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How to Respond to "How Are You?"

Updated on August 10, 2012

How Are You?

If the above question made you cringe, congratulations. You have good taste. I find it incredibly annoying when people start conversations with this insipid question; I know it’s a nicety, but it is one of those polite lingual jigs that I just don’t want to dance anymore. I’m tired of giving the same response over and over. I’m tired of asking and getting boring responses in return.

I propose we stop this endless cycle of banality- both by spicing up our responses and by providing alternate conversation preambles. I’ll provide some starting points below.

Join me, comrades. Forget all your other causes- they’re pointless. This is a battle worth fighting- and winning.

How to Respond to “How Are You?”

Let’s start by the typical responses we give (and receive in response) to this question. They fall into two categories. Boring and professional.

Boring

  • Fine.
  • Good.
  • OK.

Professional

  • Very well, thank you. How are you?
  • I’m well, thanks.

Still awake? Well, that makes one of us, at least.

You're asking me how I am? Ugh. Talk to the pizza.
You're asking me how I am? Ugh. Talk to the pizza.

Weigh in!

What is your favorite approach?

See results

Alternate Ways to Answer the “How Are You?” Query

To make people question their habit of asking tiresome introductory questions, we must stop providing tiresome answers. Consider providing something that is, instead...

Restrictive

  • Not telling
  • That’s classified
  • No comment
  • Information request: denied


Discomfort-making

  • Oh, you know. Why don’t you tell me?
  • (with an accent) The real question you should be asking, my friend, is who are you?
  • Come a little closer and ask that again.


Honest

  • Still breathing, apparently alive. Heart rate: slightly elevated...
  • Well, since you asked, I have the WORST wedgie
  • Tired of people asking that question
  • Victorious, as always.

If you look fabulous, SAY you're feeling fabulous (and in a very dramatic manner, please).
If you look fabulous, SAY you're feeling fabulous (and in a very dramatic manner, please).
Where did I get the idea for "Algebraic!"? Adventure Time. Obviously.
Where did I get the idea for "Algebraic!"? Adventure Time. Obviously.

Ridiculous

  • FAAAAAAAHBULOUS.
  • Algebraic!
  • Bagpipe
  • Beeftastic
  • Shirley Temple?
  • Fluorescent.
  • Yes.


Questions

  • Do you actually care?
  • I’m very well. Now... how does that make you feel?
  • Why do you ask?
  • Good question. How am I? Who am I? Why are we here? How did we get here?
  • That doesn’t matter, darling. How are YOU?

Alternate Introductions to “How Are You?”

In addition to providing more creative answers to a painfully unimaginative question, we might also consider providing people with some good ideas of other ways to start conversations. If we lead by example and spare others the pain of facing this question, we might eventually see less of this question ourselves.

Instead of running on autopilot and mindlessly asking people how they are (without actually caring about the answer), we might just...

If you want ice cream, order the ice cream! No need to make small talk.
If you want ice cream, order the ice cream! No need to make small talk. | Source

What about you?

How do *you* start conversations?

See results

Be direct

  • Hello. Would you like to get lunch?
  • Hey! You look like you’re about to punch someone. Might I offer my face?
  • Hello, I would like two scoops of chocolate ice cream.
  • Howdy, amigo! How about we just skip dinner and build ourselves a blanket fort?


Ask a more interesting or specific question

  • Any victories today?
  • Those are fantastic shoes. Where did you find them?
  • How do you know Mr. Snuffles?
  • What are your thoughts on abortion?


Simply say something nice

  • Good evening! You look fabulous.
  • Hi there! it’s great to see you.
  • Your arms are ripped! I bet you could tear the head RIGHT OFF a chicken!

Make the Shift Happen!

My proposed alternatives to “how are you?” responses and conversation launchers are mere starting points. I imagine that you already have quite a few ideas of your own. Whatever they are, I urge you to use them.

Together, my friends, we can make the world slightly less banal.

Comments

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    • A K Lambert profile image

      Abigail K. Lambert 5 years ago from Greater Boston Area

      Way to turn brutal honesty into something funny but problem solving, Simone! You obviously have a knack for making your writing informative but feel like a genuine conversation. I probably won't offer you my face if you look angry though :)

    • Simone Smith profile image
      Author

      Simone Haruko Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Oh yes, "How goes it?" is brutal, autsinhealy! Thanks for stopping by the Hub and I am.... very well, thank you. :D

    • austinhealy profile image

      Bernard J. Toulgoat 5 years ago from Treasure Coast, Florida

      In any case, I prefer the banal "How are you" which has the merit of being short, honest and direct to "How goes it ?" Now, that one really makes me cringe. It might be proper English, I 'm not sure since English is not my first language, but it certainly doesn't sound like it is. No matter how asked and how I feel about it, I will always answer : "Very well, thank you" and that's about how far I will go with the greetings. I will never mention my actual state of health, as that will prompt the mandatory writing down of a dozen doctor's phone numbers I will never call, and a half hour conversation on the benefits of such and such pill or syrup, which I will never take. Whatever I do in life, I try to remember the Chinese proverb : "Be careful of what you wish". Thank you for a well written, interesting and certainly full of humor hub. By the way, I hope you're all right !

    • TycoonSam profile image

      TycoonSam 5 years ago from Washington, MI

      I very much like your verbiage, or is it I like your verbiage very much? Either way I can't wait to read more of you!

      Voted up up and away!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Simone-how are you? Oh, I can just hear your response now behind this wall of black and white print: "AGGGHHHHHH! Did she NOT read my hub or listen to the video???"

      Yes, I did-it was great, you made me laugh...voted up and funny/interesting. And, thought provoking.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      I HATE "How are you?" Especially after my nephew died. How the heck do you think I am, I wanted to say! It's empty and most people don't mean it. I love, love, love, your alternatives. How am I? That's classified.

      Gosh, I love your sense of humor!

    • jainismus profile image

      Mahaveer Sanglikar 5 years ago from Pune, India

      Excellent.....

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Nicole Canfield 5 years ago from the Ether

      AWESOME. Love the points you've made here, Simone. I absolutely DESPISE small talk, you know what I hate worse than "how are you?" Weather talk!

    • Tara McNerney profile image

      Tara McNerney 5 years ago from Washington, DC

      I so AGREE I HATE this question! It makes every fiber of me recoil. I am so complicated after all! I can barely tell myself how I'm doing! =) As the asker I usually do really want to know how someone is feeling right in that instance, but to avoid asking "how are you" I sometimes use "how's it going." It feels more like asking how is life rolling along. Much less intrusive.

    • Cynthias411 profile image

      Cindy Payne 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      this was great!

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Hi Simone, interesting article - voted such.

      ...sometimes professional and courteous individuals aren't always the nicest ones. This lady at work...never said a word to me - ever! I would say hi to her to no avail, then one day I simply stopped. Months later, there's a party in her unit/section, and she comes over and brings me cake and ice cream...I said, my kind of girl... (smile) All said, I'm one of those individuals who always asks "hi, how're you today"...

      Take care

      John

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      I've made a mental list of your suggestions - and I WILL try these. Haha. You know, I've always wondered why we as a society automatically say the phrase, "hi, how are you?" That phrase is like, "I'm making the rounds and I don't care." Interestingly, we're not the only ones who do it, either. In Spain, everybody says, "Hola, que tal?" and in France everyone goes, "Bonjour, ca va?"

      It's an anthropologist's dream to study these linguistic idiosyncrasies...and you definitely piqued my interest with this hub. :)

    • serendipitypalace profile image

      serendipitypalace 5 years ago

      We do the same in the Mid-Hudson Valley, NY area as the previous commenters from Freehold, NJ and Long Island. I think it's better to say "how are you" though instead of just looking down, ignoring the person.

    • profile image

      DigbyAdams 5 years ago

      I now start conversations with "It's so nice to see you!" I think that this is much less intrusive and it doesn't put people on the hot spot. I have friends who really live in a lot of pain or who are dealing with significant illnesses like Parkinson's or Early Onset Dementia. I think it's hurtful to remind them of their condition with the question "How are you?"

    • Becky Bruce profile image

      Becky Bruce 5 years ago from San Diego, CA

      I like starting with compliments- the "your shoes are nice!" was a favorite. Some of these made me laugh, although I had heard people respond by saying "do you really care?" That might be my favorite answer because it's so realistic but I would never dare say something so rude my polite self! :) Great unique topic idea by the way

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      1. Compared to what?

      2. Any better and I couldn't stand it.

      3. Fair to moderate with a chance of showers.

      4. You talkin to me?

      5. I'm doin good, how you doin? (only to be used for people from Brooklyn or Queens)

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

      I just taught a Chinese for kids course. In China, "How are you?" is Ni hao ma? One fun answer is Mama HuHu--which means horse/horse TigerTiger or "so-so" The kids loved it.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 5 years ago from south Florida

      I find, Simone, that the answer, "I couldn't find my meds this morning," is almost always effective in ending that banal (love that word, m'dear) inquiry.

      Though I must admit I have heard the reply, "'Sfunny, neither could I!"

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 5 years ago from United States

      My usual response is, "I can't complain. No one wants to hear that cr*p anyway." Almost always gets a chuckle. Laughter is a great way to start off.

      Fun article, thank you!

    • Cracknutcase profile image

      Cracknutcase 5 years ago from India,bangalore

      You are so right! Almost everyone I know of use 'how are you' as a conversation starter. It infuriates me. I often ask them if they are really interested in the answer or they just expect to hear the typical reply.

      I just loved your "Come a little closer and ask that again" reply. Lolz!

      Very interesting and useful hub.

    • jellygator profile image

      jellygator 5 years ago from USA

      My usual response is, "I'm always good." It has raised a few eyebrows, but what the heck...

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 5 years ago from Nepal

      Simone, this is quite an interesting.

      By the way, people in Nepal after saying Namaste (hello) they start talking about food.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 5 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Thanks for some samples of exciting responses, Simone. Some of them should provide some unusual reactions.

      Sharing this across.

    • Mark McClean profile image

      Mark McClean 5 years ago from South Bend, Indiana USA

      This article strikes a nerve as I have been very careful not to say this auto-conversation starter lately. It can actual bug people. When I'm calling on the phone I try and remember to say, Just thought I'd touch base and say Hi." Or like you say just jump right into a conversation. Engaging article Simone.

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 5 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      My husband always answers this with "Better than some, worse than others!" I prefer to go the funny route and make up stuff on the fly. :) A majority of the time, I get the "That's good to hear" even if I tell them an alien stole my dog.

      And to think, all these years I got chided for just jumping into a conversation without all the little niceties that are expected but everyone hates. HA! Great hub, and I'm all for making the shift happen. :)

    • cperuzzi profile image

      Christopher Peruzzi 5 years ago from Freehold, NJ

      Okay, now the real comment.

      The "how are you" conundrum is kind of hard to fight in the New York/New Jersey area. I need you to envision a thick Brooklyn/Staten Island voice that says, "How ya doin?" Which is only answered with "How ya doin?" - sometimes with the inflection on the "ya" to imply that I'm more interested in your well being than answering your question. It's always followed with a handshake. This is the quasi-guinzo way of doing introduction that has infected the way of life between the two states.

      In the city (New Jerseyians always refer to Manhattan as "the city"), "how ya doin" is sometimes an exclamation all to itself as if to say, "It's evident."

      It's not a nicety here. It's almost a ritual. Start with the standard magic words and then we move onto bro business. I must precede it with this as the "how ya doin" is almost universally done only by men. New York/New Jersey women have some other ritual that involves shoes and fingernails. It's forbidden knowledge for me to know more than that.

      So, I'm afraid I'll need to stick with the the guinzo chat until something better comes along - which is not likely.

    • josh3418 profile image

      Joshua Zerbini 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Simone,

      All right I know everyone is giving you funny responses and that you did present this in an enjoyable way. However, I want to be serious here. Go figure, me serious? Well, just this once.

      I definitely cringed when reading the title and knew exactly where you were going with it. I commend you for writing on this topic; it is one of my pet peeves! when someone says "fine" or "good", nine times out of ten, that is just an escape from answering how they truly are feeling. And the one asking the question? How many times does he or she actually want to know the answer or even talk about it?

      I did an experiment once where I would answer, "Oh I am doing all right". The person asking the question would be so used to the other person saying "good" that they would respond saying, "Oh that is great and continue walking" .

      Hello????? Do you know how I just answered the question?

      Well, I digress here, sorry for the rambling. Great hub Simone, thanks for the read! Have a good one!

    • jacharless profile image

      Charles James 5 years ago from Between New York and London

      LMAO! So needed to hear this, this morning. `skuze the double -his. So, umm how---? Simone, did you know, boxers are much more colourful than briefs? Just as a pelican.

      supra scisco! Ciao.

      semaJ

    • e-five profile image

      John C Thomas 5 years ago from Chicago, Illinois, USA

      "Troubled...." usually gets things off to a roaring start!

    • CCahill profile image

      CCahill 5 years ago from England

      Oh god how right you are, like anyone cares how somebody is anyway lol and nobody wants to hear a life story, rarely even time for it in the circumstances people do this 'silly lingual dance' :)

    • cperuzzi profile image

      Christopher Peruzzi 5 years ago from Freehold, NJ

      "Stringy when cooked."

    • enkindler profile image

      enkindler 5 years ago

      Yessss, 100% agreed! Thanks for sharing :)

    • advisor4qb profile image

      advisor4qb 5 years ago from On New Footing

      I had a friend tell me once to always answer that question with, "FANTASTIC!" (and it will be so!)

      So that's what I do.

      I usually forget to ask people how they are. I usually jump right in to whatever issue is burning in my mind, as I am a mover and a shaker by nature!

      I have to force myself to open my emails with sentences like, "Hope all is well!" I do care how they are, I just get so busy with my own stuff and forget to even ask about theirs sometimes!

    • remaniki profile image

      Rema T V 5 years ago from Chennai, India

      Fantastic Simone. Had me enjoying from start to finish with a big smile. That was really nice. Oh, I do think there are people dying to read something so different and interesting as this one, so sharing it across.

      Cheers, Rema.

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Not only does How Are You drive me around the bend but when I'm in a store and after I've paid and say, "Thank You", the response 99 times out of 100 is "Have A Nice Day" It's starting to sound so trite. People are really starting to sound like robots :)

      This was a fun hub to read and listen to and I agree with you let's end "How Are You".

    • SubRon7 profile image

      James W. Nelson 5 years ago from eastern North Dakota

      Great stuff, Simone! You always make me laugh--I love it!

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 5 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      How are you Simone? hehe, I couldn't resist.

      One time I actually answered "Awful, this is one of the worst days in my life" and the person just went on talking. I do ask "How are you?" but I really want to know. Used as a catchphrase, it is a waste of breath. I shall take up some of your fun answers here! Thanks.