Are we being too honest in response to polite questions?

DEAR ABBY: I recently contracted coronavirus and had a difficult time recovering. It has been three months, and I am still suffering from long-term aftereffects.

When my co-workers and supervisors ask how I’m feeling and I tell them, they almost immediately downplay my response. Some of them ignore my response and tell me, “Oh, that’s not bad. One time, I lost so much hair, blah, blah,” or they say, “Well, you’re working. You’ll be fine.” I feel like it belittles me and makes what I went through seem like a bid for sympathy. How would you recommend I reply? I can’t ignore the people at work. — DOWNPLAYED UP NORTH

DEAR DOWNPLAYED: All you need to say is, “If it happens to you, you will understand that I feel lucky to be alive. So many people weren’t.” (c) DEAR ABBY

Huh. Aren’t they probably asking to be polite? Sometimes when people ask how you’re doing, particularly in a professional rather than sociable setting, they want a simple version of the truth, like, “I’m exhausted, but I’m starting to get back to my old self, thanks.” Also, the workplace isn’t the sort of place I’d expect to find sympathy. Personally, I’m lucky if I can engage in minimal workplace interactions, much less long discussions of illnesses. (I’m completely dysfunctional at work.)

Some of them ignore my response and tell me, “Oh, that’s not bad. One time, I lost so much hair, blah, blah.”

See? We’re being too graphic here on both ends of the conversation, but the letter writer’s the one who’s starting it. The others are asking how she’s doing to show concern, not to hear a long, detailed answer.

Or they say, “Well, you’re working. You’ll be fine.”

The way I have it pictured, the letter writer’s going on… and on… and on… about her ordeal and is using very descriptive, flowery turns of phrase and not letting anyone get a word in. If/when a coworker says, “Sorry to hear it. I hope you feel better soon,” which would be a nice thing to say, then the letter writer leaps back in with her on-and-on-and-on narration, only stopping when her coworker says, “Well, you’re working. You’ll be fine,” not to be rude, but to hurry along the conversation toward a natural (or construed, as the case may be) conclusion.

I feel like it belittles me and makes what I went through seem like a bid for sympathy.

I don’t find that relevant, because in the workplace, people have limited time to discuss this sort of thing. They’re on the clock.

How would you recommend I reply?

Short, sweet, simple, direct. “It’s hard, but I’m getting back into the swing of things. Glad to still be kicking. Hey, have you seen the Grayson report?”

I can’t ignore the people at work.

Well… the letter writer could go all Anne Shirley on her coworkers…

Coworker: How’ve you been doing lately, Anne? Are you feeling okay? 

Anne Shirley: HOW DARE YOU! [She grabs a notepad and hits her coworker over the head with it.] 

It’s good for entertainment if nothing else.

3 thoughts on “Are we being too honest in response to polite questions?

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