10 Tips for Using the English Greeting – "How are You?"

 
10-tips-for-using-english greeting–how are you

I say it when a cashier scans my groceries. I say it when a restaurant server hands me a menu. I say it when I see my neighbors. I say it with family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances and strangers. It's the most common question in America.

"How are you?"

We use this English greeting in the United States to establish a friendly and positive first impression with others – even if we might never see them again. 

Since we often have dozens of informal daily interactions that begin with "How are you?" – it's crucial to be able to correctly and effectively use this greeting.

In this post, I'm going to share 10 tips for using the English greeting – "How are you?"

1. Use "How are You?" like "Hi" or "Hello"

When people greet you with "How are you?" – they generally don't want to know how you're really doing at this point. They don't want to know about your life, work or troubles. They're just being friendly as if they were saying, "Hi" or "Hello."

Responding with too much information at this point can be a cultural faux pas just like in this Bud Light commercial (below) from several years ago when an out-of-towner stops for a drink.

Depending on your location in the U.S., there may be a regional difference for using "How are you?" Listen to how others use this greeting/response and adapt accordingly.

Bud Light Commercial: How You Doin'?

Instead of talking about the size of the airport and the friendliness of the locals, the exchange between the out-of-towner and bartender could've gone like this:

Example 1
Bartender: How ya doin’?
Out-of-Towner: Pretty good. Can I get a Bud?
Bartender: You got it!

Additionally, "How are you?" could've also been used in conjunction with "Hi," "Hey," "Hello" or "Good morning/afternoon/evening."

Example 2
Bartender: Hey, there. How ya doin’?
Out-of-Towner: Pretty good. Can I get a Bud?
Bartender: You got it!

2. Use Adjectives to Respond to "How..." Greetings, but not "What..." Greetings

My students often confuse "How..." greetings with "What..." responses and vice versa. When using "How..." greetings, respond with adjectives like "Fine," "Good," "Not bad," etc.

Compare and contrast these incorrect and correct examples.

Example 1: Incorrect
A: How are you?
B: Not a whole lot. Yourself?

Example 2: Incorrect
A: What's going on?
B: Good. You?

Example 3: Correct
A: How are you?
B: Good. You?

Example 4: Correct
A: What's going on?
B: Not a whole lot. Yourself?



3. Make Eye Contact

If you can't make eye contact with others, then don't engage them. However, once you've made eye contact, don't wait for others to ask, "How are you?"

When I'm at the grocery store, I understand the cashier can get tired of asking, "How are you?" for 8 hours. So, after I make eye contact, I'll greet him/her by saying, "How's your day going?"

Even if you might never see the person again, try to be friendly and create a positive first impression. You'll make someone feel good because you've acknowledged them and you'll feel better about your own communication skills too.

Example
A: [making eye contact] How's your day going?
B: Not too bad.

4. Smile

Without a smile, greeting someone with "How are you?" can sound dull like reading from a prepared script and more akin to a SIRI response than a friendly greeting from a human – you. Smile!

Example
A: [making eye contact and smiling] How are you?
B: Fine, thanks.

5. Be Respectful

To respect others, you must acknowledge them. If you see your neighbors or colleagues at a coffee shop, grocery store or another location – be respectful and acknowledge them, either verbally with a greeting or nonverbally with a smile, nod or wave.

If you regularly see the same people during your daily or weekly routines – be respectful and acknowledge them, either verbally with a greeting or nonverbally with a smile, nod or wave.

If people enter a space like a room, elevator, etc that you're occupying, don't hide behind your phone and resort to antisocial behavior. Be respectful and acknowledge them, either verbally with a greeting or nonverbally with a smile, nod or wave.

6. Be Curious

The objective to greeting others is to have a friendly and positive interaction. One simple way of accomplishing this is to just ask the same or similar question that you were greeted with. 

Example 1
Cashier: How are you?
Shopper: Pretty good. How about you?
Cashier: Great.

When transitioning into small talk or conversation, show that you're interested in the other person and he/she'll enjoy talking with you more. After all, we like people, when they like us. Eventually, the person might begin to show interest in you, but don't be upset if they don't.

Example 2
Receptionist: Hiya doin'?
Patient: Doin' good. [reading her name tag] By the way, I love your name – Uma.

Example 3
Father: How are you?
Son: Ok.
Father: How was your trip?
Son: Good.
Father: What'd you do?
Son: We surfed a lot.
Father: Which island did you visit?
Son: Oahu. We went to Banzai Pipeline. Have you heard of the Pipeline?

7. Respond - Verbally or Non-Verbally

I go for a 5-mile walk every morning and during that time, 85% of the people I pass, smile and say "Hi, "Good morning" or "How are you?" The remaining 15% never say anything or never respond.

Understandably, not everyone is comfortable being friendly. Me, too! Nevertheless, in effective communication, a communicable action, prompts a reaction. When someone greets you – acknowledge them in return, either verbally with a greeting or nonverbally with a smile, nod or wave.

Example 1
Walker: How are you?
Jogger: [smiling and nodding]

Example 2
Restaurant Server: How are you?
Guest: [smiling] Hungry!

8. Avoid Negative Responses

Unless you know the person you're greeting very well, avoid negativity. Keep your responses positive (good, great) or neutral (fine, not bad, not much).

Example
A: Hey, there. How've you been?
B: Good, good. How's it goin'?

9. Vary Your Responses

Many of my business English students used to rely on a single response to "How..." and "What..." greetings.

Pre-Intermediate students would say, "I'm fine, thank you. And you?"

Intermediate students would say, "I'm fine, thank you. And you?"

Upper-intermediate students would say, "I'm fine, thank you. And you?"

While this response sounds lazy and is actually incorrect with "What..." greetings, my students had been taught this response in school and they just didn't know how to vary their responses. We fixed that right away.

Compare the different examples.

Example 1
A: How are you?
B: Good.

Example 2
A: How've you been?
B: Good. How about you?

Example 3
A: How's it goin'?
B: Pretty good. Yourself?

Example 4
A: What's up?
B: Not much.

Example 5
A: What's goin' on?
B: Not a whole lot. How about with you?

You can also vary your responses by just responding with a different greeting.

Example 6
A: How are you?
B: How's it going?

Example 7
A: How ya doin?
B: Good. How's it goin'?

10. Use Commonality to Transition "How are You?" into Small Talk

Rely on what you have in common with the person you're greeting to transition into small talk or conversation. Keep your questions short, facts relevant, humor appropriate and compliments professional.

Example 1
Cashier: How are you?
Shopper: Pretty good. Hope you brought an umbrella today.
Cashier: Is it raining?
Shopper: Pouring.
Cashier: Guess I won't be having lunch outside.

Example 2
Neighbor A: How are you? I haven't seen you in a while.
Neighbor B: Not bad.
Neighbor A: Where've you been?
Neighbor B: I just got back from a summer vacation in Arizona.
Neighbor A: Really? Where'd you go?
Neighbor B: The Grand Canyon. It was a family vacation.

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Wrap Up

You just learned 10 tips for effectively using the English greeting – "How are you?" in the United States. Be friendly and enjoy meeting others and they'll enjoy meeting you, too! Now that you understand how to greet others with "How are you?" check out my other post – 6 Surefire Ways to Start a Conversation.

Which tip is the most helpful for you? Can you think of any other useful tips?

The post 10 Tips for Using the English Greeting – "How are You?" first appeared on the Culture Gaps Blog by Jeff Shibasaki.