Don’t Ask if You Don’t Want To Know

Picture this. It is 8.50 am and you have just entered office for a 9.00 am meeting. Before heading into the meeting room, you want to pop into the pantry for a quick cup of coffee. You have a long day ahead of you and already thoughts about your meeting and the long to-do list later and swirling about in your head. At the pantry you meet a colleague. As a knee jerk reaction, you say, “Good Morning. How are you?” and then move on to fill that coffee mug.

Have you done this? If yes, take a pause. Take a pause and think.

Now if your colleague, in an equally knee jerk reaction style responds, “I am fine. How are you?” and proceeds to get their own fill of coffee, nothing is lost really. However if they looked at you with a pained expression and said, “Not good. My dog died last night” would you have gone and given them a hug. Or if they exclaimed with sparkling eyes, “I am great. My band landed a gig at the local cafe for this weekend!” would you have shook hands and wished them all the best? Some may have, but many would have not. In most cases, this is what happens. You asked a question. Immediately, without waiting for a response, you move on. Physically, you move on to the next task so you are not looking at your colleague when they answer. Mentally you move on to the next big thing that needs doing. In the scenario above, you have gone back to the meeting slides or the to-do list and probably you do not even hear what your colleague has said.

This is not an uncommon scenario. At work, I have seen this happen at least thrice a week. Sometimes I am the one who the question is directed to, and at others, I am the one asking the question. For about a month now, I have been keenly observing this kind of interaction and getting increasingly irritated by it. Why do we ask this question if we do not care to know the answer?

A smile, a nod of the head or a simple Good Morning is enough to acknowledge colleagues. Why start small talk if none of the two are interested in carrying it on?   I just don’t get the need to ask these questions if you don’t care to know the answers. Ruchita, a friend of mine who is based out of London once told me that she was one of the few who would genuinely ask people all about their lives. She said she even knew the names of the dogs of her co workers. Perhaps that is what makes her a great story teller. I digress! Point is, it is okay to just greet people and move on with whatever you are doing. When you talk, have a real conversation. If you do not have the time or the inclination, don’t talk.

[Tweet “When you talk, always have a real conversation”]

Don’t ask if you don’t want to know!

7 thoughts on “Don’t Ask if You Don’t Want To Know”

  1. Hi,
    I’m sorry but I have quite a different view on this. I think that asking the question ‘How are you?” is just a way of saying hi or acknowledging your presence. It does not really mean that they want to know about you esp if the person is merely an acquaintance. I assumed it was a known fact that “how are you?” is a greeting, not a question.

  2. I think for most people, it’s a mechanical response over anything else. Plus, small talk is called that for a reason 😉 It’s a good ice-breaker in general. I’d assume that colleagues who see each other regularly, of course, would have a slightly better rapport than the generic good morning greeting. It does help to be mindful in our day to day interactions.

  3. I think I would like to know the answer to how are you. Really know. But then that is because people fascinate me. But there are those days when I don’t want to know. When I have enough on my plate and being courteous is all I can be. So yes, a hello, a good morning is all I can give, because that’s all I can deal with too.

  4. When I give it a thought, I usually say hello since its a co working space. And do ask ppl how r u casually if I’ve seen them around. But yes nothing wud prepare me for a my dog died answer! This is quite a food for thought! 🙂

Hope you enjoyed reading this post. Let me know your thoughts :)