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How Are You?

Wait. Three words, three letters and a question mark. This question has become one of the most important to ask this year. And it will be one of the most important to ask when we return to work after the Christmas break in 2021.

In this article I am going to share some thoughts on fiercely listening, empathetic leadership and self-kindness. I’m also going to invite you to practice a few things over the coming weeks which may just help you prepare yourself for the new year ahead.

A simple question

Comment allez-vous, cómo estás or Sut wyt ti? (this last one is Welsh) – however you’re able to say it – how often do we really listen to the response to ‘how are you?’ I have found myself asking this question really slowly over the last year to ensure that the responder knows that I am asking this question purposely to help me understand how they are coping with the uncertainty we have been faced with over the last 10 months.

And I have been fascinated by the response. Since becoming an emotional intelligence coach in 2019, I have learned how to take my time to ask the question and really listen. I have learned not just to hear the words spoken, but to be more attuned to the tone of the voice, the speed of speech, the emphasis placed on some words, the ‘avoided words’. I’ve been taught how to watch the body language and the facial expressions and to ask follow on questions which help the respondent open up a little more if they want to.

While I have been trained to do this by Dr Goleman [author of Emotional Intelligence, why it can matter more than IQ] and his faculty, everyone can take a few steps to make this simple question create a meaningful discussion.

Interested and interesting

An incredible writer in the client experience space once told me that the secret to effective relationships both personally and professionally is to be interested and interesting. Simple. [I really can’t use the word any longer without thinking of the Meerkats, sorry about that].

When you ask the question ‘how are you?’ how often are you really, truly, fiercely listening to the response. How does the respondent know that you are really interested in what they have to say? Most importantly, when you are genuinely interested in what they have to say you can build trust, help them feel psychologically safe [we will talk more about Edmondson’s work another time] and create, dare I say it, an emotional connection with them. We know that when we create emotional connections with either customers or staff, we have their loyalty and they are prepared to go the extra mile for our business. Who knew that this simple question would be so interesting?

This writer went on to say that when you truly listen to the answer given you can continue the conversation building on some of the things the respondent has said. Asking more questions and contributing to the answers with something interesting for both of you.

Pay attention

Before I start on this, I have to confess that I still do this from time to time. I’m work in progress as it takes some time to dissolve a habit…. but how often have you asked the question ‘how are you?’ and while the respondent is answering you’re thinking about the first item on the agenda, or internally critiquing the painting on the wall behind them on the zoom call, or checking the headline of the email that’s just popped into your inbox?

I remember speaking to an agent in a contact centre some years ago. She asked me how I was which I thought was lovely. I took a moment to answer. I explained that I was feeling sad as a family member has just passed away. I was surprised by my vulnerability in that moment, but I was shocked by her response. “This will only take a few moments” she jumped in. Whoa! In that moment I felt like a snail retreating into my shell in an instant. What she then got from me was the hard shell and a complaint escalated at volume to her senior manager. I felt hurt by her insensitivities.

The reason why I shared this story with you is to make a point about the significance of now. The people you work with may very well have lost people, they may have experienced long Covid, had to look after loved ones, taught their children and managed to cope with furlough or know people who have been made redundant as a consequence of this nasty disease. The chances are that they want you to know a bit about what’s been going on for them as that way you’ll understand that things have changed for them, they are thinking differently and their priorities have been reorder for 2021.

The businesses that have taken care of their staff over the last 10 months and continue to do so will win in the marketplace as they will be supported by people who want to repay the kindness, the thoughtfulness that’s been shown to them during this tough time.

So, at the risk of asking a controversial question – can you honestly say that you have been genuinely interested in how all of your colleagues are doing? Have you stopped to ask them how they are and really considered their response? Have you been ‘too busy’ to take notice? Wait. There has never been a better time to create emotional connections with your colleagues. A time when they are looking for you to ‘have their back’ as much as they had yours when they juggled their chaotic and worrying home life with the demands of work, for you.

Empathetic Leadership

This is my final point on this topic [and then I shall put my soapbox away].

There is so much written about empathetic leadership and its importance in the workplace. Leaders have to show empathy. I think that it is an important point but it’s not an excuse. What I mean by this is – don’t wait for your leaders to show empathy in order for your business to become more empathetic to its people. Start with action you can take. There’s an academic theory I teach second year undergrads called ‘distributed leadership’ by a chap called Gronn – check him out, he has some cool triangles in a line to explain his idea. Anyhow, distributed leadership is all about everyone having the opportunity to lead in their own right.

So, my invitation to you is to start listening – each one of us can start a ripple effect. We know that emotions are contagious and we know that people copy others when they think they can benefit from the behaviour they have observed.

When Clare asked me to write an article for the Law Marketing Club, I wanted to put some meaningful, human thoughts together. This is my invitation to you. The next time you ask ‘how are you’? Wait. Listen. Respond.

Be interested and interesting. I think you’ll be surprised at how good you will feel when you are present for others. This is an act of self-kindness and you deserve it after the year you have had.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy break this Christmas.

Contact Sandra Thompson at to find out more about the post graduate courses she runs on emotional intelligence and customer experience book a time to speak to her about the support she can offer you to improve your client experience through consultancy or emotional intelligence coaching.

T: 07896 561001 and follow her:

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