I became aware that I was sighing and answering “how are you?” with an exhausted “busy.” And I started to take note of how many people at my company give the same answer. Anecdotally, it’s more than 50%.
Where did the “busy” trend actually come from? Do we think it’s a status symbol? “I am busier than anyone else and therefore more successful.” Does it come from the saying, “If you want something done, ask a busy person?” Or like so many other things in our lives, has technology created so much multitasking that we never feel like we get anything done? Or that we never get a break because work is always right there on our phone?
Battling the culture of "busy"
Answering “busy” affects both parties in the conversation. Responding with “busy” makes me feel more tired than I actually am. Instead of lifting my mood, it generates regret for all that I still have to do. I have an opportunity to promote what I’m doing or supporting, and instead of taking advantage of the opportunity, I am giving a vague brush-off because there really isn’t a proper follow-up to “busy” other than “me too.”
For those hearing “busy,” the message is clear: Leave this person alone unless you can help. In fact, the person may not even ask you how you are the next time. And if you are a leader, your employee has just been told that you don’t have time, or that the employee’s work isn’t important enough to make your list.
On the surface, “busy” doesn’t seem negative, but it really is. You’re implying you are overwhelmed and potentially implying that the other person isn’t busy. Isn’t “busy” redundant? When are we not “busy?” In fact, if we aren’t busy, shouldn’t we be worried about staying employed?
If you answer “busy” to your boss, do you really think that your boss is going to give you a stretch assignment or promote you? Isn’t it better if your boss observes how busy you are, but you don’t actually have to say it?
Lead with positivity
So I decided to change “busy” to “amazing.” The response has been terrific. I’ve had several people tell me that I cheered them up. I know that I feel better – my mood lightens, and I start focusing more on how excited I am to tackle my to-do list and less on how many items are on that list. I also had a few folks tell me I am too happy, but that’s a topic for discussion another day.
So I challenge you to change your answer. Next time you’re asked how you’re doing, answer with something that will make the inquirer happy. Maybe promote something you are working on or passionate about. See how much this simple change can make a difference.
Strengths in action
By the way, one of my top 5 Clifton StrengthsFinder strengths is “communication.” It’s pretty obvious that I love taking apart the English language, and according to Gallup, I “find it easy to put my thoughts into words.” I also love asking questions.