Why do we answer “I’m fine, thanks” even when it isn’t true? Why do we answer superficially when someone asks us how we’re doing? It’s partly because we aren’t sure the other person is really listening. 

Arguably, the standard question “how are you?” and the polite response “I’m fine, thanks” come with an unspoken understanding: I won’t tell you what I’m really feeling, because you don’t really want to know. Saying what you really mean has a flipside: it is the listening part. If we are going to speak the truth about what’s really going on, we need to be there for real answer. We need to really want to know and we need to really listen. 

When you think about it, we aren’t really taught to listen. Listening is a skill. It can be learned. But it also needs to be practiced.  

You can be the friend, colleague, loved one and neighbour who is really listening. It’s amazing what you can learn, and how connected you can be. And it comes with personal benefits, tooIis an opportunity to develop yourselfto be more attentive, more empathic and more self-expressive. 

Use this checklist of suggestions to help you build the skills to be a truly good listener: 

The next time someone asks: “how are you?”, get ready to listen with skill. Your social connections will be stronger for it. 


Kate Murphy (2020). You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters. 

Michael Nichols (2009). The Lost Art of Listening: How Learning To Listen Can Improve Relationships.