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Meaningful Questions to Ask Your Team Instead of ‘How Are You’?

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Why ‘How Are You’ Isn’t the Best Opening Question

The question, “How are you?” is loaded with good intentions, and we all know which road is paved with seemingly positive objectives that don’t quite hit the mark. When fostering a culture with a sense of compassion and caring, it’s important to ask the right questions to get at the heart of what’s really happening. 

There are many reasons why this popular question may produce limited responses. From the cultural norms that suggest a pithy answer is the only appropriate way to address this question through to the fact “how are you” can feel invasive and even triggering at the wrong moment, it may be time to trade in these 3 words for more effective alternatives. 

“How are you?” may be right for a casual greeting, and if you want to show genuine interest in your team members, we’d advise questions more likely to generate the insight you value. Below are some of the suggestions from the team leaders in our participant-driven experiences that uncover potential challenges and opportunities.  

Meaningful Alternatives to ‘How Are You?’

What’s keeping you busy these days?

This is a great question when you are trying to discern if your team members are feeling invigorated, overwhelmed or unstimulated by their workload. As people answer this question, listen for the specific tasks they mention and what type of tone they use. 

Vague responses may imply they are feeling disengaged with whatever they are working on. Alternatively, if they begin an A to Z list, delve more deeply to understand if they could benefit from additional prioritization support. Either way, this question creates the framework for a better understanding of ‘the what’, ‘how much’, and ‘how well’ your team members are managing. 

What is something you’re looking forward to?

This question is a positive starting point because it has something energizing built right into it. Here, you show immediate interest in your team’s happiness and creating space for them to also talk about something other than work.

What have you been listening to?

This question beautifully combines enough specificity so your team member will not respond with a one- or two-word answer. It’s open-ended enough to give them the freedom to curate an answer they can put some thought behind. Plus, their answer provides you with insight into what they might be interested in learning with opportunity to reach common ground regarding both your favourite podcasts or music.

What has your day/week been like? How are you right now?

While these questions are similar to, “How are you?” the context of a specific timeline makes it easier for your team to respond thoughtfully with specifics. They will reply with fewer “fine” or “good” because these questions are more specific and easier to answer that the nearly limitless – and less care-filled – counterpart.

What do you need right now?

Put this question to work when having conversations with your leaders or teams or any of your team members who are responsible for leading people or projects. The question works on many levels: the sentence is action-oriented, and shows immediacy and interest in supporting the individual through whatever tension or tasks necessary.

How are you taking care of yourself today?

This question combines a few of the positive elements previously mentioned. The caveat of today makes a big difference in the approachability of the question, while the fact you are not asking specifically about work helps build empathy and authenticity. More than that, what we love about this question is how it reinforces the importance of a team member’s mental and emotional well-being in a accessible and congenial way.

How are you holding up?

Consider asking team members this question during times when you sense they may want a little extra TLC (tactful leadership and compassion). This question acknowledges things may not be going as well as they could be, and you are present to the situation and there for them and care about helping them get to greener pastures.

Improve Your Team’s Communication

Effective questions form the basis of team communication that drives your team’s ability to solve problems and exceed goals. When you recognize how important it is to push beyond typical approaches to communicate in a way that cultivates more meaningful and productive relationships, our team at Learn2 looks forward to supporting you to discover innovative relationship management and communication best practices. 

Learn to Better Communicate with Participant-Driven Experiences

Want to transform team communication? Reach out to our professional development and team communication experts today and realize bolder objectives through more thoughtful approaches to leadership.

About Author

Doug Bolger is the world’s foremost instructional designer for participant-driven designs. He is changing how the world works, by changing how the world learns.

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