Men’s Inner Lives and the Consequences of Silence

Be willing to take a chance and be honest — don’t miss an opportunity to connect

A couple of years ago, I was reminded of the payoffs that can come from taking calculated risks based on a conversation with, of all people, the pizza guy.

Everybody knows the pizza guy. He comes to your house, you give him the money, and he gives you the pizza. That’s the extent of your relationship. You might exchange a “How’s it going,” and a “Fine, how about you,” or you might comment on the weather, but that’s really all that’s called for.

But one winter evening in 2008, I had had a particularly stressful day at work and was thinking about it when the doorbell rang. The pizza guy rang, and I opened the door, and he greeted me with, “Hi, how’s it going?”

Normally, I would say, “Good, how about you,” but something clicked inside me.

How was it really going? Actually, it wasn’t going that well. I was angry about a situation at work, I was worried about a relative’s health, and an old injury had been nagging at me for several days.

For whatever reason, I decided to be honest. The conversation then went like this:

Well, I’ve had better days. This one has been a struggle,” I said. I didn’t say it with that “life is life” tone of voice that essentially says, “Things are tough, but don’t ask me anymore about it. I’ve got it under control.” Instead, I looked at him directly and stated honestly that, in fact, at this particular time, I was not doing so well.

He looked me in the eyes and was silent for a moment. I could tell that he was surprised by my response. Then he looked down and said, I know what you mean. My grandmother died yesterday.”

Now it was my turn to be shocked. I could not believe that this man with whom previously I had exchanged nothing but the most cursory greetings would feel comfortable telling me such a powerful thing about his life. I immediately felt closer to him, and I could see the pain he was in.

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” I said. “How are you doing?”
“It’s tough,” he said. “My mother is very upset, and so are my brothers and sisters.”
“Are you all there for each other?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “We talk, but it’s still really sad.”
“I was very young when my grandmother died,” I said. “My family didn’t talk about it much.”
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s tough right now.”
“I really wish you and your family the best,” I said. “I’m very sorry that you lost your grandmother.”

I paid him, and he handed me the pizza. Then he took a couple of steps down the walkway and paused. He turned and looked at me and said, Thanks for talking.”

Thank you,” I said. Thank you for telling me about your grandmother.”

Several things stand out to me about this story:

  • First, we never would have broached the subject of his grandmother if I had not been willing to admit to myself and to the pizza guy that I was struggling that day.

In other words, my own willingness to take a chance allowed someone else himself to open up. I wonder how often men miss an opportunity to connect because of their own unwillingness to make themselves the least bit vulnerable.

  • The second thing to note is that our interaction was relatively brief.

It wasn’t like we stood there for hours pouring out our hearts and souls to each other. The entire thing could not have taken more than a couple of minutes. Sometimes this is all it takes. Most men do not want to go over and over their feelings about issues in their lives.

But most men want to be heard and to be seen as real people facing real issues. Taking a couple of minutes to honestly share what’s happening in your life can be tremendously liberating.

Finally, I was struck by the particular way we communicated with each other. There was not a lot of “feeling” talk. No one said, “I’m torn up on the inside,” “I feel deeply sad,” or anything like that.

There is nothing wrong with such feeling words. In fact, they can be quite helpful in articulating what’s happening inside you.

But for many men, these types of words simply are not necessary to describe personal or private experiences. For us, at that particular moment, it was enough to say that things were “tough” and that we were “sorry.”

Karen Arrington

Karen Arrington

Women’s Empowerment Expert | Global Philanthropist | Award-Winning Author, “Your Next Level Life

Whatever you say — just be honest

On the morning of January 30, 2022, I woke up to 20+ missed calls and just as many text messages asking if I heard the news. As I scrolled through the messages, one, in particular, made me stop breathing for a second.

Miss USA 2019 and Entertainment Tonight reporter Cheslie Kryst had leaped to her death from a luxury New York City hi-rise building. She was just 30 years old. By 2 pm, all media and entertainment media outlets were reporting the news.

Pageant fans everywhere were sharing their condolences.

The news caught everyone by surprise. We were shocked. In disbelief. No one had a clue that this beautiful, young pageant queen-turned entertainment correspondent with all the trappings of success was in pain.

This caused me to reflect on what to say when someone asks if you’re okay when you’re not okay?

Whatever you say, be honest. It’s okay not to be okay.

You are a human living the human experience. When you’re honest with yourself and others, you empower others to be honest too and destigmatize not being okay.

Just because someone asks how you are doing doesn’t mean you have to go into details. You can keep it short. Just be honest. You can say, today is not a good day,” and leave it at that, or you can say, I am really struggling today, and here’s why…

How you respond depends on who is asking. Is it someone that cares about your well-being or someone who is just being polite? Just be honest.

Caitriona Maria

Caitriona Maria

Online English Language Teacher | Founder, TPR Teaching

You can answer this question in many ways, depending on the context. If you are talking to someone you know well, the answer could be long and involved. Meanwhile, if it’s someone you don’t know very well or if you happen to be having a bad day, keep your response short and polite.

Below are some different ways to answer this question, depending on the context:

“I’m doing pretty well.”

This is a simple and polite way to say “I’m fine” or “I’m doing OK.” It’s one of the most common response to the question, “how are you doing?”

“Not bad! How about you?”

This is a very common response, appropriate in most cases. You are being positive but also asking the other person about themselves. This will encourage them to talk about their day or life if they are interested in doing so.

“I’m doing great!”

If you want to be a little more emphatic and enthusiastic, you can answer this question with “I’m doing great!” This is not the most common response – it’s really meant for when you’re feeling particularly happy and positive.

“I’m hanging in there.”

You might respond in this way if you are trying to be polite but don’t feel like talking about anything particularly heavy right now. It’s a casual way of saying that things are hard or stressful, but you’re doing fine. Keep it simple – “hanging in there” does not need much explanation.

Michelle Pargman, Ed.S., LMHC, NCC

Michelle Pargman

Licensed Mental Health Counselor

“I can tell you how I’m doing at this moment (or today).”

If we are met with the broad question of “How are you doing?” and your inclination is to react by saying something to the extent of “How the heck do you think I’m doing?” then it may be more helpful to simply follow the question up with:

“I can tell you how I’m doing at this moment (or today).”

In this way, you may free yourself up to speak more candidly and in a less “sugar-coated” manner than feeling like the only way to answer it is to appease the asker with a lie.

When we are vulnerable to speak our truth, we give ourselves the opportunity to connect, so perhaps responding to how are you doing with an honest response such as, “to be honest, I’m not really sure how to answer that,” could open up the chance for having an honest exchange that feels more real than “fake.”

It depends on who is asking and in what context.

Oftentimes, it may depend on who is doing the asking. If a virtual stranger is exchanging pleasantries with you, then you may not want to answer that question with anything other than a “fine, and you?”

However, if you know the person asking and they are a trusted associate, a friend, or a family member, you may choose to give them the benefit of your truth.

If you have lived on this planet for the last two years, a typical human response to this question that hopefully, we are permitting ourselves to even realize is that there is seldom one answer to this loaded question. A common reaction may be, “it is a mixed bag.”

The last two years have shown us that there is typically a “both and” when it comes to how we are doing. We may be doing well in counting our blessings but not so well in facing our disruptions. We may be grateful for many things and disturbed and distraught by many things.

Our humanness reminds us that we are not robots and therefore cannot be programmed in our responses to the “how are you doing” question.

When we respond with honesty, we often give ourselves a chance to connect to someone else’s honesty and therefore connect in those human moments to other humans.

The hope is that when we choose to ask the question, we also choose to stick around for someone’s response and acknowledge it.

“I’m fairly fabulous.”

As an author, I know that words are powerful tools. They can lift us up or drag us down. They can harm us or heal us. They can make us laugh or make us cry.

That is why, when someone asks me, “How are you doing” even if I’m not doing so well, I answer something like, I’m fairly fabulous,” super-terrific,” or simply great.”

Most of the time, people don’t really want the truth when they ask, “How are you doing?” It is a nicety; they are being polite.

They don’t want to hear your encyclopedia of every ache and pain, your miserable monetary matters, or the trouble you’re having with your love life. If they do, they usually ask more questions—I tell them.

So most of the time, I focus on an upbeat answer.

You are benefiting both yourself and the questioner

When you answer with a positive response, you are benefiting both yourself and the questioner.

With an upbeat answer, you are seeing a not-so-great situation better than it really is. You are creating an intention for things to improve. In addition, the person asking the question is saved from hearing your negative answer, which might bring them down too.

Play the part

The next time someone asks, “How are you?” be like Shirley MacLaine. She once said: “If I had a party to attend and didn’t want to be there, I would play the part of someone who was having a lovely time.”

You, too, can play the part of someone who is doing well and having a lovely time despite your problems, issues, and challenges. Instead of telling them about your not-so-great moments, which we all have, tell them how great you are doing.

Then notice how that makes you feel and how they react to your good news.

Maciek Kubiak

Maciek Kubiak

Head of People, PhotoAiD

It’s important to be culturally sensitive when answering that question

“How are you doing” is such a simple and harmless question, yet I think it can give rise to such awkward situations. I will let you know a bit of my experience from the time I spent in the United Kingdom (in England and Scotland).

First of all, when in Britain, don’t confuse a passing “heya you alright” with “how are you doing?” Sometimes I’d briefly see a colleague in the corridor, and they’d just say, “heya, you alright.” As I was about to answer, they were already gone.

It was very awkward because I’d end up saying “good thank you!” to no one, really. So make sure you’re in a proper “how are you doing?” situation.

Second of all, mind your answer.

When I arrived, I assumed that when people asked me, “how are you doing?” I’d simply have to say “good” or “good and you?” and move on. But it turns out that, according to one colleague, my answers were rather sloppy and moody.

I learned the hard way in a supermarket in the tiny town of St Andrews, Scotland. I arrived at the cashier, and the lady said, “heya there, how are you doing today, love?” (yes, ‘love,’ and that was rather common in smaller towns, along with ‘sweetheart’ sometimes.)

I was so shocked at the lovely way the cashier lady spoke to me I almost choked on my own attempt at an answer. I said, “yes, good,” and it just sounded so flat that I felt embarrassed.

One day I went to that same supermarket with an English friend from a small town near London, and the way he spoke to the cashier was mesmerizing to me. The cashier that day said something like, “hello sir, how are you doing today?” at which point my friend riposted with a cool “yea, not too bad, really. How about yourself?”

The “how about yourself” really wowed me. I had no idea one was allowed to reply like that at the supermarket.

My two cents? It’s important to be culturally sensitive when answering that question; it may not be the same in more serious (say) Eastern Europeans and the much warmer American or British people.

But if I had to choose a short one-liner to bring with me across the world, it would be: Not too bad! How about yourself?

David Reid

David Reid

Sales Director, VEM Tooling

The very first thing that a person would ask/say to you after the greeting is, “How are you doing?” Though most of us give the same answer, i.e., “I’m good, how are you?”, switching the answers and having some alternatives would be suggested over the same lame replies.

Here are some of how a person can respond to someone who’s asking for their welfare:

“I’m doing excellent. Thank you for asking about it. How are you doing?”

Simply, you can say, “I’m doing excellent. Thank you for asking about it. How are you doing?” This creates a greater impression than the former as you thank the person for asking about your welfare.

“I’m doing better now that you have asked..”

Or you can say, “I’m doing better now that you have asked..” By saying so, you mention that getting asked about your welfare by that person is very likable and appreciable.

Other ways of responding are:

  • “I’m Hale and healthy. I hope the same from you too.”
  • “fit as a fiddle, how do you do?”
  • “I’m armed and ready, going to take over today. How about you?”
  • “Great! I am sensing that today’s going to be mine and so will be for you.”

Daniela Sawyer

Daniela Sawyer

Founder, FindPeopleFast

You should always maintain a neutral and polite manner

It depends upon who is asking this question. If someone in your office or workplace asked this question, you have to answer formally. Meanwhile, if someone like your friends, colleagues, and relatives asks you this question, you should answer informally.

Formal answer: “Quiet well.”

This is one of the best answers if someone formally asks you this question. This tells that you are a hardworking and committed person. Also, it shows politeness in your behavior.

Informal answer: “Fine.” or “Good.”

These are some of the best informal answers. These answers show that you are happy and healthy. These answers also play a significant role in establishing more beneficial communication.

Neutral answer: “I’m alright.”

This is the most neutral answer for everyone, whether asked informal way or informal. This shows you are fully satisfied in your professional and social life. However, everything depends upon the tone.

The way you answer the question defines everything. It doesn’t matter what answer you give; you should always maintain a neutral and polite manner.

Even you are sad or tired, try to convince the person with your tone and behavior.

Tony D’Aurizio

Tony D'Aurizio

People Development Manager, Amica Senior Lifestyles

“I’m ok, but it would be good to have a proper chat later.”

You might be tempted to brush off the question and tell the other person that you’re absolutely fine, no matter how you might be feeling under the surface.

You might fear that to say anything else would lead to negative judgment and criticism of your performance. Or perhaps you really are ok, with no need for help or support. In either case, honesty is the best policy.

Here are some alternative responses:

  • “I’m struggling because….”
  • “I’m really well, actually. Thanks for asking.”
  • “It’s not the easiest time, but I don’t really want to talk about it.”
  • “I’m ok, but it would be good to have a proper chat later.”

As long as the initial question has come from a place of genuine concern, then the other person will listen carefully, giving you the chance to open up. You might find it helpful to talk and be pleasantly surprised by the amount of support shown.

Maria Juvakka

Maria Juvakka

Founder, Chic Pursuit

It’s like an unspoken rule of etiquette; you don’t tell people how you really are

You quickly respond, “I’m fine, how are you?” And this works both if you’re feeling good or bad.

You’re not supposed to weigh the other person down with your problems. These issues will come out later in the conversation if the other person leads the conversation to that point.

  • “So, how’s your health?”
  • “How’s work going, exactly?”
  • “Is everything really OK in your relationship?”

The same if you have great news and you’re bursting to tell everyone. You need to remain polite. What if the other person is having a bad day? It’d be rude to spread your good news, making them feel worse.

Related: What to Say When Someone Is Having a Bad Day?

In the UK, we are raised to be polite and considerate. Not that we are the only ones, but if you’re asked, “How are you doing?” you respond with a simple “I’m fine.”

Christopher Sioco

Christopher Sioco

Chief Operations Officer, Parachor Consulting

“I can’t say I haven’t been unwell, thanks. How are you?”

There are many factors to consider regarding how you want to engage with this person. “How are you doing?” isn’t usually a serious question; instead, it’s a social tic, as meaningless as the twitch of an insect’s antenna.

Usually, the socially acceptable answer is “fine,” and from there, you can move on with the conversation. However, the question can be answered in a way that encourages more engagement.

I usually respond by saying:

  • “I could be worse; I could be on fire..”
  • “I can’t say I haven’t been unwell, thanks. How are you?”

If you go off-script that way, the right people—I mean those who have a sense of humor or are quick-witted often respond by genuinely engaging. You may have great conversations with complete strangers this way.

Richard Lubicky

Richard Lubicky

Founder and CEO, RealPeopleSearch

Your response must relate to the “tone” and “gesture” of the person who has asked

I think the answer to this question must relate to the “tone” and “gesture” of the person who has asked this question.

Like, if someone asks this question in a pleasant tone with nice gestures, the excellent answer should be a detailed one corresponding with the warmth of the tone and gesture.

For example, saying, it’s been a great week full of pleasure and achievements, and I wish the same for you,” is a great answer to highlight your week’s activities, plus well wishes for the person who has asked the question.

And if someone asks this question in a casual tone with dead gestures, simply saying well is enough since it will relate to the way the question is asked. The secret to answering this question uniquely lies in guessing the right tone and gesture.

Related: Why is Body Language Important?

Jonathan Tian

Jonathan Tian

Co-Founder, Mobitrix

The best possible way to respond to this question is by being natural

“How are you doing” is much more a usual question usually asked in the interview to know if you are socialistic or into the conversations or not. It also decides how interactive or excited you are about the thing.

Often, people who come up with a reply, “I am well, how about you?” are the ones who don’t make conversation easily or are still struggling to get familiar with the interviews. But people who come up with a reply “I am great or amazingly well, how about you?” are the ones who are extroverts & can easily make conversation with everyone.

The best possible way to respond to this question is by being natural.

While giving this answer, you can also use your surroundings. For example, “It’s too cold out there, but I am good here. So, I am feeling amazingly well right now.”

If you are a kind of introvert or ambivert, the best way to answer this question is by being natural as well. You can reply to them naturally & by being confident.

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