What to Ask Instead of “How Are You Doing Right Now?”

What to Ask Instead of ” How Are You . . ?

Are you tired of asking everyone, “How are you doing right now? In his recent Best Ideas of the Month newsletter, Dr. Ron Friedman posed the question, “Tired of using the same opening line in every meeting?”

Ron provided a link to an article “20 Questions to Ask Instead of ‘How Are You Doing Right Now?’” written by Elizabeth Weingarten, managing editor of Behavioral Scientist magazine. He suggests trying one of these questions instead and see how it changes the tenor of your conversation. Ron’s favorite is “What are you most looking forward to doing when things settle down?”

Weingarten states that “How are you doing right now?” was a useful question at first as an assumption-free signal of care. But it’s become a query that seems to now inspire a scripted, reflexive response. This often includes an acknowledgment that someone is “hanging in there” despite the circumstances, while also feeling gutted for the folks who are struggling more than they are, or risking their lives to save others—the healthcare workers, the food deliverers, the parents who are homeschooling and working at the same time, the single mothers who have the virus, being tended to by their toddlers.

She continues, “When we keep asking the same question, or no questions at all, we lose out on a chance for deeper connections with our conversation partners, who also happen to be the people we care most about. We are tricked into believing we know how they’re feeling or what they’re thinking, when we haven’t even scratched the surface.

“Fundamentally, learning how to ask questions of ourselves and of the ones who we love can help us to embrace, rather than avoid, the uncertainty that envelopes our lives. To paraphrase the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, we are all now living our questions—dozens of them, everyday—whether we like it or not.

“Here are some sample questions for getting beyond “How are you?”

  1. How are you taking care of yourself today?
  2. What part of your shelter-in-place residence have you come to appreciate the most?
  3. What surprising thing have you been stocking up on (that isn’t toilet paper)?
  4. What’s a story – from a book, a movie, an article, a conversation – that you’ve been gripped by recently? Why did it capture you?
  5. What habit have you started, or broken, during the quarantine?
  6. Which specific place in your neighborhood are you most looking forward to visiting once this is all over?
  7. What’s the easiest part about the quarantine?
  8. What are some things you have realized that you don’t really need?
  9. What’s something you own that feels useful?
  10. What is your Covid-19 nickname/alter-ego?
  11. What problem—either yours, or something more global —do you wish you could solve?”

Nine questions for taking things a step further

Weingarten adds, “These are questions to consider if you’re interested in deepening connections in your 1:1 meetings or virtual coffees, or with people outside of your work life:

  1. What’s something that you miss that surprises you? What’s something that you don’t miss that surprises you?
  2. Which member of your family/ friend group have you been thinking about the most during this time? Why?
  3. What’s the most generous act you’ve seen recently?
  4. What’s the last thing you experienced that made you laugh, or cry?
  5. What times of the day or the week are hardest?
  6. What’s giving you hope right now?
  7. What’s the best thing that happened to you today?
  8. How do you want this experience to change you? How do you think it will?
  9. What do you hope we all learn or take away from this experience?”

Now, take action.

Pick a few of Weingarten’s questions you like and start asking more meaningful questions. You could help change someone’s life.


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