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Weekly Doses of Pop-up Psych

We all witness or become involved in icky social situations and deserve to move on, rather than feel confused or regretful. Each week, I will break down a murky social, life cycle, or pop culture topic to give you the perspective you didn't think you need to help you understand, learn, and move on from it. As a former academic, you know I am posting solid research data and other resources.

Social Etiquette: Exploring the Authenticity Behind “How Are You?” In Conversations

Disclaimer: I cringe at myself for being guilty.


Last March, my cat and home heating system both died on the same day. I was cold and heartbroken, as well as grieving my beloved Lucky by the warmth of a space heater, since the air temperature outside was 40℉. Life sucked at that moment. That evening I passed by a familiar, but nameless face when walking my dog, who asked “how are you?” Despite feeling miserable, I replied “fine, thank you” with a fake smile and kept walking.


“How are you?” seems to have become the new “hello” It rolls off our tongue so easily when we see people in passing.  Usually, we respond with a benign “fine” or “good”, because do they really want to know?


How much do we want to know? 


Since 55% of adults claim to be feeling stressed about something, we are more likely to get an answer we don’t want to hear. Does that random person standing behind us in line really care if we are having a horrible day? Do we share the truth or fake it? It depends on the person and how much they seem to care.


We be more authentic by using other types of small talk

Small talk does not mean fake talk. My late mentor, the great Dr. Bernie Carducci, author of The Art of Small Talk, asserted that we need small talk and chats that are non-personal and light as a gateway to deeper and more meaningful conversations. This is a link to an interview the legendary Bernie did with HuffPost who gives practical steps at initiating small talk.


We can be more authentic by only asking “how are you” when we really care to know the answer


This is a question to ask when there is time to really hear the answer, as opposed to a casual greeting in passing. If you ask, be prepared to get the answers you don’t want to hear. How much do you really care? Choose another salutation if you don’t want to hear about health issues, losses, trauma, tragedy, and other heartbreaking events. 


We can be more authentic by answering more honestly


Since they asked, why not tell them? Maybe I should have told those polite people in my neighborhood that my house was cold and that my face was covered in tears, because that was the truth.  Whether they cared or not, I answered the question by sharing where I was at that moment. It’s not my problem if they are uncomfortable.

What about you?


  • How can you be more authentic when you greet people?

  • How can you answer authentically without being rude in the event you are not okay, when asked “how are you?”

Hi, Beautiful Readers! Thank you for reading this! I'm Dr. Joanne Broder, Media Psychologist, Author, and Fellow of the American Psychological Association. Please consider me to help you write your memoir, blogs, speeches, e-books, as well as coach you on your dissertation or thesis.  Click here so we can connect!

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