September 13, 2021By Lesley Kelly, Farmer and Co-Founder of the Do More Agriculture Foundation
The question “How are you?” has long been a go-to greeting, a way to spark a bit of small talk. It comes from a place of good intentions, but rarely does the recipient reveal much, if anything, about how they’re actually doing — even if we sincerely want to know the answer or can see or sense that something is bothering them. We typically respond with how we feel we should respond, rather than answer honestly.
This year, as our lives have been impacted by a myriad of challenges — Covid-19 pandemic, extreme weather, political stress, and more — we have an opportunity (and need) to deepen our connections with others. So if it’s an honest answer you’re after, try a different question. By changing up your phrasing, you can send the message that you’re looking to have a deeper conversation — not just exchange pleasantries. And asking more meaningful questions can help spark those productive, compassionate conversations.
To help the other person open up and share how they are actually doing, they need to feel that the other person truly wants to know the real answer. Be curious and interested in what they are experiencing and thinking about. Because the simple truth is - we all have feelings. Some of them are happy. Some are uncomfortable. Some are straight-up painful. Hiding how we really feel is denying ourselves a basic part of the human experience: To feel a full spectrum of emotion.
When someone is struggling, it can be difficult for them to open up. By genuinely being interested, showing them that you really want to know what they are going through, you can help that person immensely, just by asking different questions.
Here are some alternatives to the generic “how are you” that are more likely to elicit a candid answer:
How are you holding up?
I’ve been thinking about you a lot. How are you doing?
What is on your mind (or worrying you) at the moment?
What are you struggling with most at the moment?
What are you doing to care for yourself right now?
What would you like to change in your life right now?
What’s helping you cope at the moment?
What do you think your next steps are?
What can I do to support you at the moment?
Another way to encourage them to open up? Lead by example: By being vulnerable about your own mental or emotional state, you may prompt your loved one, friend or neighbour to talk more openly about theirs. And if they’re still not opening up to you, that’s okay. Just checking in and asking a few supportive questions shows your deep care and concern — and that alone is powerful.
If you or someone in your family or farm team are going through a hard and stressful time, reach out and call the Saskatchewan Farm Stress Line at 1-800-667-4442.