I have long known that God created me with the gift of transparency. But have since learned to shroud it in discernment. To pause for a beat. Then, cautiously determine who to reveal my cards to. Because in the words of Jack Nicholson some people “can’t handle the truth.”
Not everyone wants to make an authentic connection.
Depending on what part of the English speaking world you find yourself in, it may simply be a form of greeting someone. Tone and social context are important. Think of endlessly exuberant Joey from Friends “How YOU Doin’!”
I liken the internal debate about whether to share what’s really going on in my heart and mind to my frustration with responding to the habitual, socially loaded: “How are you?” question. With most we share a curt “good” or “ok.” Sometimes “alright” or “great” are ambiguous cop-outs for when you just don’t have the energy to deal with the initiator’s response to you expressing anything less than “fine.”
How are you? An opportunity for authentic connection
In far fewer interactions, that loaded question will lead us to a brief life update on how the weekend wasn’t quite long enough to fully relax. Or how the weather led us to enact a less epic Plan B.
This question “How are you?” mirrors the complexity of human relationships. It’s akin to an instant DTR. The relationship depth is evidenced through their response to your answer.
Ironically, only with strangers we will likely never see again, therapists and the closest of confidants do we remove the mask and share as much as they care to listen to. I don’t feel safe to respond genuinely unless I hear the tell-tale inflection “How are you (really doing)?”
I personally prefer asking “What are you up to?” Or, “What’s going on in your world?” Some question unique enough that causes people to pause for a beat and maybe, just maybe, respond authentically.
What’s the most helpful response someone can offer you when you share vulnerably?
Engagement depends on who you’re talking with
While talking through our emotions likely won’t resolve the circumstances that lead us to feel a certain way, conversation does help us encounter camaraderie.
Also important to acknowledge is that not everyone wants to engage or navigate out of the rut of routine. Being an empath is a gift and a curse in that way. I can perceive the emotions of others and want so much to meet them where they are. But that level of intensity can be off-putting to those who prefer not to connect.
If an individual you periodically interact with regularly speaks negatively about others while in your presence that might be an indicator they should fall into the drive-by “just fine” category of response. They likely can’t be trusted to care about a genuine answer to “How are you?”.
True vulnerability must be rooted in groundedness and confidence otherwise it will pull back when exposed.
Decide how much of your story to share
Of great help to me has been learning to pick and choose from different details. For example, after going away on vacation, set expectations for how you’ll respond when people ask about your time away.
The one-sentence response: “It was a great trip.”
The two-minute highlight reel: Elaborate the high points such as I went on a scavenger hunt less than 24 hours after landing in India where I don’t speak the language. I drank chai with a non-gun carrying local cop and toured several temples. My favorite memories were teaching locals how to disco dance and riding atop an elephant down a main thoroughfare.
After either of these responses, most people may have heard enough and move on. But some will ask for more.
They will want to relive the experience and walk deeper with you because you’ve struck a vein of curiosity. Untapped their desire for a good adventure story.
Maybe they’ll ask…
Tell me how you ended up on a scavenger hunt? And why wasn’t the cop carrying a gun? What did you learn about the temples? Can you show me the disco moves that you taught the locals? How did you find an elephant to ride?
Questions you might ask yourself when determining how to answer “How are you?”:
- Consider your audience. Do they have prior knowledge of this adventure while you were in the planning stages? How have they engaged in previous interactions with you?
- Watch their body language when you talk with them. What does it tell you about their engagement level?
- Do you care about their life and frequently make the effort to connect with them on things that are of importance in their world? While it’s not sustainable or realistic to be great friends with everyone in our day to day encounters, we can connect meaningfully, even if briefly with others.
- Be realistic in your expectations of the interaction. How much time do you have to tell this story? Are you just passing each other in the hallway at the office? Do you have an hour-long lunch break? Are you meeting after hours with no set end time for your get together?
- Just because it happened doesn’t mean it has to be shared or is interesting to your audience. What parts of your story will resonate? Be sure to close every loop you’ve opened.
What we say versus what we mean matters. Let’s say what we mean and be willing to gauge and engage with our conversation partners, whether a warm “hello” on a quick elevator ride or a long conversation over coffee or a good meal.
If you want support in defining authentic community and when it makes sense to reach out for help check out this great resource: Who Is Helping You?