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.