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Good Is Not A Story

I am climbing into our Zoom room to prepare for a virtual show delivered in tandem with my business partner Alyce. As we enter I ask her “how are you?” to which she responds “Good.” As storytellers and communication coaches I challenged Alyce with “Good, is not a story!”. Alyce nodded to herself and then dove into the story of her day, and the conversation flowed easily from there onward.  

A few hours later, following our virtual show, I am laying face down on a chiropractic table when I hear the doctor ask a patient “How are you?” to which they respond “Good”.  Interesting, I thought, if they were good, why are they at the chiropractor?

Good is such a Pavlovian response and one we need to break. “Good” is a lazy answer and quite frankly disrespects your listener.  You are essentially telegraphing to them that you can’t put enough energy into sharing something of interest or meaning with them.

When asked the "how are you" question, ‘It’s up to you to start a conversation’ says Debra Fines in her book The Fine Art Of Small Talk.  “Good” provides no opportunity for what Vinh Giang calls “conversational threading” where you provide information in your response to allow someone to weave into the conversation.  

It’s not hard to come up with a more interesting answer than “good”.  Simply think about what you did that morning, something new you are trying out, or something you have coming up, then riff on it.

Let’s see what that sounds like…How are you?

  • Well I just finished my second cup of coffee so am pretty amped up, I plan to get a lot knocked out today.   Are you a coffee drinker?

  • I am a bit frustrated, I’ve been practicing Wim Hof breathing and I feel like I’ve hit a plateau.  Are you familiar with Wim Hof?

  • I am freaking out a bit, I have a big presentation coming up soon and although I’ve been practicing it still gives me the jitters.  Do you have any tips you use to prepare?

If you want to craft your response into more of a story you can use the formula we teach here at Articulated Intelligence, S+A+R+M.  Provide a Situation, an Action, a Resolution, and if it makes sense, a Meaning/Message.  These elements can be put together in any order. 

Let’s try this with a more storied format… How are you?

  • I am feeling pretty Zen (resolution).  I have been learning to meditate (situation) and this morning I had a breakthrough.   I actually went 5 minutes without a million thoughts flying through my head (action).   I was beginning to think that meditation just wouldn’t work for me, but like with any new skill, it takes practice and patience (meaning).  Have you tried meditation?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t address the other side of this equation - the “How are you” question.  You’re setting yourself up for disappointment when you ask this.   Just like I did when I asked Alyce.  

  • Consider asking a “best” question:  What’s been the best part of your morning, week, summer?

  • If you're the chiropractor (or similar), consider asking: What brings you in here today?

  • How about “What’s been on your mind lately”?

It may feel a bit awkward to try some of this out as we’ve been so programmed.  However, I am throwing out a challenge to all of us.  Let’s up the quality of our interactions by asking better questions and providing better answers. It will help make conversations more interesting and meaningful.

At AI we help people build stronger relationships through better communication and our differentiator is stories.  Reach out if you'd like help finding, shaping, and sharing your stories. 

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