This week, many of us are celebrating—or perhaps “observing” is a better word—the six- month anniversary of moving out of our business offices and into our homes.
There are things that we tend to like (the short commute time to name one) and things that we don’t like (back-to-back Zoom meetings that fill our days…)
Last week, I went downtown to have coffee with a lawyer who also felt comfortable venturing to a coffee shop for an in-person chat. We wore masks until we had our coffees and were seated, and then, in accordance with applicable protocols, we removed our masks and spent an hour talking. It was so nice to have this type of human interaction!
When we work in isolation, it is easy to devolve into “get ‘er done” mode and to feel less connected with our colleagues, or even the people we manage or supervise. We know that it is important to maintain these relationships, but it is harder in the physically-distanced work world, especially when we feel overloaded.
When we ask people how they are over the phone or while waiting for a Zoom call to start, they may say they are “fine.” In many business contexts, “how are you” is a greeting and not a question.
However, among friends, or if you are a supervisor/manager really trying to get a read on how distance-working staff are doing, you really need to ask the right question so that you get an answer that is more meaningful than “fine.”
When you ask the basic question “how are you doing” and you get the basic “fine” as an answer what does “fine” mean? It may mean “all is good”, it may mean “mind your own business” and it may be a deflection.
Did you know that “FINE” can be an acronym? In AA, it stands for “Freaked out, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional.” The slightly earthier version is—appropriate in some contexts is: “F***ed Up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional.”
In the work context, it may be appropriate for you to accept this "I'm fine" at face value—e.g., a co-worker with whom you do not have a close personal relationship. Further inquiry would be seen as prying and it is important to maintain appropriate professional boundaries.
In other relationships—if you are the supervisor/manager trying to get a read on how your physically distanced employees are holding up because of your occupational health duties (or moral code) or if you are, in fact, a friend and are seriously concerned that something is wrong—you have to ask better questions to get a better answer.
This week, I would like to share ideas of questions that we can use to ask people how they are doing in a more meaningful sense so that you don’t land in the “I’m fine” dilemma. As lawyers, we know that the wording of the question and the context are important. If you want to let the person know that you care and want to support them, consider asking what and how you are asking.
IDONTMIND, a campaign of Mental Health America, has a list of ten questions you can use to check in on how someone is doing. Here are a few of my favourites:
- How are you feeling today, really—physically and mentally?
- What’s taking up most of your headspace right now?
- How have you been sleeping?
- What did you do today (or over the last few days) that made you feel good?