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The Truth Behind the Response, 'I'm fine.'

In this episode of the One Next Step podcast, Lisa Zeeveld and I explore the response “I’m fine.”

On average, we say “I’m fine” 14 times a week –  but only 19 percent of us actually mean it. 

You know the experience: You’re walking down the office hall and someone casually says, “Hey,  how are you today?” Our instinctual response? “Fine, thanks. How are you?” Wash, rinse and repeat.

Why did that become such a common and acceptable response? It’s almost as casual as saying “Hi.” We all say it; sometimes we mean it, and sometimes we don’t. 

LZ and I explore why it’s a popular response, why society views it as an acceptable answer, how we and the members of our team can have more honest, vulnerable relationships, and what we can do when we’re not fine.

Here are a few of the main points:

1. Don't ask someone how they are unless you really want to know.

Reposition the common question to a simple, friendly “hello” or “good morning.” 

Asking a question we don’t actually mean to ask just starts an “I’m fine” cycle in which the person on the other end might be masking how they feel. This cycle also doesn't allow for follow up questions to start a real conversation.

If you’ve ever been on the other end of that question when things weren’t fine, you can relate.

2. Having problems doesn't mean we are a problem.

Society says that we need to have it all together. We need to have the perfect smile, the ideal marriage, the solid career, the beautiful kids, and the white picket fence around our house. 

That’s nonsense.

It takes bravery to admit to yourself and others that things aren’t always OK. We’re human. We weren’t born or created to be perfect. While you might not want to open up to a stranger in an elevator, make sure you have someone to truly be authentic with when things aren’t fine.

As a leader, there is something to be said about vulnerability and willingness to be open. At the same time, you want to have a competent, “I’ve got this” mentality to partner with the relatable parts of your life you choose to expose.

3. Leaders should adapt to the needs of the generations they lead.

The boomer on your team might not care about sharing what they did over the weekend. However, the millennial might be more than happy to talk about that or even open up on a more personal level. 

The up-and-coming generations won’t accept “I’m fine.”

The best leaders adapt and build their communication styles around the needs of their team. Emotional intelligence is your friend in building relationships with your team. Once you build trust and authenticity, your relationships with your team will begin to thrive.


For this episode’s activation guide, this 60-second quiz will help you evaluate how honest you’re being with yourself and others. It will also help you determine if you’re actually fine or if it’s time you give yourself permission to ask for the help you deserve and so desperately need.