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English Speaking Training- Opening a Conversation: The Other Magic Question for Conversations

English Speaking Training- Opening a Conversation: The Other Magic Question for Conversations


In the culture of the United States, when we first greet a person, we will ask a question to get a general idea of how the person is doing.

Typically, we will ask “How are you doing?” or “How are you?”

But I have another question which I think is many times better than these most popular greeting questions.

Let me explain.

The practical purpose of a greeting question is to get an indication from the words, the tone of voice, and the body language about the emotional and physical state of the other person.  We want to know the degree of well-being the other person has.

Importantly, communication savvy people set the tone of the conversation depending on the answer.

By way of example, if the conversation partner indicates he or she is doing great or good, then the conversation can be steered to sharing other happy events or excitement can be expressed about the topic or task of the moment.

On the other hand, if the person indicates by tone of voice, body language, or actual words that he or she is not doing well, then good- to-great communicators will try to approach or  match the emotional level of the other person.  At the least, the good-to-great communicator will not use an exuberant tone of voice or body language.

The revelation of a person’s emotional state is most often heard more from the tone of voice or body language than from the actual words.

The magic question I want to suggest to you is the greeting question, “How is it going?”

That question allows other people to express as much or as little of the happenings in their life and feelings as they wish.

An open ended question, “How is it going?” allows the other person the freedom to talk either about a happening or how they are doing emotionally.  Importantly, for those persons going through difficult times, it allows the other person a socially acceptable way not  to express a negative emotional state.

Fact is, in this culture we expect the answer to the greeting question to always be “Fine,” or better than fine.

So for a person who does not feel that “fine” state of well-being, he or she still feels the social pressure to say “fine,” when they do not feel that.  If the person is going through a long term or relatively long term time of difficulty, they know they will not be feeling truly “fine” for a good long time.  Instances of that are death of loved ones, chronic illness or injury, or mental distress, such as clinical depression or anxiety.

Importantly, sometimes for the sake of moving forward with people on tasks and meetings, a person wants to stay focused on the moment at hand and move with that moment only.

Another reason to use the question, “How is it going?” is because people typically feel better if they tell the truth.  The question, “How is it going?” calls for an answer to “it.”  Thus the responder can truthfully state, “It goes fine” no matter how he or she feels.  The responder can also answer, “I am hanging in there.”  That leaves the hint that at present the responder has difficulties, but the responder is handling all.

The third reason to use this question as your greeting question is that this open ended question allows the other person the freedom to describe  an “it” in his or her life, a current happening .  Thus it opens up self-revelation by the responder.  Learning about the important and meaningful events in another person’s life makes for a giant step in building relationship and rapport.

Because of all these reasons, I habitually say the greeting question, “How is it going?”  Because I really do care, there is often a pause before the respondent answers.  He or she is not automatically responding to the typical greeting question and takes a moment to think.

Also, I like being a good communicator, so I watch carefully for the body language and speech tone that goes with the responder’s answer.  Then the conversation proceeds as a dialogue from the revelation of status of well-being or current meaningful happening of the respondent.

So, try this magic question: “How is it going?” The magic is in your listening, seeing, and responding to other’s revelation in the answer.

Be sure to watch our English Speech Tips videos and Accent Reduction Tip videos  for more English pronunciation and accent reduction exercise.

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