The Four (Word) Horsemen of the Apocalypse – Good, Fine, Ok, Busy

‘How are you?’…’yeah…good’.

‘How’s everything?’…’it’s fine’ or ‘It’s ok’.

‘How are you getting on?’…’Busy’.

I guarantee you hear this at least five times a day. Ok, you’re right. It’s more. Probably a lot more. Probably too much.

And what’s worse, I hear them from myself, as you probably do too.

So, what’s the problem? They’re a response, right?

True, and yet they’re not a response too.

When we use one of those four words, we’re allowing ourselves to have a pretty transactional, low value conversation.  Can we all really be ‘busy’, ‘good’, ‘fine’ and ‘ok’? This revolving rock must be a pretty boring place then if that’s the case.

Those words in my opinion, and in that context, are the same as ‘errs’ and ‘ahhhs’ in presentations. They’re filler. There to just, fill a gap. I’m convinced human communication wasn’t intended to be filled with these words, so I’m asking you in reading this to make a change. Now, I’ll admit it, I’m not perfect at this but I’m hoping it will create a bit of accountability, begin to change some conversations and improve our wellbeing and relationships as a result.

Yes, I’ve come to change the world. Just one conversation at a time. Here are the questions I often get when I challenge others to not use those words or have those conversations, and how you can make a difference if you’re thinking the same.

‘But Jack, I’m only asking or responding to be polite. I don’t really want a response that leads to a conversation.’

There are a lot of other things you can say to be polite. If it’s the morning a solid go-to is ‘Good morning’. If you like their jacket, tell them they have a nice jacket. Like what I did there?

For me, there is nothing less polite than faking an open to a conversation with no intention of carrying it on. What is the response is not one you’ve conditioned yourself for?

So please, if you want to be polite, say something polite. If you want to have a conversation, say something to open a conversation. This weird fusion in the middle is an issue.

‘I’m with you Jack, but what else do I say?’

Anything. Literally anything. As long as it’s honest.

If you’re excited, you could say you’re excited.

If you’re feeling challenged, you could say you’re feeling challenged.

If you’re working towards an important deadline (cough…busy), you could say you’re working towards an important deadline.

Do you know what, if you’re feeling ‘under the weather’, you could say that too. We’re constantly encouraged to talk more about our feelings and mental health (it’s certainly helped me in the past) and this is where we make a solid start.

Your choice how you respond. So, make it a better value one.

‘What do I do to reduce the chances of getting one of those as an answer?’

Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.”  – Tony Robbins

The way to get better answers is to ask better questions. We might have a tendency to go for closed questions which are guaranteed to send us down a road of limited responses, so aim for things that are a bit more open and don’t prejudge an answer.

Break the pattern too. If you are going to ask a similar question to ‘How are you’ try and ask it in a way that breaks the conditioning we’re used to.

Could it be ‘How’s your energy levels today, out of 10?’. Could it be ‘I noticed you’ve be ok for four days in a row now, what’s going on for you?

This will be an endless list of possibilities and you will know the better context from which to ask these. The main thing is to ask those better questions to illicit better answers. Maybe you set yourself up a little ‘better question jar’, 10p in when you ask a question that is only going to get one or two answers. If you’re tight with your money (like me), it’ll soon make an impact!

‘What if someone says they’re ok, fine, busy or good? End of conversation?’

It could be, if you hadn’t taken the time to read this article. We’re going to slip into asking the question from time to time, the good news is it’s still possible to expand the conversation.

If someone say’s they’re busy, ask them what’s keeping them busy. We’re all ‘busy’ with different things so it could offer some insight or an opportunity to help.

If they say their day was ‘ok’ or ‘fine’, ask them what was ‘ok’ or ‘fine’ about it. Or you could ask ‘what would have made it better than ok?’.

And, if you’re getting the pattern, the same works for ‘good’. Why only good? What specifically was good about it? What would have made it great?

Am I likely to fix this overnight, absolutely not. Am I interested in changing one conversation at a time and causing a ripple effect, absolutely.


These are just some of my observations based on years of tinkering with conversations and committing to finding out more about people beneath those reactionary answers. And I’d be really interested in hearing what you’ve found useful in the past to open up conversations.

Here’s what I want from you now:

Your questions and thoughts – what do you agree with and disagree with?

Give me examples if you use any of this advice – what happened to the conversation? How did you feel when you broke that cycle?

What are your conversation pattern disruptors? I always want to add to the collection!

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: