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"How are you?" is not a greeting






On Thursday 27 April we acknowledge Rail RUOK? Day.


We should not wait for one day a year to do this. However, Rail RUOK? Day is a great reminder for us to have regular meaningful conversations with our colleagues.


This year's theme is "no qualifications needed". You do not need to be a trained counsellor to check-in with your friends and colleagues. All you need to do is to ask the question (R U OK?) and take a genuine interest in the answer.


If someone is struggling, you do not need to solve the problem for them but what you can do is encourage them to take action and then check-in with them from time to time. For example, you could ask "have you spoken to someone about this?"


You taking the time to ask and showing authentic care may be the trigger that inspires them to get help.


Beyond Rail RUOK? Day, I would like to you stop and reflect on this. "How are you?" is not a greeting, it is a question.


In many societies (and businesses) we have allowed this to creep in. People greet each other in the morning with “How are you?” but use it more like “Hello”. If you are going to take the time to ask someone how they are, you need to stop, pause and take a genuine interest in the answer.


This may take some time for your team and colleagues to get used to. Because of the above mentioned shift in focus, people have been accustomed that “How are you?” is not really a question and they will often just say “yeah, good” even if that is not really the case.

There is a strong element of social conditioning here. For example, the social conditioning that:

  • How are you? has just become a turn of phrase,

  • People don't really want to know MY problems,

  • To openly share that I am not okay is some sort of weakness and people will think less of me

In the first few weeks of adopting this, you may need to several times follow up “How are you?” With the question “No, really, How are you doing?”. After a while they will realise “oh, you really want to know?” And will be ready to open up to you.


You then need to be able to listen without judgement and to hold space and time for them to express themselves. Silence is your best friend here. It may take time for the person to fully open up to you. This is a combination of them subtly testing if you are judging them and them building up the courage to tell you what is really troubling them.


This will be a breakthrough moment for you and your team and you will be on your way to a relationship based on open and transparent communication. If your team feel they can really be themselves and tell you how they are feeling, they are then infinitely more likely to share problems with you that you can work on together and / or work on as a whole team. This will uncover underlying issues that may have been dormant and give you the opportunity to address them.


I strongly encourage all of you to take on this challenge. Think about breaking down communication barriers and really listen when you ask your team how they are.


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