Physician Outlook

Intentional Inquiry


Socialization and physical interaction havebeen suffering changes in the past years, particularly over the last year,becomingan empty convention. Let us take a moment to consider exercising intention in the inquiry and bring empathy to our communication.Meta Description:

“How are you?”

This is a loaded question that often garners an empty response.

We may not want to share. We often do not know what to say. We can feel uncertain if the inquirer actually wants to know the truth…or if we are willing to speak it fully.

How should we be? What is an answer to this question? How is it received? How is it addressed?

When you are asking, consider your intention. Why are you asking? Are you inviting a dialogue? Do you have a preconceived expectation of reply? What will you do with the response that is given?

Particularly in an era of limited and modified interaction, having an expanded awareness of the impact of inquiry can be essential. Listening for feedback, recognizing lack of an authentic or complete response. Hesitation, pause, exceptionally concise or the use of “fine” can offer opportunity to consider the experience of the other.

Entirely acceptable to recognize and allow the response given just as it is. If asked in passing, that may be the full extent of the engagement. If launched for a more significant interaction, perhaps a pause in return, with follow up, can be helpful.

Staying in a space of curiosity can invite expansion of sharing. Consider:

Would you like to share more?

Is there any support you need?

What were the biggest challenges this week?

What were your greatest successes?

Normalizing the experience of challenge and possibility for success can be a helpful method for engagement that encourages without expectation.

Noticing if you are listening or fixing – and if this aligns with what they are seeking.

When you are being asked, consider your reaction. Do you question their intention? Are you up for a dialogue? Are you willing/ready/able to answer without concern of their expectation of your response? Do you have an expectation of their reaction to your response?

Taking an inventory of your energetic and emotional reserve can be helpful in guiding the depth of your engagement. Perhaps a short and surface answer is sufficient in the moment. If you have more to say, consider how you would extend a response that invites further dialogue rather than a monosyllabic reply.

Checking in to verify readiness of the inquirer can be a helpful step to ensure all are engaged willingly in the discussion. Body language and eye contact can help to guide this assessment.

If you’re looking to expand sharing, consider how you might stay in an open space as you offer a response, potentially adding:

I’m not doing very well – do you have time to hear more?

I’ve had an amazing week – I’d love to tell you about it if you have time!

Thanks for asking – I’m not totally sure, but I’d appreciate a moment to consider and respond.

I am actually doing fine – how are you?

Normalizing the experience of taking up space for oneself encourages others to do the same when they have the need.

Notice if you are seeking listening, reflection or solutions and be clear on your needs if they are not matched by the response.

Loneliness is an epidemic, increasing with the on-going modifications to socialization and physical interaction over the past year. Connection is a key antidote and can be found in meaningful communication. Bringing intention to inquiry and reflection to response can turn a quick quip into a caring conversation, supporting both participants.

Unloading expectations and applying empathy strengthens the ask. Shifting reaction to reflective reply enriches the response. Thoughtful dialogue weaves a tapestry of connection that covers the participants and warms the collective spirit. 

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