At one time or another, all of us have asked and have been asked this question. It’s simple, but the answer can be complicated.
There are countless ways to respond to this, yet many people struggle with finding the best response.
Below are expert tips on answering the question “how are you?” in a way that represents how you really feel.
Between the Great Resignation, the Covid-19 Pandemic, and the civil unrest, it’s no surprise that people are feeling burned out. What may be surprising, though, is that small talk can drain us further, especially when we are asked “how are you” multiple times per day.
What I’ve discovered that helps prevent burnout is by learning how to distribute the load we all carry and finding ways to energize ourselves throughout the day.
Check the other person’s state of being before answering
One way to do this is to create a strong support network through engaging in healthy, meaningful, reciprocal conversations.
Understanding that every person has a life as complex and nuanced as your own can help guide you in responding to the question “how are you,” because, sometimes, the answer can be a lot.
Because we’re all humans with a lot on our plates, I find it’s best to check the other person’s state of being before I answer, and how I do this depends on my current state and what news I have to deliver.
Here are three things to consider when choosing how to engage in mutually satisfying and meaningful conversation with folks that can ease some of the burdens we all carry and energize ourselves through connection.
Determine what level of depth to go into for your response
We have to gauge what level of detail feels safe and appropriate to share with every human interaction. But we also have to be mindful of how much detail the other person is expecting when they ask how you are.
Since we aren’t mind-readers, it’s best to simply ask. Depending on your own state, you can choose to have fun with it or take a more direct approach.
For example, you can say:
- “Do you want the long answer or the short one?”
- “How much detail would you like me to share?”
Depending on the person asking, this might also be considered “reading the room.”
Your barista probably doesn’t need details about what’s happening in your life, but simply asking your question might be enough to exchange words that don’t feel perfunctory and hollow.
Determine how much available bandwidth they have to engage with you
If you currently have a lot that you would like to talk about, you can ask a question that indicates as much and prepare them for a heavy answer.
For example, you can say:
- “Are you sure you want to know? It might be a lot.”
- “How much capacity do you have to hear this right now?”
- “Are you in a space for me to unload some of this onto you?”
It’s also ok to simply say what you want to say and not discuss it further. In that case, you can preface that you would like to vent just to get it off your chest but then move on to other topics.
Determine their conversational boundaries
Not everyone is comfortable discussing every topic or getting into specific details about certain issues.
By asking questions about conversational boundaries, you can be more effective at avoiding triggering subjects and may even find yourself discussing a new topic altogether.
For example, you can say:
- “What are you comfortable talking about?”
- “Is there anything you would rather not hear right now?
Regardless of whether or not you get the chance to open up about what’s actually on your mind, responding with a question that encourages the other person to clearly define their current state opens the floor for conversation and connection.
Inviting others to engage in conversation can lighten the burden you both carry by sharing a fraction of yourself with someone willing to accept it.
Even if the topic is entirely irrelevant, energizing conversation frees up space we were holding for darkness and allows goodness to enter our lives.
Remember, good conversation benefits all parties. So not only will it help you by reminding you that you don’t have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders alone, but it can do the same for the other person as well.
Mental Health Coach and Licensed Professional Counselor, Tightrope Therapy
Tell a lie to protect your own emotions
This advice might come as a surprise, especially since most of us have always been taught that “honesty is the best policy.”
However, there are certain situations where a white lie with the right people can be beneficial. When asked, “How are you?” we have a split-second choice to make — tell the truth or tell the classic “I’m fine” lie.
Telling the truth can require some vulnerability, particularly if we are:
- Having a hard time
- Struggling with our mental health
Our private emotions and struggles can be difficult to share, especially if we are potentially sharing them with the wrong person.
Not everyone in our life is a safe person who is ready to receive our vulnerability and provide support in the way we need, and that is ok.
To be vulnerable and share how we are genuinely doing, we need to be able to trust that they will be open to:
- Listen nonjudgmentally
- Provide empathy
- Validate our experience
Sometimes a person is not ready to listen because they are overwhelmed and cannot hold space for us to share our own challenges.
Perhaps we don’t have a quality relationship with them, or history has shown us that they are not capable or willing to provide empathy and understanding in the way we need.
It takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable and share our truth.
If we share our honest emotions with people who don’t respond with the support we need, we can become guarded and resentful as we unconsciously learn that other people are not to be trusted with our emotions.
I do encourage people to have at least one safe person in their lives where they can truly be themselves and share how they feel. This can be a family member, a friend, or even a therapist.
In other interactions, a white lie can be ok to protect our own emotions and prevent vulnerable sharing in situations where we don’t have trust and safety established.
Before you decide to share how you are really doing with someone, consider whether the person on the receiving end is a safe person worthy of that truthful information.
Relationship Coach | Creator, The Millionaire Marriage Club
The answer to “how are you?” is determined by two components:
- One, tell as much of the truth is appropriate for the person to hear
- Two, tell as much as that person is really interested in hearing
Do not share too much information
The question, “how are you?” is often just a standard greeting with a truthful, in-depth answer not really expected.
In that case, the asker would be surprised and perhaps thrown off by a truthful answer that exposes your vulnerability. TMI is the vernacular for “too much information.”
Yesterday I treated myself to lunch at a popular restaurant. The staff were well trained because they asked, “How are you doing today?” in a very friendly, “we really care” attitude.
I knew, however, that none of them expected to hear that I’d been working hard all week and needed some tasty food and great service to help restore my need for self-care.
Be as truthful and vulnerable as the relationship warrants
When a good friend or trusted family member asks, be as truthful and vulnerable as the relationship warrants.
I have three family members and a couple of friends with whom I would safely share anything, no matter how vulnerable the information made me. I know that I would be accepted, understood and that the information would remain private.
I think I am fortunate to have a handful of relationships that can be trusted with my most vulnerable truths.
Many persons don’t have anyone they can trust at that level. I would be more selective about what I share with other friends and family members. Although they love me, the depth of the relationship hasn’t earned total trust with my most personal thoughts or feelings.
Be cautious when the question refers to your marriage
Be very cautious when a friend or family member asks, “How are you?” referring to your marriage.
When your marriage or relationship is floundering, it’s best to not reveal the details to family members who then take your side and carry a grudge against your partner, even after you’ve worked out your differences.
Relationship troubles should only be shared with a professional or someone you can trust to remain neutral.
I’ve had several coaching clients who’ve vented their frustration with their partner after a fight only to have the one they confided in blab the details all over the family, turning the family against their partner.
One man, after a big fight with his wife, went home to stay for a day or two and unloaded all of his hurt and frustration about his marriage to his dad.
He did this, knowing that his father has a history of taking up another’s offenses and going to war with the one who offended his offspring. Meanwhile, this couple began working with me and learned some great communication skills replacing the poor skills they’d been practicing for years.
Avoid sharing private information
Their marriage is now thriving! At a recent family party, the wife walked toward her father-in-law to greet him warmly, only to have the man turn his back on her in a deliberate snub.
Now the husband must go back to his dad to set a difficult boundary in defense of his wife. He will tell his dad, “You will treat my wife with courtesy, or I will not be able to have a relationship with you.”
The resentment and distrust may last long after the marriage has healed and is healthy. I teach my clients that to have a long-term healthy relationship, they must treat the relationship as a third living entity between them that must be protected and nourished.
Sharing private information with untrustworthy friends or family members creates a crack in the boundary of the relationship that may take much longer to heal than whatever your frustration is at the moment.
Related: 15+ Signs of an Untrustworthy Person
Look for the good, see what’s working, and share that
Have you ever wondered how to answer when asked, “how are you?”
Do you dive into the truth, come up with a lie, or stick with the standard “fine” or “good” plus “how are you?” follow-up?
It can feel so robotic and superficial; maybe you’ve even wondered why you even bother with the question. For years I went with the “I’m good, how are you?” until one of my neighborhood walked when I passed by a neighbor. We waved, and I asked, “how are you?”
He responded, “the sun is shining, and I’m walking, so that’s good.”
His answer really struck me. He didn’t offer the standard response; he didn’t complain about the pandemic, wind, or rollercoaster ride weather in Northeast Ohio. He looked for what was good and shared that.
What a great opportunity to look for the good, see what’s working, and share that.
Doing this doesn’t take away what’s going on in the world or negate any stress or struggle you might be experiencing. It’s simply an opportunity to see and share the good in a simple and genuine way.
For me, this has been an opportunity to go from an autopilot response to a genuine one. It gives me a framework to look for and see the good and to focus on it even if it’s just for a minute (with how frequently “how are you” comes up those minutes add up!). I hope it does for you too.
Next time someone asks you, “how are you” share one or two simple, in-the-moment things that are working and add “so that’s good” to it. See how this new way to respond works for you.
Many years ago, while at a work conference, I heard a motivational speaker discuss the importance of attitude. “Your attitude is everything,” he said as she shared the importance of responding to the question, “How are you?”
He provided many examples of various ways one could respond when asked. His go-to was “Super fantastic!” because this was the attitude he presented in all situations, whether others perceived them as good or bad.
This resonated with me as I was still early in my personal development journey and looking for ways to improve my outlook. Since then, I have made a conscious effort to never answer with a stereotypical “fine” or “good” when asked.
This begs the question: How should one respond to “how are you?”
Think about the type of attitude you want to uphold
As I learned all those years ago, the first thing to think about is the type of attitude you want to uphold.
As the saying goes, “our thoughts become our words, and our words become our actions,” so starting with your thoughts will help you determine the outcome.
I’m a very positive person and tend to think positive thoughts, allowing for a good starting point.
If you tend to be more negative-minded, then try viewing things through a positive lens. This is a proven psychological tactic known as “positive reframing,” which literally rewires your brain over time to be more positive.
Related: How to Stop Being Pessimistic
Avoid making pre-programmed responses
Once you have your attitude in order, avoid making pre-programmed responses like the ones described as your go-to answer.
Usually, this is a part habit and part reflex as we all learn these responses over time through interactions with others. This can sometimes be good to get us more efficiently thorough our day, which is why our brains have implemented these types of responses.
In this situation, it’s a habit worth breaking. The good news is you can train your brain to take a different approach.
Here are three simple tips to a better answer:
- Understand the question as to the frequently omitted, more extended version, “How are you feeling today?”
- Actually scan through your feelings to respond to the state of your emotions. Did you wake up feeling amazing? Are you worn out from the long week? Get in touch with your true feelings.
- Respond with honesty about your feelings and be open to sharing. I’m not saying to dump all over the person who asked; I’m saying to be authentic, which will allow you to make a genuine connection with the other person.
Follow the three tips above and watch your days brighten and your relationships flourish from the increased trust and vulnerability.
You’ll soon learn that a better attitude and a more positive outlook are just one question away.
Leslie Shull, NBC-HWC, MBA
Be more granular and honest
I use Dr. Marc Brackett’s RULER in my college courses. I am also an adjunct professor of business and real estate finance at Sacramento City College to help students get through to the end of a term. I use his RULER to encourage students to get granular with their feelings.
So instead of “good” when someone says, “how are you?” they might say, “calm.” They might say, “uneasy.”
I use it towards the end of the term because often, students start feeling really stressed and find it hard to deal with their emotions and feel like they cannot get through it.
After three years of doing this, I have found that:
- First, someone just asking them “how they are doing” does wonders.
- Second, examining their actual emotion, naming it, and claiming it is crucial.
Depending on who is asking, right?
Obviously, we cannot unload on the barista.
Let me repeat that. We cannot and should not be unloading on our baristas, check-out clerks, retail clerks, people serving us in restaurants, customer service people, anyone that is helping us do anything, for that matter.
I believe that if we all got a little more granular and honest with ourselves about how we are actually feeling, maybe we would stop blowing up all over the place, and the world might become kinder, more gentle — just a thought.
And Dr. Brackett — if you said that in your book and I am not remembering, high five!
Hala Abdul, MA, RP, RCC
Psychotherapist, Hala Therapy & Consulting
Here’s the thing, there’s no right or wrong way to answer the question “how are you?” when asked. It’s different strokes for different folks, and that’s okay.
Keep it real
The best thing you can do for yourself is to keep it real. It all comes down to how you’re feeling and what you’re comfortable with.
For example, if a close friend or loved one asks you how you’re doing and you’re just not doing so hot on that day, it’s okay to let them know that you’re having a rough day.
It all comes down to whether or not you’re comfortable with that person and if there’s any part of you that wants to share.
If so, sharing how you’re genuinely feeling invites the possibility of giving someone the chance to support you, hear you out, and connect.
Don’t pressure yourself to fake a super positive answer if you don’t feel that way
What if a coworker asks you how you’re doing, and you just so happen to be having a difficult day? What not to do is pressure yourself to put on a super happy face and pretend that you’re having a wonderful time.
In that case, to respect both your personal and professional boundaries, it’s okay to keep it neutral with an “I’m doing alright, how are you?”
Doing so allows you to focus on your work while also taking care of yourself because, at the end of the day, it’s essential to respect your privacy.
Reply with optimism
This is a two-part answer that spreads energy and light. The first part of the reply is, “Thank you. I am blessed beyond measure.”
On purpose, people believe tomorrow will be better than today and that they can play a role in making that true. People living with gratitude look for the blessings they are given each day.
Decisions determine destiny, so why not choose to reply with optimism.
Why complain? No one wants to hear it. You are the driver of your destiny. You can decide if you want your day to be a good one or a bad one.
When you are looking for something, you will find it. So, why not find positivity. What are you grateful for, and how can you spread a light of sunshine today?
It is also ok not to be ok. Life is messy, and we are all broken. Accept that and live with the plan that today, with one simple act, wrap your arms around the good in your life and spread it.
Ask, “How are you?”
The second part of the answer to this great question is to ask, “How are you?” Ask the other person, look them in the eye and listen.
You may also add “Tell me more” as you interact to build a better relationship and better tomorrow.
Now accept the challenge. Try these two replies for a week. Reflect on how you feel and what you have learned. How has your day been better? How have you brightened someone else’s day, and they may even pay it forward.
Sarah Almendariz Rivera
Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor and Owner, La Luz Counseling
Base it on the level of closeness and setting
The transparency of your response to the question “How are you?” is based on the level of closeness you have with the person asking and the setting you’re in.
First, internally rate the person asking you the question on a level of 1-3:
- 1 being the closest to you (this person knows your kids and partner’s names, your number is stored in their phone, you frequent each other’s lives, etc.).
- 3 being a nice person who you could likely hang out with, but you don’t know the ins and outs of one another.
Then answer from there:
- Level 1 gets the nitty-gritty
- A 2 gets a general statement of truth
- The 3 gets a vague response
The response also varies on where the question is asked — there is a time and place for emotional transparency.
CEO, ADAPT Programs
Answer with enough details
Whether casual or formal, every conversation always starts with a “Hello” followed by a “How are you?” We might think about how to answer this question because we usually only know two ways of answering it.
Giving generic answers such as “Good, what about you?” might seem too impersonal, dry, and not genuine enough. On the other hand, we do not want to tell the other person our entire life story.
In my personal opinion, there are a few ways to go about answering this question with enough detail that the answer does not seem generic, nor does it feel like you are oversharing.
The one thing that I keep standard across all answers is the fact that I smile first. Smiling indicates that you welcome the other person and appreciate them for asking you how you’re doing.
“I’m hanging on”
You can say, “I’ve had a hectic week, but I’m hanging on. What about you?” This is a way that gives little insight to the other person about your life, just enough that they know what you have been going through but not enough to bore them with irrelevant details.
“I’ve been well”
“I’ve been well” is a standard response to the question.
But supplementing that with “just got back from a vacation we took to celebrate my daughter’s birthday” tells the person that you are in a great place without actually saying it.
This also proves to be a great conversation starter. You can start your conversation by talking about vacations, children, birthdays, and cities— the possibilities are endless.
“What about you?”
It’s always nice to be asked about your well-being. A great reply to the question is, “I’m good, just been busy with work. What about you?” This brings back the spotlight on the other person without it sounding rude.
The other person feels welcome and heard, and you seem interested in their life. So, if you’re not in the mood to answer this question, this is a great way to go about it.
Distinguish the types of situations
My work requires me to speak with a wide group of people. I find that some people ask, “How are you,” as a way of being polite, while others are genuinely curious.
However, most people fall into the first group because of time constraints. I think the most important ability is to be able to distinguish between these two types of situations.
If someone is just asking how you are as a way of saying “hello,” it could be detrimental and off-putting to start answering the question in long-form.
Bring up the weather
I usually answer “How are you?” by bringing up the weather.
I might say:
- “The weather is nice today, so I decided to wear a bright shirt,” or
- “The weather is dreary and dark, isn’t it?”
By bringing up the weather, I purposefully avoid answering the initial question.
I have an issue saying I am doing well when I feel down because I do not feel genuine. It might be a little white lie, but I would rather be honest, and it is usually not the time for a heartfelt conversation. In this way, changing to another uniting topic feels more natural to me.
Certified Happy For No Reason Trainer, Happiness With Heather
Share what’s good and what’s not so great
Who hasn’t been asked this question a thousand times? The simple response to answering this question is quite simple – be honest!
When I ask someone this question, I genuinely am curious to know how they are and how their life has been since I last spoke to them or saw them.
- If they have experienced any new and exciting things that they’d like to share, I can celebrate their wins with them.
- If they happen to be experiencing some not-so-pleasant situations in their life, then I can offer my support and comfort, which is likely much needed, or they may not have been inclined to divulge their woes.
Life is so much better when we can share what’s good in our lives and what’s not so great.
Being able to comfort someone in an unpleasant situation can often take the sting out of the event. Each of us has been created equally in our human needs and what is required to truly thrive in life.
If we cannot offer support to another, we cannot expect to be supported in our difficult times.
Love one another, support one another, cheer for one another, and empathize with one another — we are all in this life together!
I would respectfully suggest that if you are not interested in really knowing how someone is doing, you considerately refrain from asking, “how are you?”
Jonathan Brockman, P.C.
Practicing Attorney and Founder, Brockman Injury Lawyer
Figuring out how to answer “how are you” sincerely has been something that I have been working very hard towards for the last couple of years.
I come from a generation of men whose emotions were not so easily accessed and certainly not shared. Because of this, I find it very difficult to admit how I am on a daily basis, especially when I am particularly not okay.
The temptation to just say something along the lines of “Not too bad” or “just taking it one day at a time” is very high, even if I could do with some additional support in those moments.
This is even more difficult when considering whether the person who is asking you actually cares or is just asking a filler question.
To combat these issues, I’ve taken to answering honestly the first time, no matter how difficult it might be sometimes.
If the person doesn’t really want to know, you’ll be able to see it on their face immediately, and I know not to go into too much detail or answer like that to them again.
However, for the people who genuinely care — my friends, my wife, my kids — you can actually see how appreciative they are of your honesty.
Have mental check-ins
My therapist taught me a trick to journal in the morning — which I initially hated, but I’ve started to come around to it.
I write down my initial mood from when I wake up, whether I feel like it’s a good day or a day I don’t have the energy for, then I can mentally check in with myself as the day goes on and see if it’s changed.
Sometimes I can start the day off with very low energy, but then a good cup of coffee or a nice conversation with a coworker can boost it. But that also works vice versa. Having those mental check-ins makes it much easier to answer sincerely when somebody asks me how I am.
Senior Editor, Tandem
Relate your answer to whom you are responding to
There are different philosophies on responding when someone asks, “How are you?” Your response is related to the person you are responding to and how much information you wish to give.
Replying to an acquaintance
If an acquaintance asks you, “How are you?” you might not want to give them your entire life story.
A simple, “I’m doing well, thank you, how are you?” or “Fine, thanks, and you?” will often suffice.
By responding with short answers and asking them how they are doing, you are answering their question and are being polite without going into details.
Replying to a coworker
Depending on your relationship with your coworker, you may want to answer similarly to how you would reply to an acquaintance.
- Do you want your coworker to know what is going on in your personal life?
- Is it appropriate to give details about your personal life at work?
Only you know what is acceptable for you and the company you work for, so it’s important to keep this in mind when you respond to a coworker.
Replying to a supervisor
If a supervisor asks, “How are you?” casually and out of courtesy, you can reply with the simple yet polite answers mentioned above. If, however, there is some concern on the part of your supervisor, you might need to go into more details about how you really are doing.
Maybe there is a situation happening in your personal life or with another coworker affecting your quality of work. If this is the case, it might be good to open up slightly with your supervisor and give them some insight into the situation.
If you need special accommodations to handle your situation, they might be able to provide these to you. That said, never feel pressured to tell your boss about your personal life.
Replying to friends and family
Most often, when friends or family members ask you how you are doing, they are asking sincerely. Our friends and family are there to support us, bring us up when we are down, and celebrate our victories.
Be open with your friends and family when they ask, “How are you?” whether your answer is good or bad. You want them to be there for you the same way you want to be there for them.
CEO and Founder, Lift Vault
Discuss real-life situations and share compassion
As a CEO, you often get asked “how are you?” a lot. For some people, this is just a way to be polite and doesn’t really serve as an opportunity to be honest about your feelings.
I’ve found that if you allow yourself to be honest and vulnerable with the people around you, that gives them license to be honest and vulnerable back.
This is a great way for managers to connect with their team members and is valuable for people who just want to have more genuine and authentic interactions with the people around them.
One of the best things a manager can do to foster a good relationship with their employees is to be able to discuss real-life situations with them.
Related: Building Strong Work Relationships
Many of us probably don’t feel safe talking about losing a family member or fighting with our spouse with our employer because that feels like a taboo subject. However, that can cause people to feel isolated from the people around them and like they don’t have the support they need.
While every interaction isn’t an opportunity to share too many personal details, you can use them to share more compassion.
Give little insight to build strong interpersonal bridges
As a leader, take the opportunity to be honest when it arises. If someone says, “how are you doing?” Answer honestly, without making it awkward.
Something like, “I’m tired because I couldn’t get the baby to sleep last night.” Or “I’ve got some stress at home which is on my mind, but I’m here and ready to tackle the day,” is often perfectly fine to share.
Giving that little insight into your life can help build strong interpersonal bridges that can serve you when it comes to being an effective manager and friend.
Sales Director, VEM Tooling
Answer in the traditional and polite way
Almost everyone might have been asked this question several times in their lives, especially during the pandemic.
Every time a noble person meets another, they ask the others how they are. It is also one of the best techniques to build up a conversation when you do not know how to carry it out.
But, if one answers with statements like “awesome,” “things are great,” etc., then it might not sound genuine to the others.
Also, if one starts lamenting over their griefs and what they have been going through lately, it would be seen as oversharing the information, and no one wants to listen to all these things.
Just because they have started the conversation doesn’t mean they are ready to listen to whatever one says.
If you don’t necessarily want to continue the conversation anymore, you can say, “Fine, thanks.” It is a traditional and polite way of ending the discussion.
For instance, when you are in a store, and the salesperson asks you how you are, you can give this reply to them as it would be the best suited.
Even though it’s not a type of reply that lets the speaker build more interactions, they don’t need to force themselves to become more socially engaged.
“Thanks for asking. I’m doing good”
If you want to be gracious to those who ask for your wellness and not put yourself into a serious discussion, you can say, “Thanks for asking. I’m doing good.”
The first statement shows your appreciation towards them considering your welfare, and the latter responds. It doesn’t ask for different responses from the speakers, thus marking an end to the conversation.
“I have had a whirlwind of a week, but I’m hanging in there.”
This states that you are facing some struggles as anyone does, but you find them manageable and not shattering. It brings up the emotions by claiming that we all ultimately suffer and cling to life.
This type of response lets the speaker say they are having trouble and not sharing too much simultaneously.
If the others want to know about your faults further, they would eventually volunteer and ask about it, reducing the occurrence of awkward situations.
Head of Job Market Research, JobSearcher
The key to answering this question is to be genuine. If you’re not feeling great, say so. People will usually respond with an expression of concern and a desire to help, making you feel better.
It’s also okay to just say, “I’m good, thank you,” if that’s the truth.
Avoid phrases like “I’m good, thanks for asking,” which can make you sound like you’re not really interested in the other person. It’s better to be authentic and let the other person know how you’re really doing.
Don’t brag about your happiness
I advise against using this question as an opportunity to brag. If you’re having a great day, that’s great, but don’t go on and on about it. Let the other person share in your joy, and save the bragging for another time.
Be mindful of the other person’s mood
If you’re talking to someone who looks like they’re not having a good day, it’s probably not the best time to launch into a detailed description of your amazing day.
Try to be sensitive to the other person’s mood and wait for a more appropriate time to share your good news.
Never use one-word answers
Ideally, you should avoid giving a one-word answer. A one-word reply can seem uninterested or unengaged.
It can also make the other person feel like they need to do more talking. Instead, you should give a brief answer that shows that you’re interested in the conversation.
Respond with simple recognition and courtesy
To this day, the question of an appropriate response to “How are you?” triggers an amusing memory.
For two quarters in college, I had a unique and interesting roommate. The question really got to him as he could never believe those asking actually cared.
He asked, “What if I just answered, “Sh*#&ty! F#&k off!” I don’t know that he ever tried it as he was a pretty happy guy, but from then on, it was like a private joke between us.
He had a valid point, in my opinion. Society does frown on answering such a question honestly, so why do we feel compelled to ask? In later years, I understood.
Currently, I see someone every morning who will ask the question — not just about me, but about a horse! One of my tasks is feeding the horse twice daily for this same friend and blanketing him on cold nights.
Generally, it is much too early for me to offer a compelling synopsis of my personal state — let alone that of the horse. Yet, on behalf of both myself and the horse, I will answer that “everything is fine.”
Lastly, I offer this anecdote. A friend of mine from college traveled to Australia and New Zealand relating this observation. This was the early 1990’s and conditions may or may not have changed.
He told me of walking along some streets in Australia. He noted this response when encountering aboriginal people moving in the opposite direction.
Their practice was to step aside and keep heads slightly lowered. He would ask, “Hi, how are you?” The reaction was generally a look of surprise followed by a broad smile and their own greeting.
He concluded that it was unusual for native Australians to be acknowledged by a white stranger.
Humans have an innate need for simple recognition and courtesy. We may think such a question is meaningless or trite, but in this case, it is easy to see how a social convention may take on real significance.
Understand and fight through the lie
“How are you?” — Is there possibly a dumber question in today’s world?
It doesn’t seem that complicated. In fact, making simple questions complicated seems to be my forte in life.
I’ve repeatedly been told, “you think too much,” and here I am pondering the best way to respond to the frequently inane question, “how are you?”
The question seems to start every work meeting or phone call I take. I’m a product line manager for a chemical firm, but I’ve been sucked more and more into the global supply chain due to obvious reasons.
“How are you?” As if you really want to know.
I’m angry and overworked and stressed beyond description. I have recurrent shingles and chronic, untreatable depression. Which in today’s world makes me just about like everyone else — perhaps more fortunate than a good many.
However, we all know that answer is not one you should offer a polite company. Very few people in our narcissistic age want to know how we really are. It’s just a polite way to start a conversation.
For some reason I can’t describe, I’m unable to just reel off the cursory “fine, how are you?” It feels utterly disingenuous and flip — as if I’m disrespecting the actual question and the one who is asking.
I feel I owe them more; I think I owe them the truth. So I’m in a perpetual dilemma. I have suggested during work meetings that we should ban the question altogether.
Its never been an easy question to answer.
When I was in ministry, my wife and I had adopted a sibling group of pre-teens we had been foster parenting.
Eventually, we adopted the kids. We loved the kids. However, negative instances caused trauma to the children being torn in two, and it was soul-crushing for everyone.
I would walk into church dark with sorrow and depression, all the while knowing I had to stay positive and up for the congregation’s benefit. “How are you”? They would ask.
Depression, unlike cancer, is contagious.
One thing I learned in ministry is that the congregation expects the pastor to be up, happy, energetic, outgoing, and have nothing but time and love for the struggles of each individual congregant.
I also found that my sadness or darkness would negatively affect them. If I were dark, they would become dark as well. Worst case, they would take my sorrow personally.
“How are you?” was only allowed one answer — “Great! How are you?”
The main problem with the question “how are you?” is this — I am actually great. I am; I just don’t feel great. However, as we all know, feelings lie. Depression lies.
Depression, self-hatred, and contempt tell you things about yourself and your situation that simply aren’t true.
The truth of the matter is, if I could put aside my self-pity and understand I face a chronic medical condition and life challenges probably dwarfed by the challenges of many others, I am great. That’s how I’m doing. Really.
How do I begin telling the truth?
The question going forward is whether or not I will have the courage to speak the truth about how I am regardless of how I feel.
Will I be able to stand up to the voices that describe the misery, or will I be able to find the beauty of my creator in all of it regardless of how I feel about it?
Most importantly, will I be able to set down my need for empathy — which is probably more likely a cry for sympathy — to embrace my “doing greatness?”
Will I be able to resist my urge to complain about my present context to anyone who asks the question, “how are you?” And, instead, speak the truth — that I am great.
Learn to switch words
You might find yourself paused each time someone at work or general store asks, “how are you?” you can eventually end up replying with the most classic “Yeah, I am fine. Thank you”.
But only if you understand, the more you know how to answer conveniently, the more you can save up your energy and be better at communicating with others to give the best impression.
Eventually, you could save up more vocabulary to answer such questions from daily life.
Therefore, I would advise you to switch words to:
- “I am doing great today, but the day seems dull,”
- Or in a positive manner, such as “That’s nice of you to ask, I am doing just great” or “It has been a rough day.”
These alternative phrases can save you up from the bland term of replying to someone.
Acknowledge that you are safe in this pandemic
However, there is another way in which you can answer this question. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we all have been centered around it.
Therefore, an alternate way to respond is to acknowledge that you are safe in this pandemic. Or else, you can also use the phrase: “I am fine but hoping to get the pandemic over soon.”
This response is upbeat, sincere, and presents hope for returning to normalcy.
The best option is to give a short and polite answer
Do you know that situation where someone asks how you are, and you don’t know what to say? This is a common way to start a conversation and can be a bit awkward to answer.
With colleagues or acquaintances, the best option is to give a short and polite answer. You can have a deeper conversation with friends and family.
Say “It’s not bad” or “It’s going well” when you want to show positivity and convey a pleasant and cheerful image to a colleague, boss, or acquaintance. Answer in more detail in a conversation with friends and family.
When you talk to someone you trust and have closeness with, feel free to say how you really feel. When you feel bad, express it with “Not good” or “Not very good.” This answer allows you to be honest. They will be able to ask more questions and look for ways to help.
Answer this way only when you are comfortable talking about your problems because it allows you to learn more about your condition and find ways to feel better.
Show that you are ready to talk with the question
Finish with “Thanks for asking.” Show the other person that you are grateful to have heard your answer. Ask how the other is. Show that you are ready to talk with the question “How are you?”
For example, say, “I’m fine, thank you for the question.” How are you?”
Pay attention to body language. If a person maintains eye contact and his body is turned towards you, it means that he wants deeper social interaction and is ready to talk.
CEO and Founder, Choice Mutual
There is more than one way to ask the “how are you” question. Sometimes, it’s out of politeness. Sometimes, it’s an honest wondering.
Be as honest or personal as you like
If a personal friend asks, be as honest or personal as you like. They know you, which means they’re probably honestly asking how you are. There’s no need to jump into a minutes (or hours) long story, but be honest.
Funny and upbeat responses are great to use with family and friends:
- “I’ve heard many opinions on it lately”
- “Do I have to answer that?”
If you’re with someone you want to extend the conversation with:
- “You answer first, and then we’ll compare”
- “Just wondering how you are.”
If someone not so personal is asking, don’t be too personal
A new connection, a new colleague, or even a new neighbor probably isn’t asking this question to know all about your personal life. They’re being polite. Just return the politeness.
When you’re not in the mood to answer or extend the conversation, you may respond with “just fine.”
CEO and Founder, Lashkaraa
Think about the context
Context is key. “How are you?” can feel like a loaded question.
When asked this question, think about the context.
- Is it someone you are saying hi to you in passing?
- Or is it in a professional setting?
- Or is it a close friend who has carved out time to speak with you?
The context will give you the information you need, such as your:
- Relationship to this person
- Body language
- Time and place
Keep things brief and positive in a professional setting
Often this question is a polite thing to ask, but rarely are people trying to find out the intricacies of your personal life in this setting.
A time in a professional setting where you might disclose more information is if you have a serious conversation with HR or your boss. This can be an appropriate time to speak more personally if you need to discuss a topic impacting your ability to work.
Give the whole truth
If you are meeting up with a close friend, most likely they want the whole truth; the good, the bad, and the ugly.
These types of relationships are invaluable because they provide a place for us to be fully honest with someone and share our truth.
How you answer this question will depend on many things, such as the person, place, and time.
If it is someone you know deeply, chances are they want to see how you really are, not a surface-level answer. If it is a polite, “Hi, How are you?” in passing, it probably just requires a short response.
CEO and Founder, RebateKey
Establish a connection by finding a common ground
The answer you give depends on the person who asked the question, the kind of relationship you have, and the depth of relationship.
Generally, you begin with a short answer, like an “I’m fine” or “I feel great.” If you don’t have anything else to say, it can stop at that. But generally, you would want to establish a connection by finding common ground.
If it’s a professional colleague or an acquaintance, or you’re both in the same industry, you can add something relatable or something that they would understand.
If it’s someone close, you can dive right in and share anything under the sun. You can then return the question to them.
Keep it brief and on-point
As I’ve mentioned, it’s often used as an ice breaker. Hosts often ask people how they are just to have a quick check-in before a major meeting or announcement.
In these cases, it’s best to keep it brief and give an on-point answer.
Co-Founder, Academia Labs LLC
Let them know you are still happy and healthy
Nowadays, you can see many people suffering from mental health. Because of the recent events, more and more people are suffering from depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental health concerns.
“My mental health is healthier than ever”
Hence, it is always good to let them know that you are still happy and healthy, at least mentally. This also allows you to share the things you do to keep you sane and healthy with your mental health.
You can take this opportunity to invite them to your favorite yoga place or just invite them for a drink. Some people find peace while doing meditation, while some find happiness when working out.
Try to offer your activities to the person who asks this question. After all, the world will be a better place if almost all of us are mentally healthy.
So, take the question “How are you” as an opportunity to get to know your co-workers or even acquaintances more. You’ll never know, you might become really good friends!
CEO, Rockstar Marketing
It’s difficult to know what to answer when asked, ‘how are you?’ As humans, we just brush this off and respond with “fine, thanks” or “OK, thanks.”
I think this is because most of us are busy and ask this question to others out of politeness, rather than wanting to hear the answer. Also, because of this same reason, I’m not sure how many of us take time out to think about how we’re actually feeling.
Are we happy? Are we sad? Why is this? For many years, I would also be the person who just responded with ‘fine’ or ‘well, thanks,’ but in recent years, this has changed. I’ve started to talk about how I’m feeling.
Be honest with the answer rather than just “fine, thanks”
Being honest with the answer, rather than just “fine, thanks” can be a good way to build rapport with the other person. It’s challenging to know when to do this, though, because often, I get asked this question multiple times per day, and I’m not in the mood to go into depth about how I’m feeling.
Sometimes, I just want to do my work or continue with my day. I think it also depends on how well you know the other person and how long the conversation or relationship will last.
But sometimes, I’ve just been honest, and it’s been fantastic. They understood and listened, or sometimes, told me they were feeling the same way.
It can be a good way to build a relationship. If you feel like opening up, don’t be afraid to. You’ll be surprised by how quickly others open up to you when you open up first.
Co-Founder and CEO, Infinite Recovery
Shake things up a bit
When someone asks, “How are you?” I now respond, “I’m Alright.” The standard response to “How’s it going?” or “Wassup?” is “I’m fine, thanks.”
That was like our first English class, right? However, this can come out as a little dry and uninteresting. So let’s shake things up a bit.
“I’m fine” alternatives
- “I’m good”— If you’re feeling calm, you can shorten this to “good.”
- “I’m well” — You can reduce this to “well,” as you can with “I’m good.” Alternatively, you could be sluggish. Despite its widespread use in modern English, some individuals still regard this statement as grammatically improper.
Marketing Director, KeyUA
Try to jazz it up your way
Your answer to the question “how are you” silently reflects your mental satisfaction with your life.
Simply shrugging it could mean that you are too messed up to give a straightforward answer like “I’m fine.” Though this is considered a formal reply to this question, try to jazz it up in your way.
A simple question expects a simple answer. An unnecessary grave mood is detrimental to mental health.
Speaking for myself, I prefer saying “Life’s good” or “Things are good“ with a happy smile to flaunt my positivity, but every day can’t be all about rainbows and sunshine.
For gloomy days I prefer saying “I’m hanging in there“ or “Looking forward to the end of this week,” which is an acceptable response from someone having a bad day or week.
Conversing and exchanging pleasantries is no rocket science. It is a matter of personal preferences, but sometimes it must be glazed with words dealing with your mood instead of just a fake smile.
Marketing Director, Diggity Marketing
Respond with positive words
There isn’t a right answer to this question, and I don’t have a fixed answer to it. But I definitely have a favorite one. A generic reply like “Fine, thank you” can feel very half-hearted.
Talking about things that are troubling me when asked how I am doing feels like I’m oversharing.
Sometimes, it is clear that the person just wanted to acknowledge they saw me and isn’t ready to hear something like “tensed over trying to meet all deadlines while running my other errands.” Or some of the more serious struggles of my life.
Sometimes, a person just wants to strike a light conversation with me for a few minutes and then forget about it. Sometimes, I want to end the conversation quicker because I am too busy to chat. Or maybe, just maybe, I don’t want to talk.
So when I am asked how I am doing, I usually respond with, “Never been better.”
I believe that things as little as responding with positive words can improve my day. I look at the silver linings and recall all that I have learned and gained down the years. “Never been better” isn’t a lie once I count all I am thankful for.
Founder, Inboard Skate
Here are some examples of what I believe to be the best and most concise responses to “How are you?”
Connect with honesty
Honesty is a great way to connect with people you love, and it’s a great opportunity to open up with them after they ask, “how are you?”
Responding to loved ones or close friends
The best opening responses would be:
- “Okay, so far.”
- “Frustrated, to be honest”
- “Stressed out”
- “I’m great!”
- “I’ve never been better”
People you are close with will see through your response, or you can go ahead and tell them the truth right away, but do so in a way that you still have control over the conversation.
Responding to strangers
If you’re looking to close the conversation immediately, these are the best responses I can offer:
- “Couldn’t be better!”
- “I’m alright”
- “I’m great, thank you”
- “I’ve had better days”
Respond correctly and differently
In both our professional and social lives, greetings are vital.
Depending on the situation and who you’re speaking to, you’ll need to know how to respond correctly and differently.
When speaking to strangers or acquaintances, your response will be more formal than talking to relatives or friends.
- “Good” is the most common response to “How are you?” It is courteous and upbeat.
- “Great” is an enthusiastic reaction and a great way to start a discussion if you don’t already have one going.
- When you say “fine,” make sure you say it with a cheerful tone and a smile. If you say “fine” too slowly or with a grimace, it could imply that you are not in good health.
- “All right” is a more positive word than “fine,” but it’s still neutral enough to use in a formal setting. Again, pay attention to your intonation.
- “Not bad” is a neutral or favorable response. It denotes that you are in good health. “Not too awful” or “so so” are two other options.
Founder and CEO, Gymdesk
Think about the context and the person who is asking
I think before we answer, we have to ask ourselves if the person sincerely wants to know how you are or whether it’s nothing more than a part of a general greeting that has become a habit. It also depends on the context and who is asking the question.
Your clients and employees don’t really want to be burdened with your woes, so keep your answer neutral. “Good thanks,” “Well, thanks…and you?“ You could get away with “Not too bad,” but don’t take it lower than that.
If a friend or relative asks about your well-being sincerely, you may wish to elaborate or be more specific about how you feel when they ask you how you are.
“Great, thanks. Never felt better,” and if things are not going well, you may want to dump it on them and have a shoulder to cry on, in which case, “I’m at the end of my rope“ may be appropriate.
Content writer, GreenMatch
The information you give should vary
Meeting someone, whether an old friend or an acquaintance, usually involves a generic conversation like saying “hi” and asking, “How are you?”. It has always been the sequence.
Likely, without notice, answers to the question come the same. It is usually answered with “I’m okay.”
However, this answer doesn’t seem specific. It is like a hanging answer that needs a supporting detail to express the vague thought you said to the listener.
When answering this question, it is good to say “I’m fine” or “I’m okay.” But, it is necessary to state why you are feeling good.
For example, you are talking to a long-lost companion. You should include statements about your life that occurred when you haven’t been together. That will make your companion feel comfortable talking to you.
Responding to the question depends on the person you are talking to. The information you give should vary. In the end, it is a must to say “thank you.” Being asked how you are doing in your life means that the person is concerned about you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I always respond positively when asked, “How are you?”
It’s not necessary to always respond positively when asked, “How are you?” It’s important to be genuine and authentic in your response. If you’re feeling good, go ahead and share that with the person asking.
However, if you’re not feeling great, it’s okay to be honest as long as you’re comfortable sharing. You don’t need to go into detail if you don’t want to, but it’s perfectly fine to let others know you’re not having the best day.
What if I don’t want to share how I feel when asked, “How are you?”
If you don’t want to share how you feel when asked, “How are you?” keeping it light and casual is fine. You can reply with something like, “I’m doing alright. Thanks for asking.” This way, you acknowledge the question without disclosing too much about your emotional state.
How do I answer “How are you?” in a professional setting?
In a professional setting, it’s essential to maintain a balance between being friendly and professional. Here’s how you can respond to “How are you?”:
• Keep it brief: A short response works best, as you don’t want to go into personal details or distract from the professional environment.
• Be positive: Share a positive or neutral sentiment, even if you’re having a rough day. For example, “I’m doing well, thank you.”
• Redirect the conversation: After you’ve answered, shift the focus back to the other person or the task at hand. For example, “How about you?” or “I’m excited to discuss our project today.”
How should I respond if I’m having a bad day when asked, “How are you?”
It’s important to maintain composure and professionalism when you’re having a bad day. Here’s how to respond:
• Stay honest but brief: You can share that you’re not having the best day but avoid going into details. For example, “I’ve had better days, but I’m managing. Thanks for asking.”
• Focus on the positive: If there’s something you’re looking forward to or a recent success, mention that. For example, “It’s been a tough day, but I’m excited about the progress we’ve made on the project.”
• Redirect the conversation: After your response, shift the focus to the other person or the topic at hand.
How do I respond when asked, “How are you?” by someone I haven’t seen in a long time?
When reconnecting with someone, it’s an opportunity to share updates and express genuine interest in their life. Consider these tips:
• Share a brief update: Give a short summary of how your life has been. For example, “I’ve been doing well. I recently got a job promotion, and I’m enjoying the new challenges.”
• Ask about their life: Show that you care about their well-being by asking how they’ve been. For example, “How have you been? It’s been so long since we last caught up!”
• Suggest a follow-up: If you’re interested in reconnecting, propose a future conversation or meeting. For example, “Let’s grab coffee sometime and catch up properly.”
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