How are you? No, really.

We need to ask better questions

This morning I bumped into our Air BnB host while leaving our apartment. He asked a standard question "did you sleep ok?"

I lied.

I had a horrible sleep and was utterly exhausted. Instead I smiled and said yes, of course.

The same thing at dinner. My burger was coated with more mustard than fillings. It was ineatible.

When the waitress asked how it was, I lied.

"Great thanks"

I'd hardly touched it. It was obvious I was lying. The waitress was happy to go along with the rouse.

It was easier than having a real conversation. Less uncomfortable than the truth.

Despite best intentions, we have these types of conversations every day. I’ve caught myself saying "good thanks" before "how are you?" was even asked.

Expect questions have expected answers.

If we want better answers, better feedback and better relationships we need to ask better questions.

"What have you been up to?"
"Nothing"

It’s impossible to do nothing. We may have been in a standard routine, but we’re doing something all the time.

An honest answer requires cognitive effort, for both sides.

Asking an auto-pilot question sends the signal that you don't actually care about the answer. And if you don't care about the answer, it doesn't matter if I lie.

For honest answers we need to ask honest questions. Polite pleasantries will get polite answers.

For casual acquaintances it may not seem worth the awkwardness of honest answers. My Air BnB host doesn’t want to know about my sleep quality unless his bed is at fault (it wasn’t). The waitress would rather not hear our true meal reveiw unless it affects her tip.

But the problem with this apathy is it means true feelings are often aired later in reviews or word of mouth to friends. By saying nothing at the restaurant the problem wasn’t fixed.

Not asking harder questions leads to longer term problems. No repeat custom or poor online reviews.

Polite pleasantries and dishonest answers create a lag between issues and feedback. If we truly care what people think we need to ask better questions.

Not just “how was your meal” but actually care why it’s not touched.

Upgrading questions helps ellicit more authentic answers.

This matters even more in our intimate relationships.

“How was your day?”

“Fine”

Polite questions, robotic answers. Let’s try a little harder and ask better questions.

  • Did you have any interesting conversations today?
  • What was the highlight of your day?
  • Did you have any challenges today?

As much as I hate to admit it, watching Keeping up with the Kardashidans taught me one valuable lesson about communication. At family dinners the Kardashidans were often shown sharing their “highlights and lowlights”.

We need to ask better questions, especially to the people we love.

Or else keep pretending ignorance is bliss.