What To Say Instead Of “Just Checking In” – Bustle

Worried about a friend? Here’s how to check up on them in a chill, casual way.
Your sister’s been super distant since she lost her job, and you want to make sure she’s OK, but there’s something about the phrase “checking in” that makes you cringe. (No matter what context it’s used in, it’ll always kind of sound like your boss is chasing down a report 20 minutes before the deadline.) Asking about a person’s wellbeing can feel awkward; you want to strike the right mix of caring and relaxed, so they don’t feel they’re being grilled. But you also have to be serious enough that they give a real and honest answer, rather than pivoting the conversation, Friends reunion-style. “Just checking in!,” with its requisite cheery exclamation point, won’t always cut the mustard.
“‘How are you doing’ doesn’t quite send the message that you truly want to know how someone is feeling, coping, or experiencing at any given moment,” Bisma Anwar, LMHC, a therapist with therapy platform Talkspace, tells Bustle. “There are clearer ways to inquire how someone is actually doing that send the message you are present and ready to hear.”
Here’s what to say to somebody you’d really like to check up on, without defaulting to a cliché or sending a .gif of a floating otter.
“This lets the person know they’ve been on your mind,” Anwar says. Follow it up with an inquiry about how they’re coping with life in general, or just let them respond on their own terms. They may thank you for your concern, or ask why they’ve been in your thoughts — then, you can launch full throttle into the convo you want to have.
This is a gentler way of initiating a check-in, Anwar says, because it contains some nuance. It also gives them the option of an out; maybe they’re not feeling it right now, but it still contains the strong message that you’re there for them, whenever they’re ready.
“Sometimes the ‘how are you doing?’ question just leaves us with ‘fine’, like it’s the end of the story,” Heidi McBain LMFT, a family therapist, tells Bustle. “I like to ask a follow up on how they’re really going, encouraging them to give more detail, including the good, the bad and even the ugly.” She says it usually gets a smile, but it needs to be delivered in a way that isn’t pushy or demanding.
“These are more specific questions that send a caring message,” Anwar says. If general questions might get a vague response, pinpointing various events or situations may encourage them to give you a heap of detail. How are they managing that really stressful issue with their car/their landlady/their landlady’s cat that hates them?
It’s a lot harder to respond to this one with a plain “Fine,” because it’s a more complex question. It may also be easier for the person you’re asking to think about their emotions first and articulate what they’re feeling, rather than diving into what’s behind them.
“It can also be helpful to ask the other person to tell you their story,” McBain says. An open-ended question like this can give up a lot of detail if people are willing to share their experiences. It also gives them space to talk about good things as well as bad.
“Referencing a specific challenge that you’ve talked about with someone lets the person know you have been thinking of them and are genuinely interested in hearing an update,” Anwar says. Ten points to you for listening, and they’ll be more likely to give you the news because you’ve targeted something in particular.
If your friend is more likely to respond to feelings-based questions — ones they can answer with “I feel XYZ,” rather than recounting events, like “I did XYZ and then ABC” — this may be a good way to go, Anwar says. It’s also another specific thing that gives them a clear boundary: we’re talking about this right now, not everything else.
“This is always a wonderful way to check in,” Anwar says. They might not want to talk about what’s going on or how they’re feeling, but they could come up with some ideas for you to help. If they seem a bit lost, psychologist Charmain Jackman Ph.D. suggests sharing an observation about their behavior, and maybe some suggestions about what to do: “I notice that you seem more withdrawn; would you like me to come over this week? I have an awesome lasagna.”
Sharing your own story can be a very good way to focus on feelings, and the person you’re talking to can follow your lead. “When we are vulnerable with others, they are more likely to reciprocate that vulnerability,” Jackman says.
They may not be up for an in-depth heart-to-heart right now, but scheduling a future check-in could give them time to deal with what’s going on. If you make a future wellbeing check-in date, keep it faithfully — and maybe offer to bring snacks.
Bisma Anwar LMHC
Charmain Jackman Ph.D.
Heidi McBain LMFT
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