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Why I don’t ask people, “how are you?”

I avoid greeting people with, “how are you?” I work as a counsellor and so most of the people I am meeting cannot answer that question quickly or positively. How are they doing? It would take a full hour to say how they are doing and lots of what they have to say is painful and difficult.

I have heard that other cultures use different greetings. For example a common Mandarin greeting is to ask the other person if they have eaten. That sounds like a great way to greet someone. A simple yes or no answer will suffice.

The women I work with often talk to me about how hard it is that people ask them all day long, “how are you?”. Sometimes the women say that they feel like they are liars saying “fine” as a response because they are in fact anything but fine. They just found out their partner is cheating on them or their daughter is cutting herself. They are not fine! But a truthful answer is not often what is being asked for.

Personally I have tried to move away from “how are you?” as my greeting. Most often when I see people I say, “it is good to see you”. That is truthful on my end and does not require anything of the hearer. Then when I am really ready to hear how a person is doing I try to ask that sincerely and leave the time and space for the person to answer truthfully and fully. What about you? Do you have thoughts about our North American greeting and have you tried alternatives? I’d like to know.

3 responses to “Why I don’t ask people, “how are you?””

  1. Christine says:

    I really do hate being asked “how are you” because it normally reduces me to tears when I’m trying hard to function at the moment. We truly do need a different greeting in our culture. And you are correct, saying “I’m fine”…..what a crock of BS!! I’m far from fine and really, who wants to hear the truth?? Cause…..”You can’t handle the truth!!”

  2. Obinna says:

    Really, I hate being asked “How are you?”. In my clime, it is mostly used as a show of superiority and not an expression of genuine care

  3. Caffeine Jones says:

    I dislike it, too, and I tell people it makes me uncomfortable because it’s so much work to come up with a sincere answer that satisfies the asker.
    Honestly, I’m trying to stay positive and Be Here Now, and being required to evaluate my day/feelings from a dominant paradigm perspective upsets me.
    I tell people I don’t like the question, but I can’t remember a single time someone has let me off the hook when I say don’t like it. They usually say it’s ok that I don’t like it, but keep asking.
    Most of the time, I have no satisfactory answer, and the person seems bothered that I dislike a “polite” question.
    My son balks the same way I do, when asked – he looks like he’s having to take a pop quiz- he stammers and gets flustered.
    I feel interrogated, and I say as much in the friendliest tone I can manage.
    When will the people who care about us stop stressing us out with meaningless questions? A simple “nice to see you” would go over so much better than “how was your day?”

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