You’re in the elevator and catch the eye of a colleague. You greet a teammate in the line up for your caffeine fix in the breakout room. You and your boss arrive early to a team meeting and you exchange pleasantries.
How are you?
How’s work going?
You know the response. All together now:
It’s standard, expected and seemingly innocuous, but there are three good reasons for a total and immediate “busy” ban:
First, it’s contentless. Busy with what? An urgent due diligence? A sick relative? Without describing what we do, it drains any colour from our work. Life is just an accumulating stack of homogenous papers demanding attention. People don’t have hours to hear all your projects, but a quick summary gives credit and respect to what you do.
Second, it’s negative – gently and unenergetically negative. “Busy” indicates mild discomfort. I’m not so overwhelmed I can’t breath, but still a long way from wonderful! I’m really getting into the rhythm of this! Teenagers have a word for this offhand form of lethargy. It’s called “Meh!”
Third, it’s terrible branding. A mentor once explained that “the market notices things that are different and values things that are rare.” A “busy” professional is neither different nor rare compared with a million other grey suits tapping transit cards at Central Station, Wherever-ville. And besides, who wants their tombstone to read Luke Furness: Pretty Busy!
Now let’s be clear – I say this all the time. We’re all guilty, it’s not rude and there are far worse things you can say to colleagues. By why endure the daily grind when you can reject it, reverse it and go beyond busy to meaningful daily interactions?
So my challenge for this week is to go beyond the elevator robo-response to the daily question of “how are you?”
Here’s three tips for how I think that you can do it too:
1 – Start positive and with energy
“Great thanks! Tricky advice to get on top of this morning, but then coffee with an interesting potential client!”
Nothing says daily grind like tired sighs and casual malaise. Break free of it and talk about your day with a smile. Daily optimism is as contagious as daily gloom. “Busy”-free responses are great opportunities to laugh off a tough day or ask for help when you really need it.
2 – Say something
“I’m working on four defamation claims at the moment. Very interesting new case and now everyone wants to have their go in court!”
Think of people on your floor or department. Count how many you have no idea what they actually do and only that they seem to do a lot of it? Over time, responses of “busy” anonymise entire roles – entire careers! What you do is valuable, interesting and maybe even meaningful with the right lens, so say it with pride.
3 – Be genuine
If your workplace default is gently negative, talking positive can feel arrogant. The difference is genuineness. Permanent happiness is impossible and usually counterfeit, but there’s still no need to reach for “busy” on the bad days:
“A big dragon to slay today at a client meeting, so I’ll be in the zone this morning preparing. Wish me luck!”
Have another tip on going beyond busy? What response do you give to start your day with positivity and energy? Get in touch or comment below.