The biggest lie in conversation is, “I’m fine.” I had just turned 12 when my parents divorced. While I don’t remember it being all that traumatic for me, my dad told me once that he thought the divorce hit me harder than it hit my two brothers. I knew my parents needed to divorce. They just didn’t fit together anymore. As I write this as an older person, I assume my parents asked me how I was concerning their divorce. Unfortunately, I don’t remember that being true. I also don’t remember if they were brave enough to have conversations that mattered. If they did ask me how I felt about things, I’m sure my response fit into some form of “I’m fine.” Looking back, I realized I stuffed my feelings because I thought that’s how people got through the tough stuff. 

Maybe that was true. Maybe it wasn’t. 

Over the years, “I’m fine” became my standard response in both my personal and professional life. “Hey John, how are you?” “I’m fine, thanks.” Or “I’m good.” The answers I gave made for terse conversations with others. Maybe I felt like I couldn’t or shouldn’t share what lived under that outward facade of being ‘fine’. 

“I’m fine” Keeps Conversations Short

The truth is that I had much to share, and things I wanted to say, but I realized I’m one of those people who needs an invitation to share more, to share beyond “I’m fine.” Most people don’t ask or engage in conversation beyond that even though I secretly hoped they would. 

I also realized that I’m not the only one who has more to say and has a story to tell. 

It’s become my mission to be brave enough to have conversations that matter and to make sure that people feel heard. You can’t always tell if a conversation matters, though until you’re in the middle of it. 

Everyone has a Story to Tell

Let’s face it. Everyone has a story to tell, and not just the big stories like weddings, births of children, and celebrations. 

People also have stories that come from the dinner table last night or something that happened on the way to dropping the kids off at school. They have stories about finances and health that not only get carried with them in their personal lives, but they carry the same stories into the workplace where their concentration, focus, and productivity can be affected negatively. 

Because of my own experiences, I never assume that a person is ‘fine’ if I sense something else beneath that answer. I ask open-ended to continue the conversation to find ways to support that person or show empathy. 

Does it take time to do that? Of course! Does it take a lot of time to have those conversations? What can be discovered in a conversation that lasts 3 minutes or less is amazing. It might be a conversation that lasts as long as it takes to walk from the parking lot to the front door, or from the printer back to a person’s workspace. 

Because I know what it feels like not to be given the opportunity to go beyond “I’m fine,” and how valued I feel when someone does, I will gladly step into those conversations with people. 

Trust, Connection, Community, and Belonging

Having conversations that matter with people creates a foundation of trust in the work environment. Trust builds connections between people, creates a sense of community and belonging, and inspires people to work to their highest potential. 

Isn’t that what we want? 

I work with leaders who want to eliminate small talk to have conversations that matter to keep their best people. Those conversations can be initiated by the invitation to go beyond a person’s “I’m fine,” response to learn their stories. 

How do you feel when someone takes time to learn the story that goes beyond “I’m fine.” 

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