confusion central
if you’re here, you are SO lost.

biting the bullet (is bad for business)

I’ve always found a great deal of comfort in formalities. Phrases like, “Thank you so much!” “If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to let me know!” and “You are so welcome,” have become my bywords. I live by them. Nothing makes me happier than to include a little happiness in my emails and sentences.

Yet formalities only go so far. I, especially, am painfully aware of their utter insufficiency when it comes to expressing greater truths. For example, one phrase we all employ at some point – and usually many times – comes to mind. “How are you?” The words are simple enough. But they give the false illusion that the asker actually cares what the response is. One thing that becomes very clear very quickly is that the asker actually typically cares nothing for the response. Most people ask it never listening or even considering the response.

So I suppose the question would be…what do we have to lose in spending three more minutes than we regularly would really coming to grips with how someone is actually doing? C.S. Lewis instructs us to keep in mind that if we behave as we wish to actually feel, the feeling will follow. This is a perfect example. Even if you don’t want to listen for that long, it’s worth the time. You build relationships…and people really will remember you. It’s astonishing how little it usually takes to show someone that you actually do care about them and that their situation matters to you.


10 Responses to “biting the bullet (is bad for business)”

  1. The “How are you” question has lead to most people automatically answering “fine” or “good.” Even if they’re actually really hurting. I think that the surface conversation that ensues is more damaging than not… because person A thinks they have an answer, and person B now knows that person A doesn’t actually care.

  2. I agree. Saying “How are you” is a nice custom that often leads to good interaction. Even when it’s just used as a formality, it’s a nice, agreeable formalty.

    It’s interesting sometimes to see how such little formalities vary across cultures.

  3. I should add that, in my opinion, the automatic “fine” reply doesn’t really do much harm. If I think someone is ready to burst into complaint, I just leave it there. But if I really want to know or if someone seems to be hurting, I just ask a follow up question. So the automatic answer acts as a crossroad; it lets people either go deeper or move on to what they really want to talk about.

  4. I hate that “How are you?” Doesn’t mean anything, I REALLY mean it, I REALLY want to know how people are doing. Though, I have to admit that sometimes I do automatically respond “fine.”

  5. I’m guilty of the fine response all to often. It’s probably because I’m lazy, but sometimes I don’t want to answer the question.

    My question would be, how would we go about digging deeper if the person just answers fine, when we know that they don’t mean it?

  6. Sarah – if person B really wanted person A to care, though, wouldn’t they share a little more? Or would you say most people are looking for a sign that others care? That would be my conclusion…

    Matthew – what kinds of follow-up questions have you found that work really well? I have been able to experiment with different questions over this past school year, and I have yet to find one foolproof question. 😉

    HM – have you discovered any way to make sure that people ::know:: that you’re glad to listen and hear what they have to say?

    Elliott – see the question I have for Matthew. Key points to keep in mind probably ought to include normal manners, like sensitivity, and careful observation of how the person responds.

  7. Actually, no, I haven’t but that’s probably becuase, [crazy confession] I didn’t realize that was a nicety until recently[/crazy confession] So, yeah, now that I know, I need to find a way

  8. “I went out into the world
    looking for friends,
    and friends I found none.

    I went out into the world
    a friend to be,
    and friends I found everywhere.”

  9. I don’t set aside a “how are you?” for everyone, because not everyone wants or needs it. I don’t mean that I don’t care; I mean that a pat question usually gets a pat response.
    Sometimes a smile and touch are what is needed, sometimes a “good morning!” and sometimes nothing but our mere presence.

    If you want people to *know* for certain that you care, then first, make it certain that you *do.* Then treat every person to whom you speak as though that were the most important person in the world. Because right then, they are.

    Practice that, and the words will come: They will flow when (and if) needed.

  10. HM – it actually took me an unusually long time to realize that it was a nicety as well…don’t worry about it. 😉

    James – interesting take…this idea that every person you talk to is ::the most important person in the world:: for a little while at least is a very good idea. It completely changes your motives and it should change your mindset and approach as well…

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