Well, at least he was honest.
I was having a good day. Matt the appliance repairman was back to fix our ice maker which had an annoying habit of freezing up and hoarding its ice cubes. He had been out the week before to scope out the warranty-covered repair, and had returned with the manufacturer’s solution kit.
I was out front working on some landscaping when I saw his truck pull up in front of our house. I like to think of myself as a friendly person, so I greeted him with the standard generic greeting, “Hey, how’s it going today?”
I expected to hear the usual generic response, “Pretty good” or “I can’t complain.” Instead I got his brutally honest reply, “Rotten!” It was only 10 am. And it was the middle of the week, not a Monday. As I let him in the house, I wondered, “How bad could it be?” I’ll bet his first appointment of the day was at 9. Most people are happy when their appliances are in working order again, so I would think his job was a positive one.
Maybe his first stops of the day weren’t as pleasant as this one. Maybe he couldn’t fix previous problems. Maybe the estimated repair cost outraged a customer. Maybe he wasted half his morning going to someone house who wasn’t even home.
Perhaps Matt’s rotten day started early in the morning when the dog threw up in his bedroom. Or he was in the middle of a heated argument with his wife as he headed out the door. Or his back was killing him. Or a close friend had died.
You just never know the story that frames someone’s day. You usually don’t know because almost everyone hides their anger, grief, pain and frustration behind a smiling “I’m doing fine!”
Even though I know it wasn’t appropriate, I’ve asked “How are you?” to someone in hospice, just before surgery, arriving for a funeral, wrestling a screaming child, slamming a door, a door-to-door salesman, people stocking shelves in the store, the coffee shop barista, and a complete stranger on the street. I don’t have the actual numbers, but I’ll bet 99% of the time, the response was, “Pretty good” or “Not too bad.”
I do this. I do this very well. I don’t have the actual numbers, but I bet I answer this way 99% of the time. I rarely want to unpack my baggage in casual conversation. So more times than not, I too am “fine” or “hanging in there.”
Every once in a while, though, I switch it up. Sometimes I’ll respond, “Much better, thank you.” This response makes the asker pause for a moment. It generates interest, concern and sympathy. It opens the door for more conversation.
Or I’ll say, “I don’t know.” That catches the other person off guard. It makes them pause for a moment. They can’t walk away. Now they’re curious. They want to know more.
I don’t know if I’ve ever just blurted out, “Rotten,” “Horrible,” or even “Lousy.” Like most, I instinctively put up the “having a good day” front for all to see.
So I am on a personal quest to stop asking, “How are you?” or “How’s it going?” Instead, I’m going to make a statement. I’m going to say something along the lines of, “I’m glad to see you!” Or, “I really like…” something the person is wearing, doing, or saying. Maybe, “That’s an interesting…” thing a person is carrying, tune a person is humming, or tattoo on a person’s arm. I don’t have the numbers, but I’ll bet showing interest in someone gets an honest response 99% of the time.
Rewind to Matt, the appliance repair guy. Once he said, “Rotten,” I stepped back and just let him get to work. But I could have said, “I am very glad to see you!” Or, “Can you tell me about the repair kit you ordered?” Maybe, “I’m impressed that you know how to fix so many brands of appliances.” I could have picked his brain to ask, “What brands of appliances have you found to be the most reliable?” Perhaps a little interest in him and his job would have made his day a little less rotten. I would also have learned a few things.
So there’s one of my goals. Counter some of the rottenness in this world. Greet folks with words and phrases that are creative, positive, and pleasant.