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How to ask How Are You? and REALLY mean it.

We have all become so used to hearing 'How are you?' as part of a casual greeting that it is often responded to with a quick, automatic 'fine thanks, you?' without really thinking about the actual question. People have become so use to this auto pilot reply that the true intention of the question 'How are you?' is lost. This is why, when we really want to know the answer, we need to ask it twice.


We have all told a small 'lie' when someone has asked us how we are. Why then, when one person asks do we tell them the truth but when others ask we won't tell them how we really feel? What's different? What makes one situation comfortable for us to open up in and share how we really feel? Below we describe how to create the perfect HAY (How Are You) situation in 3 steps:


1. How you say it!  Make sure you ask 'how are you?' in a way that shows you really want to know the answer. You really are asking 'how are you?' and not just saying 'hope you're ok.' More on how to do this below.


2. When you say it!  You have to give the person time and space to reply. If you are distracted with something else, you're not really listening. If you don't have much time or are rushing to get to a meeting, you're not really listening. If you're doing something else at the same time, you're not really listening. And when you're not really listening, the person will sense that you don't 'really' have time for whatever they've got going on. If you put a limit on the amount of time they have to reply it can create a pressurised situation where it's often easier and quicker to say nothing (fine thanks) than to start something that might require more time (actually, I have a problem). You also need to pick the right moment for them, if they are surrounded by friends or teammates or preoccupied with work or school chances are this is not going to be the best time for a heart to heart with you.


3. What you do after!  Having HAY conversations can seem daunting as you never know what people might say. They might bring up something that makes you feel uncomfortable or embarrassed. It might be something you have personal experience of or something you know nothing at all about. Or it might have implications for other people you know. The important thing is to just listen. People don't always want you to give them solutions, they don't always want advice. You don't have to fix anything. A lot of the time they just want to be heard. So active listening and trying to understand the situation from their point of view (not yours) is essential in helping people feel comfortable enough to open up to you and share how they feel. If you feel out of your depth or if they need help you don't feel you can provide this is where signposting and your support comes in. Check out the 'Support Available' resource page for a range of options. Make sure that if you refer them to other support you then check up on them and make sure they access it, that it is helping and that they're ok.



In order to ask 'how are you REALLY' we should start by having the appropriate space and time. Let's call these our Stronger Together sessions. All you need is a quiet space for you and the other person to talk comfortably. You should allow at least 20 minutes of time to give them the chance to open up. They might not need this long, but they need to know it's their time if they need it. Then you invite them to talk. One to one. You can ask:


How are you doing today?

How are you feeling?

Are you ok?

Are you doing ok?


(Refrain from saying things like "what's up with you?" or "what's the problem?" this can comes across as an attack/negatively and will often cause the person to become defensive and shut down.)


If the reply you get is something like "ok thanks," "good ta", "cool, you?" then you pause, make eye contact and ask again.


How are you REALLY doing today?

How are you REALLY feeling?

Are you REALLY ok?

Are you REALLY doing ok?


The important part here is to give them the space and permission to answer honestly. Letting them know that you care, you want to know, you will listen and it's ok to share. If they ask you to keep a conversation confidential or if you want to offer to keep it confidential you can use the following: "What you say here stays here, unless, someone is hurting you, you want to hurt someone, you want to hurt yourself or you give me permission to share."


Here are some other questions to try which can help people open up about how they are feeling:


What is something you are feeling really strongly about right now?

What has been the most challenging emotion for you to experience lately?

What emotion are you feeling right now?

What has been on your mind lately?

What emotion are you struggling with right now?

What have you had to deal with that has been weighing on your mind?


Everyone is different so it's important to find a way to connect with each person individually.

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