Early Monday morning, a week after the announcement of a divisional re-organization, resulting in a reduction of 8% of the staff, and changing several reporting relationships, the Divisional VP took a walk to see how everyone was doing. With each department he passed through, he greeted them with “good morning” and then asked, “How’s everyone doing today?” Staff members would look at him, force a smile and say “fine.” He smiled, nodded his head, and quickly moved on. That same afternoon, at the weekly meeting of his leadership team, he asked them, “How has everyone responded to the changes?” The leaders all said, “Fine.” He quickly moved on to other agenda items. At the end of the day, he thought to himself, they’ve all adapted well to the changes, I’m glad.
Do you think everyone was really doing fine? I doubt it. My experience is people don’t quickly adapt to financial challenges, saying good-bye to co-workers and having to prove yourself all over by reporting to someone new. That isn’t easy stuff, it’s hard.
The word fine is used daily to describe everything from how your day is, to the weather, your kids, last evening and on and on. We hear the word and quickly move on. Often it doesn’t mean what everyone assumes it means. I’m convinced fine is used more often as a defensive word to get people to move on. It also says things aren’t good, but the person is uncertain if they can talk about it. They might be uncertain about:
- How to express what they are feeling
- Your desire or interest in listening
- If you care
Talking about it is important. Counselor and author David Thomas shares an acronym for the word fine, that I wish I had known 30 years ago.
That acronym reminds us the word fine is screaming, “I need to talk.” If you ignore that little word, you may miss an important opportunity for you as a leader, a teammate, or a parent. You want to be the person others feel safe talking with. Next time you hear the word fine, don’t fly by. Instead, ask a question to engage them in a conversation to see if they want to talk.
You could ask something as simple as:
- “What do you mean when you say fine?”
- “Are things really fine for you?”
- “What makes things fine for you?”
Watch their body language as they respond. Look at their eyes.
Another way to engage them is to ask the question again, i.e., “I asked how you are doing?” By asking the same question a second time, you’re sending a signal to the person that you’re interested in learning more. If the person says “fine” again, but I sense they really want to talk, I’ll ask it a 3rd time because asking it again says I really do want to know.
Yes, for some, it will mean things are okay. They’ll even be able to tell you why they respond that way. If they do, celebrate they’re doing well. There is no downside because by asking, you sent a message that you care.
Who doesn’t want to work for a leader who cares?
Who doesn’t want to work with a teammate who cares?
Who doesn’t want to know their mom or dad cares?
Be the person who cares enough to ask.
Feed the hungry! Help those in trouble! Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you shall be as bright as day. Isaiah 58:10 (TLB)