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Using “How” vs. “Hope” and Why It Matters

by | Nov 12, 2021 | Communications

Setting the Stage

At 5:15 am, you were brutally awoken by the fire alarm in your house, triggered by a candle that accidentally burned throughout the night, the smoky wick finally at its end and too close to a smoke detector. A little frazzled, you muddle your way through your morning home routine and arrive at work to find a note on your desk from your boss: “We need to talk in person. Will be back at 4 pm - come to my office then.” A little high strung after your startling wake up, and now anxious for your mysterious meeting with your boss later in the day, you head out for lunch to unwind. When you leave the restaurant to return to the office, you find that someone bumped into your car while you were eating, leaving you with a fender bender and no contact info. Lovely. Back at the office, a colleague asks why you’re a day late submitting the important client deliverable that you thought was due tomorrow. You get the idea.

At 3:50 pm, you get a text message from a friend:

“Hope ur having a great day! (Smiley emoji)”

Nope. Not having a great day. Having a really crummy day, actually. In that moment, having read that message after the day you had so far (not even over yet…), how do you feel?

Now imagine that you friend’s text had read:

“Hey, how’s your day going? What’s up?”

Again, after the day you had so far, how would reading that message make you feel, and how would that reaction be different from reading the first text message?

Changing a Word Can Change a Day

Minor shifts in language and the words we use can have a big impact on the quality of our communications with others. In some cases, such as this one, simply pivoting a thought around a different word can mean the difference between feeling connected with a friend or colleague and feeling a little alienated.

In this example, the difference between the friend’s use of “how” and “hope” in the text messages can create different reactions. If someone hopes you’re having a great day, they aren’t expressing an interest to engage with you. Maybe they want to, but simply aren’t being explicit. Or maybe they don’t have time to get into a text exchange and just want you to know they’re thinking about you. Since they’re a good friend, you know their intentions are good. In that moment, though, a “how are you doing” may have felt like a welcome lifeline to get even a little bit of support, whereas a “hope you’re having a great day” may have felt like a door closing before it was fully opened.

Your friend can’t read your mind and obviously has no idea that your day has been nothing short of catastrophic. And because this is a good friend, you know they care about you and want you to speak up and just share whatever’s wrong. We’re all adults. You don’t need to be prompted for information in order to share. I know that. You know that.

And yet…

…subtleties in language can mean the difference between a positive exchange and a negative one  - between feeling understood and feeling alienated. In this day and age of quick-fire and minimalist digital communications, it’s easy to trivialize the impact of the words we barely consciously absorb. Subconsciously, though, the words we read or hear trigger emotional reactions within milliseconds. Being sloppy in selecting the words or phrasing we use in our daily interactions can mean the difference between making someone’s day or pushing them over the edge, depending on their emotional state in that specific moment.

I’m not implying that you need to monitor every word you say in every situation and be hypersensitive to fostering deep connection in all interactions. That would be terribly cumbersome, impractical and unnatural. I’m also not suggesting that you never use the word “hope.” That’s typically a very kind word to use, and certainly no one will ever accuse you of shutting any doors of communication when you say “hope you have a great day today.”

All I’m saying is that first and foremost, humans are emotional beings, and (in most instances) whether it’s a business interaction or personal, using language that fosters connection is more effective and ultimately satisfying than language that doesn’t. I’m simply suggesting that the next time you have the choice, consider inviting interaction by asking “how” instead of stating a “hope.”

And now to sign off with a taste of my own medicine…I hope that you found this thought provoking. How does this perspective sit with you?

The Author: Marina von Bergen

By trade I’m a leadership coach and consultant focusing on effective communications and emotional intelligence in the global workforce. More recently, I’ve shifted course to help leaders of small and medium-sized businesses better understand and leverage the trends and technologies that will impact their businesses, if they haven’t already.

To learn more, visit my About page, or reach out via social media.

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