No matter where you go, one question always seems to follow: How are you?
It can be a simple, effective way to start a casual conversationno lengthy descriptions of your life circumstances required. But its also an autopilot phrasewith autopilot responses (such as fine, good, or OK) within easy reach. So if youre going for a deep or meaningful conversation, this question might not be the best option. The key is understanding when to use the ubiquitous phrase, and when to try a different approach.Give your writing extra polishGrammarly helps you communicate confidentlyWrite with Grammarly
9 ways to ask How are you?
There are many ways to ask this fundamental question, but how you phrase it can imply different things. For example:
1 How are you? This is polite, but its not necessarily a serious inquiry about the other persons well-being.
2 How are you doing? This is a direct inquiry about how a person is feeling in general.
3 Are you OK? The meaning of this phrase depends on the context. In England, for example, this simply means How are you? while Americans may use this phrase to check if someone requires assistance.
4 Hows it going? This is casual. Youre asking how a persons life has been lately, in a more general sense.
5 Whats up? This is essentially a casual hello.
6 Would you like to talk about X? This is an empathetic inquiry about a potentially sensitive event or aspect of a persons lifewith the built-in option for them to decline.
7 Whats new with you? You want to know what changes have occurred in a persons life, typically focusing on the positives.
8 Its been a while! This is a casual acknowledgment of a lengthy absence. It conveys happiness or excitement about your reunion.
9 What have you been up to since we last talked? Youre looking for an overview of what a person has done since your last conversation, and it could be about a problem they were dealing with at the time.
Each of these conveys a different tone, and the results can vary. And using the wrong phrase could come off as awkwardor even insensitive in extreme circumstances. So it pays to know when they work,but especially when they dont.
When is it appropriate to use variations of How are you?
Beyond tone, there are a few factors you should consider when picking the appropriate way to ask How are you? For instance:
- Level of familiarity with the person youre addressing (this dictates how familiar or formal you should be with them)
- General relationship (friend, family member, colleague, acquaintance, etc.)
- Context of the conversation (how long its been since you saw them, what you last spoke about, etc.)
- What information you want to know (for example, do you see it as a passing conversation, or do you want a more in-depth dialogue with specific details?)
Lets say youre texting a loved one with a chronic health condition. You might message, How are you doing today? This speaks directly to what you want to know, and it shows them that you understand that things may shift daily, while leaving it up to them about how detailed they want to get in their response.
Conversely, if youre emailing or messaging your manager who just got back from parental leave, something slightly more formal and targeted might make more sense, like How are you doing with the new baby? That way you show interest in their major life event while keeping things professional.
Here are a few more examples of how to use How are you? and its alternatives in conversation:
Situation:Running into an old friend you went to high school with at your ten-year reunion. Key phrase: Hey, how have you been? Why it works: Its polite, shows interest in their general well-being, and gets to the point (theres a lot you dont know, and you want the highlights).
Situation:Chatting with a friendly neighbor you talk to occasionally. Key phrase: Hows it going? Why it works: It shows that you care about them as a person, even if that doesnt lead to an in-depth conversation about their life.
Situation:DMing a close friend who shares your offbeat sense of humor. Key phrase: Whats up, weirdo? Why it works: It matches the tone of your friendship, keeping things friendly and light.
5 alternatives to How are you? in an email
When emailing someone in a professional setting, the way you ask how they are is especially important. Used correctly, it could help you make a good impression or even kick off a constructive, collaborative working relationship. Here are a few options to consider:
1 It was great seeing you at [work conference/event]. Did you see [speaker/presenter]?
Common ground is always a great place to start a conversationespecially in an expansive professional setting where you may not have much in common with everyone. This approach can allow you to make an introduction via email that reminds them where you met (or last saw each other) and provides an opportunity for them to share their experience with a speaker or presenter you found interesting.
2 Welcome to the team! Are you finding your way around the [tool/platform] OK?
Joining a company can sometimes be overwhelmingwith lots of paperwork, everything you need to get up to speed with projects, and new coworkers. Then, of course, theres your actual work. This kind of email message acknowledges that there can be a learning curve with a new job. It also implies the potential for assistance without offering it outright, so they can pursue it if needed.
3 I really appreciated your [Slack message/tweet/LinkedIn post, etc.] about [topic]. Were you able to X?
Follow-ups like this are a great way to start conversations. Unlike a typical How are you? they show that youve been paying attention to the other persons activities. And, more than likely, the person will be happy to start a conversation about their work or opinions once youve expressed interest.
4 I hope youre having a great week.
This is a subtle way to recognize that the recipient may have things going on in life or at work that could affect them. Because its phrased as a statement rather than a question, it allows the other person to skip the specifics if they dont want to share personal details.
5 Hi [name],
Its perfectly acceptable to greet a person via email with their name. After all, sometimes an email is just a quick information exchange.