How Are You?

Dr. Phil Zeltzman DVM, DACVS, CVJ recently wrote an article for ImproMed titled “How is Your Attitude When You Show Up for Work?”

While I agreed with his main point – of course we should have a good attitude – I disagree with what he said about asking and answering “How are you?”

The sad truth is, most people don’t really care how you’re doing when they pop the question. It’s a habit, a ritual, a social convention, rarely a true invitation for you to share your misery.  So at the very least, if you’re having a bad day, fake it. Say something non-committal like “Good, thank you, and you?” or “I’m fine, thanks, how are you?”


If you ask such an intimate and personal question as “How are you?” you had better be ready for the whole story.  If you do not want to know, do not ask.

Is it wrong to say “fine”?  Absolutely not.  You may need an opt-out answer.  And sometimes we really are fine.

Perhaps we need safer greeting options.  If we want our greeting to serve only as a morale booster, we should nod and say “hey” with a smile.  Or wave on our way past the front desk.  Or something.

But I think we should be checking in with each other, really asking “How are you?” and letting our coworkers decide how much they would like to share.

It is a dangerous question, and yet one worth asking.  Whether the interaction is going to be a kind exchange of pleasantries, a door to a deep unveiling or something in between should be completely at the  discretion of the one asked.

This is a tough career, people.  We have difficult cases.  We have clients who need us.  We have patients we love who insist on being mortal.  We have Life.  We need to be looking out for each other.  Be brave.  Ask the question.  Be braver still and answer.  Your team needs you, and you need them too.  It is a question worth asking with empathy and worth answering with honesty.  We are far more likely to reach and maintain a good attitude by taking care of each other than by faking our way through a difficult day alone.

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4 Responses to “How Are You?”

  1. Jana Rade says:

    Actually, I never expect anybody who asks me how I’m doing to actually want to know.

    What’s interesting, when taking some English classes, back in my old country, we were taught that this question is simply part of the American greeting ritual and the expected answer is “well” or something along those lines. Answering anything else being a sign of weakness, not American-like at all. Seriously, that’s what we were taught.

    Kinda like in the canine kingdom, huh?

    So it’s funny, while I’m happy for people to tell me how they actually are, I don’t offer that information about myself; with a few exceptions.

    Let’s face it, how many people truly care about how we are? Particularly when we’re not all that well?

  2. Shawn Finch, DVM says:

    Good points Jana! I do ;)

  3. I am totally with you on this!! Although part of me understands where Dr. Zeitzman is coming from, I still think if you ask someone, “How are you?” you should be ready for whatever the answer may be.

    When I know in advance that someone can’t truthfully say “oh just dandy”, I prefer to ask, “How are you doing today?” It’s quite a different question and can be easier for some people to answer.

  4. True story Doc! I agree. I have worked so hard to make people know I am sincere when I ask (with the built in “dandy” opt-out :D) that I do not want to go back to the automatic how-are-you-fine that Dr. Zeltzman discusses – though he is right that is what is usually socially accepted!

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