How To Ask If Someone Is Okay

Empathy is a desirable personality trait. But sometimes, empathetic people can be irritating, especially when they are constantly asking people if they are okay. There is an art to show you are caring without being condescending and asking if someone is okay.

When you ask someone if they are okay, you might think you are showing empathy. But in the recipient’s reality, you are telling them you are okay, and they are not. Your superiority is hurtful and can wreak havoc on relationships. But, there is also a good chance that your question could be helpful to someone who needs the opening to share their story.

Why You Shouldn’t Ask

There are several ways to show you care without making someone feel like you caught them being down and out. The only time you should ask someone if they are okay is if you know each other well enough to have a conversation about emotions. Otherwise, you shouldn’t ask, or you should ask a different question.

All too often, people who are not okay don’t want to talk about the issue. Problems that show up on our faces and in our body language are usually personal. And, just because they are wearing their feelings on their face doesn’t mean they want to talk about them.

When you ask someone if they are okay, you are potentially triggering the person. For someone who is already upset, asking them to talk about it could result in problems that you just don’t want – like incessant sobbing. If you aren’t prepared to speak to someone who is crying, then don’t ask them a question that could trigger that response.

Usually, when we ask if someone is okay, we can already tell they are not. For people who aren’t doing well, asking them can reinforce the feelings that are bringing them down. Some people who are struggling might feel like your question is selfish and about making you feel better rather than making them feel better.

Being around people we love can help us feel better about ourselves. Seeing you might have made your friend or loved one feel better. But, if you ask if they are okay, those warm feelings have just been replaced with ugly, painful thoughts. Any good mood is now gone.

Focus on the Neutral

Knowing that you could quickly destroy someone’s good mood with one simple, empathetic question shouldn’t discourage you from talking to your friend. The key to success is knowing how to speak to your friend to show you care. Even if they are struggling, you don’t want to focus on that. You want to focus on what is good because that makes everyone happy.

The best way to find out if someone is okay is to permit them to talk about themselves. But, you don’t say, “I give you permission to talk about yourself.” Instead, you ask friendly, open-ended questions, without being condescending. If your friend wants to talk, they will when you give them a neutral opening.

Neutral Questions to Ask

Instead of asking if your friend is okay, these neutral questions offer openings for honest conversation. When you ask someone if they are okay, they can answer with a flat no, thus ending the discussion. If you want to talk and listen, you have to offer neutral and open-ended beginnings.

If you start with “How’s it going?” your friend should be able to answer honestly. This kind question is open to any answer. No matter the answer you get, you can also follow it up with the statement, “tell me more.” Hopefully, your friend will, and you can get to what is eating at them.

There isn’t anything condescending about “How’s it going?” because people use this question in all types of social settings. It is appropriate to ask anyone at almost any time. It is not offensive at all. And it can be answered with single words or lengthy descriptions.

The other question that offers endless answers is, “What are you up to these days?” If your friend says “nothing,” then you will want to ask why. If your friend offers an answer that is more than that, tell them to tell you more. Hopefully, your friend will notice how interested you are and will open up to tell you what is happening in their lives.

Become an Active Listener

If you are an empathetic friend, you listen to your friend’s response. You do not judge or prematurely interrupt, thus ending the answer you are striving to get. Your friend can tell if you are just asking a question so you can talk later. Instead, be patient and listen to the entire answer. Then, pause before you respond.

When you take time to pause before speaking, you show that you care. You also allow your friend to think and add more detail. If you speak too soon, your friend might not give you anything else. Offer your friend your ear or some space; your friend will take you up on one of those offers.

Invite Your Friend to Meet

It can be tough for friends to get together. People are incredibly busy with work and family. All too often, people are too tired to take time to see their friends. So, you have to create an opportunity that is easy for your friend to accept. You need to put the choice on your friend, so they feel in control of the situation.

One way to arrange to see your friend is to talk about how you would like to catch up. When you do this, you ask your friend what works for their schedule. For example, you can say, “I miss you. Let’s catch up. What time do you have open this week?” Then, your friend is in control of picking the time. If they are busy, then you suggest next week. Just don’t wait too long.

When you offer the opportunity to meet, you show your friend that you are thinking about them. Consider how good this would make you feel if a friend said this to you. When you offer the opportunity to meet, you can do it via text message or email, so your friend has time to look at the calendar.

If you do not get a response, follow up. Sometimes messages get lost in the shuffle. You’re talking to a friend so that you can ask twice. In your follow up question, don’t ask if your friend is okay. All you have to do is rephrase the statement, but ask the same problem. Tell your friend you are thinking about them, and you’d love to chat or get a beer or coffee.

Another way to organize a meeting with your friend is to ask your friend for help. You can do this by telling your friend about a project you have. It doesn’t matter if you have the project or not, as the meeting is not about you – remember, you’re trying to find out if your friend is okay. So, tell your friend about the project and ask to pick their brain about it.

Maybe your project is picking paint colors for your bedroom, looking for a new laptop computer, or hiring a babysitter for your kids. Whatever you decide, be sure it is something your friend knows how to do. This will make the meeting seem legit, and your friend will be more willing to help.

Keep in mind that people who are not okay are often suffering from depression. People who are depressed do not usually want to engage in social situations. If you are trying to see your friend to determine if they are okay, create a reason for your friend to get out of the house.

Another way to get together is to offer to make a delivery for your friend. When you are at the grocery store, call your friend from the coffee aisle. Mention that is where you are and how it made you think about them. Then, offer to deliver coffee so you two can have some time to talk. It’s hard to say no to coffee delivery from a dear friend.

Look Back At Your Friendship

When you are trying to get your friend to open up, you have to be vulnerable first. Instead of asking if your friend is okay, tell your friend that you are a good listener. Then, show how your friend helped you when you were at a low. You can say, “If you need anything, I’m here for you. Remember when you helped me get through …”

Good friends like to reminisce. They can look back at the fun times, which reinforces the strength of their relationship. After you have taken the time to look back, move the conversation to the present so you can focus on what is bothering your friend. Hopefully, your reminiscing will encourage your friend to open up about what is happening now.

But, if your friend does not open up, enjoy what is going on at the moment. Your friend might need this moment to take their mind off of what is happening. Changing the subject might destroy the moment.

Trust Your Friend

Another way to get to the bottom of the problem is to ask your friend for advice. No one’s life is perfect. We can always use information about things in our lives. If you ask for help and listen, your friend might reciprocate and ask you for help, too. Then, you can find out if your friend is really okay.

If we expect our friends to be vulnerable with us, we need to be empathetic and vulnerable with them. All too often, we make our lives look perfect; this can turn people away from sharing their imperfect lives with us. If you expect vulnerability from your friends, you have to show your flaws to them, too.

When people are experiencing depression, they often feel that they are the only ones feeling low. They do not realize that other people can be depressed, too. If someone shares their feelings with you, do not make them feel worse.

Show your empathy without starting a sentence with at least. Tell your friend you feel their pain because you’ve felt pain, too. Then, listen some more. Do not compare your feelings with theirs. Listen and tell them they are not alone. Keep listening.

Offer to Help

Another way to show you care is to offer to help. Adults do not ask for help. But, if help is offered without the opportunity to say no, they cannot do anything about it. Don’t ask, “How can I help you?” Instead, ask “What can I do to help?” If your friend answers by saying nothing, tell them that is not an answer and that you will be over in a few minutes.

If you want to get more specific, you can ask, “When can I come over to do the laundry or dishes or to cook dinner?” Your friend cannot say no to that. You could also tell your friend you are bringing a meal over, then ask what day is best. When you eliminate the yes or no answer, you open up an opportunity to meet your friend and to talk about what is happening.

By offering to help, you are showing that you care. You are telling your friend that you know they are busy and that some help will bring ease into their lives. You aren’t telling them they are failures. You are being a friend, and everyone needs a friend.

Offer Praise First

People love to hear that they are doing okay. So, tell them how great they are doing. Adults are quick to praise children, but they often ignore other adults in their lives. Take a moment to notice that your loved one is doing their best around the house, at work, or with their families.

After you have praised your friend or loved one, ask them what you can do for them. You aren’t asking if they are okay. You’re offering your ear or your help. Maybe you have a friend who has young children. Tell your friend she’s doing a great job with the kids. Then, offer to watch them so she can go shopping or take a nap to allow your friend an opportunity to open up to you.

People who aren’t feeling okay often keep it to themselves. They tend to think negatively about themselves. So, praise takes them by surprise and makes them feel good, even if it is only for a brief moment. Use that opportunity to show them you are there for them.

Exercise Together

People do not spend enough time outside. So going for a walk is always a good reason to get together. When you feel the need to talk to a friend, suggest that you meet to enjoy the sunshine and get outside. Tell your friend you would like their company, so they feel obligated to say yes.

When you are walking with a friend, there is plenty of time to talk. Start with open-ended questions and listen to your friend’s feelings.

It’s okay if the conversation turns to the weather or to small talk. That just gives you more opportunities to dive deeper. You talk about memories you had in similar weather conditions. As you reminisce about your time together, get to the problems at hand.

Consider saying something like, “Remember when we went to the beach on that hot day. I was struggling with this problem, and you helped me deal with it.” Then, your friend can talk about what is bothering them. For some people, having the time and opportunity gives them the freedom they need to open up and talk.

Ask Twice with Sincerity

All too often, when someone asks how you are doing, they are just doing it to be kind. They don’t want an answer. But, if you genuinely want to know your friend’s status, you can ask twice. The repetition shows that you want an honest answer.

The typical answer to friends asking how you are is okay or fine. This is expected, even if they are far from feeling fine. So, if you want a real answer, you have to ask at least twice and show that you honestly care. When you get the typical response the first time, ask if your friend is really okay. Hopefully, you’ll get an honest answer to the second go-round.

As the stigma around mental health begins to shift, more people are becoming comfortable with sharing their feelings. While you might not get all of the details, you might get enough so you can help your friend feel better. You aren’t going to fix your friend, but being an open and non-judgmental ear is enough.

If you do get an answer after asking twice, recognize your friend for being honest with you. Tell your friend you appreciate them. Thank them for being honest. Recognize what they are going through and don’t judge, compare, or throw an “at least you aren’t” comment at them. Just listen and care.

Show That You Care

Usually, when people ask someone if they are okay, they aren’t asking to be mean. They are asking because they notice that something is wrong. The problem is that the question sets up the recipient to feel like they are broken and need to be fixed. If you notice that something is wrong, there is a better way to go about offering your help.

The first thing you can do is find a private place to have a conversation with your friend. Be sure both of you are comfortable. Then, you start talking. Instead of asking if your friend is okay, you can say:

  • You don’t seem like yourself lately. What’s been happening?
  • I’ve noticed something seems off. Is there something you’d like to talk about?
  • How are you doing? Tell me more.

Then, if your friend wants to talk, let them talk. To show that you are listening, repeat or restate what they are telling you. Rephrase the information you hear so your friend knows you understand what is happening.

Your job is not to solve the problem, but to give your friend an outlet for their troubles. You can ask them what happened to make them feel the way they do. Then, you should let them know you care. Acknowledge what they are going through and ask what might help remedy the situation.

You can also ask your friend if they need more help, possibly from a mental health professional. If you feel like your friend could be a danger to themselves, you can get help for yourself and your friend.

Show Your Know Your Friends

The standard greeting for many people is, “Hey, how are you?” And the usual answer is “fine.” This rigmarole is a useless bit of small talk that does nothing but fill silence. There are better ways to greet friends and find out how they are doing than to ask this thoughtless question.

When you see your friends, greet them by asking them about the details you know. For example, if you know your friend was just on vacation, greet your friend by saying, “Hi! You just got back from your cruise. What was the best part?” Don’t ask how it was; ask something that cannot be answered with the word “fine.” Ask a question that will get a conversation started.

Another way you can show you are actually interested in your friends and colleagues, you could ask them about something that most people do. Frame your question about something you know your friend enjoys, or pick something that everyone can answer.

For example, you could greet your friend by saying, “H! What shows are you watching on Netflix now?” or “What are you listening to on Spotify?” You learn about your friend, and you learn about new shows to watch and music to stream.

Another way you can greet your friends is by making a statement that makes them feel good. You can do this via text or face-to-face. When you welcome a friend, let your friend know you were thinking about them. Imagine how good it would feel if someone sent you a message just to tell you, “Hey. I’m thinking about you.”

People actually used to buy greeting cards to tell their friends this. Now, we rarely ever say it. “I’m thinking about you” is something we should say more often. It would make the world a more delightful place. If you want to see your friend, you can add, “Can we get coffee later?” or “Let’s get together this weekend.”

A little creativity and thoughtfulness can make conversations happen, and help friends stay in touch.

How to Find Out How Your Romance is Going

People in relationships often worry about how their significant other is feeling. But, they don’t want to ask if they are okay for fear of irritating their partners. There are different ways to gauge how a relationship is going. The answers to the questions will quickly show how one partner feels about the other. They also open opportunities for more in-depth conversations.

Sometimes partners need to know that you want to do things together. If you have been doing things separately, you can ask your partner if you can come along. Unhappy partners will want to be alone and will say no. This will give you a quick idea of how your partner feels.

If your partner doesn’t have anywhere to go, you could suggest that the two of you do something fun. Partners who do not want to do anything are often unhappy and dissatisfied with the relationship. If your partner wants to go on a date, then jump on the chance and have some fun.

Another way to gauge your relationship is to ask a question about the future. One way is to ask where you two will go on vacation. Another is to ask about plans for an upcoming holiday. If your partner does not want to talk about the future, then it might be time to talk about your relationship and if it is going to last.

Answering the Question

If someone asks you if you are okay, you should answer them. Your answer will depend on your relationship with the person and the intent of their question. You will have to decide if you want to talk about your emotions, or if you just want to say yes and move on. However, if you’re going to get your problems off of your chest, answering the question allows you to do so.

Another consideration is how you will feel after you answer the question. If you really aren’t okay, then the question might trigger emotions that you need to share. But, if you answer the question, will you really feel better? It can be tough to find some balance in answer to that sensitive question about your mental status.

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