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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Common sense: Don't ask how are you doing?

When I was an Advertising and Journalism student at Ferris State University my sales instructor told me the you NEVER ask someone, "How are you doing?" If you do, prepare yourself for too much information.

He said that if we asked him that, he would say something like: "Well, I woke up today with a sore toe, and then I looked at it and it was swelled up and had green puss coming out of it. Then I went to the doctor and threw up all over the floor and..." Yep. Too much information.

He said the worst scenario is when you're passing someone in the hallway, and that person says, "Hi. How are you?" And before you have a chance to answer you're way past that person. So, why did he ask in the first place? It's not because he cared. It's because of habit.

Actually, this instructor was one of my all time favorite teachers. He even wrote a letter of recommendation for me. This was actually ironic, because I do not consider myself a good salesperson, nor do I have the personality of a salesperson.

Yet, he told me I was one of the best salesmen he ever had in his class. One day we had to do a mock sale, and the teacher played the role of the business man we were trying to sell our product to him. He even set up a mock office on stage, and we had to make our presentation in front of an audience.

My product was Topps Baseball Cards. I knew baseball cards upside down and right side out to begin with, but after spending a month dedicated to further research, by the time I made my presentation there was absolutely nothing about baseball cards I didn't know. I knew the entire history, sales, and every thing. I even knew the competition better than I knew the layout of the back of my hand.

So even though I'm an introvert, quiet, taciturn type character, I excelled at selling my product. He told me I was the most prepared student he ever had. Not only that, I presented myself in a professional manner, and provided the skills to be a great, if not exceptional, salesperson. He even said I was an exceptional orator. He even went as far to tell me he'd hire me on the spot if he had a business.

The irony of this is I hated sales. Of course I was an advertising student, but only by default. Once my journalism program ended after my sophomore year, I had to pick another career, so I ended up in Advertising. I suppose that's what happens when you go to college without a plan. Of course, as you all know, none of these fields appealed much to me in the end, as I'm now an RT writing a blog.

However, I excelled as a salesperson not because I liked sales, but because I dedicated myself. I gave 110%. And, to provide another ironic story, I also was provided a similar approach by my speech teacher. I gave excellent speeches. In fact, I studied whatever I was presenting about, and sold it. I had props, and I did not use note cards. I memorized everything.

A year later I had to participate in a major advertising presentation. While I always figured I would have done better on my own, I was forced to work with a team. We had to find a new product, and create an advertising program for it. We had to create a goal, do the research on the product and customers, create a target market, and give a presentation in front of the teacher, who pretended to be the CEO of some company.

One person in my group hated me, and made me give the introduction and the closing. He didn't want me to touch any other information. The day after the presentation, when the teacher was giving reviews to how we did, he told me to come to the front of the class. Then he said:

"The reason I had Rick Frea come to the front of the class is because what he did yesterday, the way he gave his presentation, is exactly how I want all of you to present. He spoke in a loud yet clear voice, he used gestures, he used clear and precise wording, he used facts and he was also a bit humorous in his approach. He was laid back and, most important, he had everything memorized. He was the only person in this entire class to not use note cards. I made a recording of Rick's presentation, and I want all you you to watch it and learn."

This, trust me, did not go to my head. I had been lambasted by this teacher many times during the year. However, I had also been hailed before. The first time we had to write an advertising campaign, he loved the way I wrote short and pithy, and I used transition words better than anyone -- words like: likewise, and also, on a similar note, however, in addition, also, for instance, namely... (for more click here).

In fact, he wrote on the top of my ad project: "You have a visual head... FREA-head!!!!" That was his way of saying he loved what I did.

In journalism class earlier in my college career we had one class where we had to take grammar tests. We had to appropriately use words like his/him, we/us, I/me, etc. I don't even know what those words are called, yet that's what we had to study. We had tests on adverbs, adjectives, and stuff like that. But to be honest, I couldn't eve tell you what most of those English terms are. I mean, I know what a noun and adjective is, and maybe a verb and adverb, but much beyond that I have no clue. Yet when it came to taking the test, basically all you have to do is sound out the correct word.

Example: Circle the correct word: Sue went to the zoo with (me/I). So I was the only one to get 100% on all these tests. I was the only one who didn't have to take special classes, because for anyone who didn't get 90% or better on any one test had to take and pass a special class on that English topic. Yet I got 100% on every one of those tests not because I was better at English than the rest of my class (when in fact I did terrible in English classes, and in many cases probably barely passed). Yet, in the case of such proper English uses, all you need to do is sound out the word. I mean, Sue went to the zoo with I doesn't make sense. If you take Sue out of the question, you're left with the following: I went to the zoo. You certainly wouldn't say: me went to the zoo.

At this point in my student career I wasn't good at studying, and I certainly wasn't the best in the class, yet I was able to get by by simply using common sense. While most people got nervous speaking in front of class, I didn't get nervous because I was damn well prepared.

So I got my associates in journalism and my bachelor's degree in Advertising, and then I decided I didn't want to be either one of those things. I even won a few awards for my writing, and, as I wrote earlier, some of my teachers thought I would excel in some areas. The problem was I was definitely not an outgoing person. I hated the idea of going house to house selling ads, and I hated competition. And, in order to get a job as a copy write, which I wanted to be, I had to be competitive. Nope. Not this guy.

I got a job as a journalist once. I loved to interview. I loved to write. Yet I hated snooping around. I hated writing stuff that had no point. I hated it. So I quit. I quit and got a job as a desk clerk. The problem with those careers is that I had to be outgoing. You had to be good at dealing with rejection. You had to be good at dealing with people telling you to get the hell out of your way. You have to deal with people being outright jerks to you. You have to deal with your boss telling you to write an editorial supporting proposal A, when you are opposed to it. Yet your boss didn't want you to write an editorial opposing if because then you would offend the superintendent of the local school system, which you didn't want to do because he was your best source for information.

Man, I hated the politics of journalism. In fact, it got so bad that my writing took a turn for the worst. I got the worst case of writers block in my life. It got so bad that I think I even got depressed. I don't think I was a bad journalist, I just got caught up in a bad situation. I was thrown to the wolves. I wasn't even orientated to the job. Not a good idea in case you're ever given a job without the option of a good orientation, or at least a good mentor.

So, after three months as a journalist in the real world, I quit. A year later I entered the RT program at some local school other than Ferris. It's not that I didn't like Ferris, I just thought it would be better to start over. Actually, this turned out to be a good thing, because I didn't get the best grades at Ferris. At my new college, in my new program, I got all A's. I ended up graduating tops in my class.

Now, in the medical field, I was told I HAD to ask people the question: "How are you doing?" While it's important to know how a patient is doing, I often find myself asking this question of my co-workers, or patient family members, as I pass them in the hallway.

And every time someone asks me that, or every time I ask it, I can't help but to think of my sales teacher. I can't help but to think I shouldn't ask a question unless I want to hear the answer -- and many times I don't.


Yo mama! said...

I ask "how is the breathing, how are you feeling" "is it better or worse" "are the breathing treatments helping you feel less tight"

Sara said...

My stock reply to that question is "Awesome!" Usually it's either sincerely enthusiastic or in a sincere attempt to be and sound enthusiastic. On the other hand, it is truly amazing how many different meanings on can convey with that one word when things are substantially less than awesome.

TOTWTYTR said...

Asking "How are you doing?" is a pleasantry, not an invitation to tell me your entire life story. The truth is people ask that question and only want to hear, "Great, how are you?". They don't want to hear, "Well, my dog died, my blood pressure is up, the wife left me...".

Open ended questions are bad in medicine. I always try to ask questions that can be answered with yes, no, or some specific detail. Like Heidi, I'll ask "Is the pain better?" after giving a treatment.

Part of being a good clinician is being a good interviewer. Part of being a good interviewer is being able to elicit the needed information without also getting a lot of extraneous non information.