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A better alternative to “How are you?”

🔑 Today’s tip: To get someone to open up, lead with thoughtful observations, not questions.

“How are you?” It’s the easiest and most obvious question to ask, but a hard one to answer without resorting to pleasantries. And more often than not, with friends and family we haven’t seen for some time, it’s a conversational dead end.

If you’re genuinely curious about a person’s wellbeing, Ashley Abramson suggests a different approach: Start out with an observation. “The goal is to encourage the other person to open up about how they’re doing by showing you care,” Abramson writes, “so frame your observation in a way that won’t make them feel judged or misinterpreted”—for example, by starting with “I’ve noticed that” or “I’m wondering,” as in, “I’ve noticed that you’re quieter lately; I’m wondering if you’re stressed?”

Then, keep observing and listening: How do they react, verbally and with body language? Did you get it right, or misinterpret what they’re going through? Do they want you to suggest a solution, or just listen? “It’s hard to watch someone you care about struggle,” Abramson writes, “but your empathy and presence are more powerful tools than you think.”

📚 More from Forge on how to connect:

How to Talk to Anyone

‘Paying Attention’ Is Overrated

Give Your Friend the Gift of Boundaries

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