It can be easy to underestimate the value of four simple words. In fact, it can be so easy, that we sometimes choose to not use those four words at all, because they can seem so insignificant.
But, as I’ve learned over time, those few simple words can have major implications on how others live their lives, do their jobs, or lead and learn. So, if given the chance, I’ve begun to always ask those questions, say those few words, make the effort, etc., as small and/or meaningless as it may sound or seem.
One group of those four words that may not be used enough is “How Are You Doing?” Note that this is sincere usage of those four words, where you actually want to hear the answer that a person is going to provide. Asking this question requires us to be open to receiving answers that might not be “Great” or “Awesome.” If we’ve built a level of trust in our organizations where people are honest with each other, than we have to be willing to accept responses that we don’t really want. Sometimes, we are so afraid to get the answer, that we lose out on asking a question that would build support, relationships, and partnerships. Let me share a quick example.
Last evening, as I arrived at a state-wide meeting with my supervisor, we ran into a colleague who has been going through some family struggles. It was clear how much she had been struggling of late, and even though we don’t see each other that often, it was important to ask the question.
There wasn’t necessarily a lot to be said. Sometimes there aren’t a ton of words, nor is there anything that needs to be done. A question, some listening, a hug, etc. But, the question is important to ask, and hopefully, valuable to the person who is doing the answering.
There are tremendous implications for leaders at all levels. Despite our busy days (and nights) and how great good feedback and information feels, we have to ask the difficult questions and the ones in which we aren’t sure how they might land (and/or what they might lead to) if we really want to build the community we know we want (and need). This means that if we have those moments where we feel like we have so much to do that we can’t possibly stop to engage in conversation, we have to do all that we can to overpower instinct and stop and ask that question.
Because, the time we save by not asking the question will never result in as much community, friendship, and effectiveness as the time we devote to asking people “How Are You Doing?” Sometimes, four small words are all we need to build one large community.