Saturday, January 25, 2014

"Hey, How's it goin'?"

Have you ever muttered the words "Hey, how's it going?" or "How was your day?" and meant it completely as a salutation?  If you have, you aren't alone.  There are dozens, if not hundreds of salutations these days that were, at one  point in time, actually meant to be asked and seriously pondered and answered.  Somewhere, though, they got a little lost.  The questions became so monotonous that we forgot they were questions, maybe. Or it was so commonplace to ask, even if we didn't want to, that we did it not to be rude.  Whatever the case, the questions in salutations are mute.

"Hey, what's up?"
"Nothing.  Just going to the gym."

Wait, what?  "Nothing...I'm just going to the gym."  It sounds like the second part is "what's up"...but you just said "nothing" in response to the question.  See how this works?  We literally have an autopilot.  The same thing has happened to me when someone has called crying: "nothing (pause)...tells everything going on."  So, you see, we have created a world of interactions where we ask something and even  though we might be interested in the answer, we aren't given the answer because the other person also knows this is now a typical space filler and doesn't want to answer in case you actually DON'T care.

So a therapist who spoke to a couple, parents of 3 children, who realized they were just having a hard time being present with one another and communicating in the time they had together, suggested that they stop asking empty questions, so they could stop answering/being answered with empty answers.  What a brilliant idea!

Love is specific.  Loneliness is specific.  Feeling crazy, is specific.  Generally, there are individual things that trigger these individual feelings, and many others, and knowing about or asking specific questions about feelings or situations can often get us much better answers and interactions because they show a few things:

1) respect for the other person usually saying "nothing" because they don't know how to sum up "EVERYTHING,"

2) effort to really understand how a person is/was/will be feeling,


3) that you are listening for a complete answer, because you asked a complete and thought-provoking and specific question.

It's actually a genius way to help us all to start bringing some meaningful communication back into our lives.  So I encourage you to take the time to read it, especially the second half of the article since it really talks about the solution and the ways they have used the advice in their daily lives.

And then comment here, and let us know...what did you take away from this article?  Could you relate?  Do you think that asking specific questions makes a difference?**

 (**that was my legitimate attempt...and it already made me feel more connected with whomever decides to respond than if I had written "what do you think?" because I recognize that you THINK lots of things...but I'm being specific, here!  Get back to me!)


Nick2k said...

Meg... i usually only ask specific questions about someone (like "how was work?" or "how is your family/gf/bf/wife/husband/etc?") IF i really care about them. otherwise i usually don't even ask people. pretty much because of the reason you stated above: the effort to really understand how a person is/was/will be feeling.

i totally subscribe to the belief that communication is the most important thing. but i also value respect. sometimes when i'm at the grocery store, i feel bad for asking how the checker is because i know he/she is not happy for whatever reason. but i still make the attempt to show that i'm not like everyone else.

recently, my 5 year relationship failed. most likely due to the lack of communication on her part, but had i read that article you linked in your post by that therapist, i think it might've helped out.

Meg McGuire said...

Excellent feedback, Nick! Thanks for sharing.

I have definitely caught myself in the trap of salutation-questions and I'm a big fan of the idea of getting specific.

I agree with you that communication is of the highest importance in nearly all aspects of life. I think that saying "hello" and being friendly with people in the service industries (per your example of a grocery clerk, and also toll-booth workers, mail delivery workers, etc) is a good way to show them that you recognize their service, even if you don't ask how they are doing. Wishing people a good day or night can be an equally good way to let people know that you appreciate their service via good communication!